A few words with Frances Wilson, Associate Professor in Pacific Studies

What's the most valuable lesson the Pacific has to teach the world?

The peoples of the Pacific hold a tremendous amount of wisdom and knowledge about how to live sustainably — physically, socially, and culturally — within constrained and changing environments. As home to well over 1000 languages — perhaps one fifth of the world's diversity — the Pacific also has an enormous amount to teach the world about living, peacefully, prosperously, with difference.

You can time travel and correct or alter an aspect of history — what time or event will you change?
Few things could be stopped so easily, but I know one that could. I'd prevent the arrival of the steamship Talune in Samoa in November, 1918. This was the vessel that brought influenza to Samoa and began the epidemic, which in just a few weeks would kill as many as 8000, or one in four, Samoans then alive.

If you were an element what would you be?
Rf. Rutherfordium. Though it has a half-life of less than an hour and a half, it is just about the only element with a name origin outside of Europe or America. Maybe the short half-life is instructive, too.


What's more important: world or personal history?
World history, I guess, if those are the only two choices. Because it's never just about one person — the histories that matter most, that shape who we are and what we can become, are the ones that we share. But the problem with world history has been the problem with history in general, that it has confused "world" with just a small set of people who mostly come from Europe, and are dudes.

How do you affect change in your own neighbourhood?
If you want to make a difference, do something different, or something differently. Give generously of your time and your talents, turn up when you say you will, and start with the jobs no one else wants to do it. Always bring something useful — whether a spade, a broom, a rubbish bag, or a pen. Always bring food, and take the time to eat with each other.

What is the significance of place?
One of my favourite scholars puts it better than I can, when she says place "is where stories come together".

The Pacific, and New Zealand as a part of it, is an anthology of all these stories, so many of which couldn't happen anywhere else, and the coming together of which could only be here; and makes here, here.
Greg Bruce

Damon Salesa is moderating the Late: Taste of Inequality panel discussion at Auckland Museum, part of the annual Late programme, on October 11.