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Ballantyne, Tony, Lachy Paterson, and Angela Wanhalla, eds. Indigenous Textual Cultures: Reading and Writing in the Age of Global Empire. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 2020. Paperback, 368 p. $28.95 (978-1-4780-1081-4); cloth, $104.95 (978-1-4780-0976-4).

Indigenous Textual Cultures is a cohesive, well-edited collection of twelve articles written by an international community of experts in indigenous cultures and colonialism. Its geographic scope includes indigenous cultures from Australasia, North America, and the Pacific and is further enhanced with the inclusion of Africa, which has not received the same attention as recent work on indigenous studies in these other areas. The editors, Tony Ballantyne, Lachy Paterson, and Angela Wanhalla, all three respected scholars of the Māori and colonialism, bring together work that emerged from the symposium “Indigenous Textual Cultures”, held at the University of Otago in June 2014, and supplement the volume’s scope with three additional chapters. Together, the authors challenge existing assumptions that indigenous cultures are marked by primitiveness, cling to orality, and do not have the ability to change. They employ a broad range of archival sources in their original indigenous languages that include epic poems, newspapers, letters, and even oral history interviews to challenge and refute western assumptions and show that indigenous peoples did adapt and innovate, combining aspects of their oral traditions with written literary practices as a powerful tool against colonial rule. These scholars bring a fresh approach that focuses on using original-language indigenous sources and interpreting this array of materials within their proper cultural contexts.

The introduction by Ballantyne and Paterson situates the twelve chapters within existing historiography and explains how the approaches taken and arguments made are important contributions to the fields of indigenous cultures, cultural history, and textual studies. Equally important, the introduction provides a thorough but succinct overview that allows non-specialist readers to engage with this important collection of articles. The thematic organization of the contents into four cohesive parts—Archives & Debates, Orality & Texts, Readers, and Writers—develop organically beginning with the types and extent of indigenous source materials.

Part One sets the foundation for this volume. The first two chapters challenge the assumption that the indigenous cultures in Hawai‘i and New Caledonia were primarily oral. Noelani Arista, Alban Bensa, and Adrian Muckle demonstrate the complex intertwining of orality and textual traditions that the overlooked, original-language archival sources document. Arista analyzes the original-language sources in the archives rather than using English translations, the common practice by many scholars, and applies an approach to understand the sources in their cultural context with consideration given to how native Hawaiians engage with language and understand knowledge. Likewise, Bensa and Muckle examine correspondence and vernacular written traditions in their proper context of the distinct culture and written traditions that prevailed in the 1930s to disprove the common belief that the Karnak were primarily an oral culture; they show that the Karnak developed a vernacular literary culture that gave them affective control of contemporary events using a form of expression drawn from their oral heritage. Concluding Part One, Lachy Paterson shifts attention to debates over literary practices. Using written sources in the Māori archives, Paterson challenges D. F. McKenzie’s argument about Māori literacy made in his influential work, Oral Culture, Literacy, and Print in Early New Zealand: The Treaty of Waitangi.1 As Arista, Bensa, and Muckle all showed, the indigenous cultures of the Pacific were not purely oral. Applying a methodology to analyze written indigenous sources in their original languages and in the proper cultural contexts, these authors show how indigenous peoples interwove their oral traditions into emerging written traditions to serve their needs and purposes in the new world colonialism was creating.

