Research Q&A with ‘Ilaheva Tua’one: Re-writing historical Indigenous narratives

‘Ilaheva Tua’one, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, WEST

1. How would you describe the main idea or main takeaway from your most recent research or creative work to someone outside your field?

The main idea or takeaway from my most recent research is that bawdy stories told by sailors in the eighteenth century made it into today’s history books. These stories have lasting damage to indigenous people, especially in the Pacific Islands, where the story told about sailors trading nails for sex has added to the air of promiscuity in the “Pacific paradise.” My research destroys this particular “Myth of the Nail,” suggesting indigenous economies could never have engaged in a European-based sexual economy, and instead were seeking the “mana” found in the utility of tools.

2. What is the key paper or author/performer who has most inspired your recent research/creative work?

My recent work was inspired by the book “Decolonizing Methodologies” by Linda Tuhiwai-Smith, which encourages Indigenous people to conduct research in fields that have traditionally been damaging to Indigenous people, including re-writing historical narratives.

3. How do you see this research/creative piece contributing to new insights in the field/sparking conversation?

This research attempts to paradigmatically shift the Western concept of the Enlightenment and question what we consider to be “history.” Specifically, this research asks eighteenth-century scholars to start considering Indigenous perspectives in historical narratives and to shift “discovery narratives” from the “view from the ship” to the “view from the shore.”

4. Can you describe the contributions of co-authors or collaborators who were essential to the success of this project?    

While my most recent research is a single-authored piece, my support network covers a vast and long area and timeframe. I started writing this piece as a researcher at Chawton House Library in the UK in 2013, and have worked on it in various capacities for many years. During those years I was financially supported by the University of Utah’s English Department, School of Cultural and Social Transformation, the Pacific Islands Studies and Pacifika Carnegie-Mellon Grant, and Fellowships from the Cosgriff-Dahl family. Many mentors contributed ideas and editing, including Scott Black, Vincent Cheng, Hokulani Aikau, Maile Arvin, Howard Horwitz, and Kathryn Stockton-Bond.

5. What impact do you hope this work makes?

I hope this work asks each reader to reconsider some of the long-lasting damaging narratives that have perniciously persisted throughout time. I hope everyone reconsiders the terms “pre-history” and “civilization.” I hope this work asks each reader to re-center perspectives that are assumed to be “natural” and “given.”

6. What is on deck for you as you get started on your next project?

While my past research has focused on Captain’s Logs from the Pacific in the eighteenth century, my new focus is on the Missionary Journals that were written directly after the “discovery” of new islands in the Pacific Ocean. I aim to show the long-lasting effects caused by the Missionaries in the beginning of the nineteenth century.

7. Where and when do you feel you are the most productive/creative/inspired?

I love to write in public spaces in a group setting. I love writing groups, I feel inspired when I am surrounded by others who are furiously typing. I like to think of writing groups as “performative writing,” and in that setting, I am able to perform.

You can read more here.