Tahitian Author Célestine Hitiura Vaite's Multilingual Writing: a Literary Tīfaifai from the 'Inside Out'
Between 2000 and 2006, Tahitian author Célestine Vaite, who now lives in Australia, published a series of novels in English, Breadfruit, Frangipani and Tiare in Bloom, all of which earned international acclaim. Set in 1970s colonial Tahiti, these novels ally several languages, including English, French, Tahitian and the Tahitian-French vernacular, giving the text rich multicultural flavors. With colonial, global, Indigenous, and regional languages being woven together in these unique literary productions, Vaite’s multilingualism becomes an active medium of diasporic and Indigenous identity assertion. While Tahiti is still under colonial rule today, I explore how Vaite’s multilingualism linguistically brings down invisible barriers forged by waves of colonization across the Pacific, thus answering the call of theorist Epeli Hau‘ofa to rethink conceptualizations of Oceania in his foundational essay, “Our Sea of Islands” (1994), while also addressing the lack of scholarship on Mā‘ohi writers and their literary works. To contextualize my research within a Mā‘ohi epistemology and reality, I use a methodology modelled after the tīfaifai, the French Polynesian quilt, and frame Vaite’s use of languages within the concepts of diaspora, Indigeneity, and colonialism.