Building on the argument that indigenous cultures were not solely oral cultures, Keith Thor Carlson, Michael P. J. Reilly, and Bruno demonstrate in Part Two the relationship between orality and textuality. Drawing on the work of the communication theorist Harold Innis and the postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha, Carlson examines the impact colonialism and modernity had on the Salish in British Columbia over a century. Examining communication media in the form of petroglyphs and pictographs, he established that the Salish had a written culture. This manifested in what Carlson calls a time-based literacy inscribed within their surroundings that required people to come to the immovable sources, in contrast to the European colonizers’ practice of using paper to replicate and disseminate ideas across space. This mode of communication was threatening to the colonizers who sought ways to control the information the indigenous people conveyed. Similarly, Reilly examines two textual versions of an oral tradition from the island of Mangaia in eastern Oceania composed approximately a hundred years apart to show that reading and writing coexisted and worked with oral tradition to pass knowledge on through time. Turning to the written texts from Tahiti and Rurutu in the Austral Islands, Saura draws upon Jack Goody’s theories about literacy and the logic of writing to show a similar interplay of oral tradition and textuality where details were adapted, modified, and augmented over time to suit the indigenous people’s behavior and way of thinking. Carlson, Reilly, and Sauro reach similar conclusions from analyzing archival sources in their cultural contexts to show indigenous communities made effective use of integrating oral traditions with literacy to maintain their cultural values, knowledge, and practices.

The final two parts of this book go hand in hand examining indigenous peoples as readers and as writers. In Part Three, Emma Hunter, Laura Rademaker, and Evelyn Ellerman analyze a range of sources. Hunter focuses on the use of Swahili-language newspapers in Tanzania during the 1920s and 1930s to show that African readers and writers shaped the textual culture colonizers attempted to create. In a very different context, Rademaker turns to oral interviews with the Anindilyakwa people in the Northern Territory of Australia and their engagement with writing between the 1940s and 1960s. She argues that the Anindilyakwa people were ambivalent about learning to read and write and that they developed a new written culture that combined orality and literacy in a way that paid due respect to the authority of their oral tradition and not to the authority of script. The peoples Ellerman takes up also diverge from expectations, just as the Anindilyakwa people did. She analyzed how the Melanesians controlled content in newspapers and on radio to thwart the missionaries’ attempts to implement their type of literacy program in Papua New Guinea. As in every other instance in this book, the indigenous people found ways for oral culture to work in conjunction with literacy to maintain their culture and values but also to resist colonizers.

Isabel Hofmeyr, Arini Loader, and Ivy Schweitzer turn their attention to the authorial practices of indigenous writers and consider how indigenous peoples chose the ways and extent to which they participated in the colonizers’ literacy programs. They argue that these practices should be examined and understood not in terms of western practices but in the context of the authors’ respective indigenous cultures and perspectives. Hofmeyr examines copyright in southern Africa to show that western assumptions are inaccurate and that African writers harnessed the power they found in copyright to claim ownership of their intellectual property. In similar fashion, Loader shows how an indigenous writer, Tāmihana Te Rauparaha, took control of how the deeds of his father, the renowned leader Te Rauparaha, were memorialized. By also examining the hundred-year publication history of biographies of Te Rauparaha, Loader shows how colonial authors distorted the original account and, like Arista advocated using the original Hawaiian-language sources in the archives, Loader too shows the importance of the original. She warns about “repackaging this history to fit within the conventions of ‘other’ historical traditions and narratives” (281); when this is done, the indigenous community, in this case the Māori, risk abandoning their own writers, intellectual traditions, and ways of participating in the world. Rounding out this section and the volume, Schweitzer returns to the debates over orality and literacy but focuses on the writing of a missionary-educated native, Samson Occam. In line with the other authors in this volume, Schweitzer argues that literacy took many different forms and stresses the need to analyze the various forms of literacy within Native perspectives.

The twelve chapters represent an important and welcome addition not only for scholars in disciplines including indigenous studies, anthropology, textual studies, and history but also for archival studies. The authors overturn long-held western assumptions that indigenous cultures were primarily oral. They also challenge western archival practices that removed original sources from their native contexts. This collection of well-documented articles written by scholars who bring to light native perspectives and practices is a long overdue, immensely valuable collection. It sets new standards for scholarship and brings to the fore the importance of examining indigenous culture in their native contexts. —Julie K. Tanaka, Arizona State University

1. Donald Francis McKenzie, Oral Culture, Literacy and Print in Early New Zealand: The Treaty of Waitangi (Wellington: Victoria University Press, 1985).

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