Rising Tide of spoken art to advocate human rights and social justice

By Nilesh Goundar

The Pacific is a paradise of geographically dispersed and diverse islands, some of which are the smallest and most remote in the world, with warm climates, swaying palm trees on heavenly beaches and welcoming people.  It has a history of oral cultures in respective languages and dialects with unique art forms including dancing, painting, weaving, carving, storytelling, and canoe building to name a few. 

Many of our Pacific island countries and territories have a legacy of colonial rule and no doubt colonisation has left its imprint in many ways on our communities. The English language for example, in many cases supplanted indigenous languages as the lingua franca.  Western style education mandated schools to teach English literature and the genre of poetry.  

While traditional songs in Pacific communities are poetry that is sung, poetry in the English language by Pacific poets emerged and has taken its place in the world. In the Pacific, this art form has resonated well with many of our people, both young and old, who have used this to not only effectively to express their thoughts and feelings, but have also used it on many occasions to relay incredibly powerful messages to their readers.

IMG_8258 to Peter.jpgWith this in mind, the Pacific Community (SPC), in partnership with The University of the South Pacific (USP) recently launched an anthology of Pacific poems about human rights and social justice, titled Rising Tide.  The anthology covers topics such as gender equality, social inclusion and justice, nuclear justice and ending violence against women and girls, amongst others. It was compiled from a range of submissions from across the Pacific region and is suitable for students in Years 7–13.

Behind the idyllic natural beauty of the Pacific islands lies the challenging and ugly reality of climate change, environmental destruction, social inequalities and violence against women and children.  The Pacific region has some of the highest rates of violence against women recorded in the world – twice the global average with an estimated two in every three Pacific women impacted by gender-based violence.  Along with high rates of violence, which is a violation of human rights, women and girls in the Pacific region experience constant and continual inequalities including low levels of participation in decision-making, limited economic opportunities, restricted access to social and economic rights. 

The primary purpose of this anthology is to bring together Pacific poets and artists to express their voice on these issues and it is unique in several ways.  It not only introduces readers to poetry, the types of poetry and poetic devices, but enhances understanding on concepts of human rights, social justice and violence against women and girls, in their respective sections.   The poems are complemented by artwork that expresses the key themes and messages of the poems.  Reading, however, is not enough and so there are some questions for reflection at the end of each poem allowing readers to think about the powerful lessons found within.

Teachers will especially welcome this anthology, as it provides creative learning opportunities for students to critique both poetry and visual art.  It also provides a selection of older and newer poems by seasoned and emerging writers bringing together a cross-generational narrative of Pacific stories of struggle and survival.  For many students, it will be an introduction to the safe space that creative expression provides for otherwise difficult or sensitive conversations. For others, it reinforces the critical cultural role that the arts play in knowledge and learning.  The creative works and activities in this collection present multiple opportunities for students and teachers alike to reflect on their own values and beliefs and to connect with the broader theme of unity and humanity.

The anthology will not only prove to be a useful teaching resource for English teachers but also has relevance for USP courses in teacher education in particular, as well as in Pacific Literature, Creative Writing and Pacific Studies. It is also relevant to Gender Studies and Sociology and of course, in the teaching of Human Rights in the Pacific.

This publication has been produced with the financial support of the European Union through the Social Citizenship Education Programme (SCE), led by SPC’s Human Rights and Social Development (HRSD) division under the Pacific Partnership to End Violence Against Women and Girls Programme (Pacific Partnership). The SCE programme aims to enhance Pacific youth’s formal in-school and informal education on gender equality and on the prevention of violence against women and girls.  The Pacific Partnership has three outcome areas jointly coordinated by HRSD, Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (Forum Secretariat) and UN Women’s Fiji Multi-Country Office.

Read Rising Tide here.

View the video of the launch of Rising Tide and live poetry recitals here.

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