Sexuality differences that were once celebrated in Pacific-Indigenous cultures are now being reclaimed as an act of resilience, writes Professor Jioji Ravulo in a new chapter in The Routledge International Handbook of Indigenous Resilience.
The paper, Exploring the Role of Sexuality and Identity Across the Pacific, states that sexualities in the Pacific region were historically fluid rather than fixed and bound by morality and labels. However, it argues that generations of imposed Christian morality have encouraged homophobic attitudes among Pacific Peoples.
Professor Ravulo writes that Pasifika LGBTIQ+ community members are now rejecting deep-seated homophobia by coming out publicly and embracing the way Pacific sexual diversity was defined before colonisation – with each person in a collective community valued, cared for and serving a purpose.
“Before Western ideas of morality were introduced, Pacific peoples embraced diverse practices around sexuality. Such behaviours were embedded and nurtured within our social interactions rather than being considered a sin,” said Professor Ravulo, Chair of Social Work and Policy Studies.
“Pasifika people share a common sense of vā, which means a sacred space between us all, and our queer community is now reclaiming this close connection regardless of gender norms,” said Professor Ravulo, who is of Fijian Indigenous heritage and identifies as part of the LGBTIQ+ community.
We need to move beyond universalising a white, Westernised view of queerness to ensure diverse experiences of sexuality shaped by other realms of cultural diversity are included.
Pacific peoples have a rich and diverse history across the various spaces and places they occupy within the sub-regions of Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia.
Historically, sexualities were fluid and same-sex behaviours played a part in rites of passage and as a means to connect collectively, said Professor Ravulo's paper said.
He claims that Pacific families were complex in structure with women often seen as superior emotionally and spiritually, elders respected for their knowledge and children valued as assets with meaningful roles to play in the wellbeing of others.
But under Western influences, sex and sexuality became a function of conservative gender norms – with men viewed as superior physically and more suited for work and women relegated to maternal matters – alongside a morality of religious observance and sex for reproduction, Professor Ravulo argues.
Nakedness, under the Western gaze, became a source of shame. “Nudity was not seen as beautiful or strong, it was a source of provocation and sexual desire under the Catholic and Protestant morality; to be naked was a sexual expression in and of itself,” Professor Ravulo said.
Strong church-based views continue to influence contemporary Pasifika families, including making homosexuality taboo, Ravulo said.
However, there is a resurgence occurring among many Pacific peoples across Oceania to reclaim the resilience of Pacific sexualities.
“This is evident in the way Pacific individuals have started to call out the moral biases and binaries our own Pacific peoples have internalised from colonisation,” Professor Ravulo said.
“Pacific peoples are creating social movements via social media and using other forms of media including print and radio to call out the negative use of judgmental and divisive labels and stereotypes among our own. I am inspired by the solidarity shown among Pacific peoples in sharing their personal stories, insights and realities.”
Professor Ravulo said he’s confident Pacific diverse sexualities can be reclaimed and celebrated in a way that includes pre-colonisation values and inclusive ideas for the future. He has made three recommendations:
“We need to move beyond universalising a white, Westernised view of queerness to ensure diverse experiences of sexuality shaped by other realms of cultural diversity are included,” Professor Ravulo said.
“Pacific peoples may be dealing with discrimination on multiple levels, including being a person of colour, of religious faith, living in low socio-economic contexts, having English as a second language and navigating migrant status.
“This may all occur alongside health and wellbeing concerns impacting ability, educational engagement, and employment. The ideal to be individually liberated beyond the shackles of the family may exist within Western narratives of queerness, but we need to nuance how this may look for individuals within collectivist cultures wanting to connect to Indigenous cultural practices and perspectives.
“Rather than enacting a hegemonic, homogenised and static approach to being queer, we need to embrace the broader concept of fluidity that is often celebrated and cherished as part of the sacred spaces in which LGBTIQ+ communities traverse.”
Declaration: This paper received no funding.
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