Polynesian Types: The Science of Making Whiteness Indigenous to the Pacific

January 24, 2:30pm – 4:00pm
Manoa Campus, 2530 Dole Street, Sakamaki Hall A201

Maile Arvin, Ph.D.
University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow
History of Art and Visual Culture, UC Santa Cruz

Where do Polynesians come from? What does a Polynesian look like? Do real Polynesians still exist? This talk examines the history and contemporary salience of the Polynesian type, a genre of popular and scientific speculation intent on revealing the racial origins and constitution of indigenous Pacific Islanders. First formulated in nineteenth-century social sciences including ethnology and linguistics, drawings, photographs, sculptures and maps of Polynesian types seek to answer the so-called “Polynesian Problem” across a wide range of disciplines, from physical anthropology and sociology to genetics and genomics. Throughout the Polynesian type genre, the Polynesian race is represented as (biologically and culturally) almost white, in stark contrast to other peoples of the Pacific, especially “black” Melanesians.

The logic of the Polynesian type genre therefore promotes viewing whiteness in the Pacific as natural, benevolent, and even genetic—and thus, indigenous. This talk analyzes this history of the Polynesian type in order to understand the ways decolonization must undo such racial logics.

 

Event Sponsor
History Department & American Studies, Manoa Campus

More Information
Suzanna Reiss, 956-6768, sreiss@hawaii.edu