Welcome to the 39th issue of The Funambulist. As is often the case, this issue engages with a topic that one of our past issues had approached in a different way. In this instance, it can be read in continuity from our January-February 2017 issue, Islands, which had tackled Indigenous and antimilitarist islander struggles in Hawai’i, Puerto Rico, Mayotte, Kanaky, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Nauru, the Chagos, Lesvos, and Okinawa. Meanwhile, this new issue on the Ocean, considers the history and present of such struggles through the aqueous milieu of the Ocean as a space of solidarity and internationalism. As many readers will be able to tell, its subtitle pays homage to Tongan Fijian anthropologist Epeli Hau’ofa’s concept of “sea of islands” that designates Oceania, as well as to Paul Gilroy and his work on the “Black Atlantic” to whom we can add the many other oceanic thinkers and poets, from Martiniquean Edouard Glissant to Zanzibarian Haji Gora Haji (as emphasized in Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor’s contribution).
In addition to considering the aquatic milieu of the ocean and its archipelagos, this issue considers the many ships navigating this milieu as political sites that impact both the micro-societies they contain but also their aquatic environment (cf. Renisa Mawani and Marcus Rediker’s respective contributions to this issue). The wake that some of these ships produce in materializing their trajectory had forever changed an ocean, as it did in the case of the transatlantic slave trade, which Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Christina Sharpe remind us of poignantly in their conversation.
The map displayed on the previous double-page intends to articulate a vision of the world from an oceanic perspective and one that insists on the continuity formed by the four oceans commonly known as the Pacific, the Indian, the Atlantic, and the Arctic, which forms a sole aquatic mass that covers 71% of the Globe. We can add to this continuity the numerous seas, lakes, and rivers of the world that run through the earth deep into the continents themselves.
Like how land mass was taken on continents, colonialism thought of itself as the beginning of history by mapping territory deemed unknown and, in doing so, invaded and appropriated archipelagos whose human stewardship went back millenia. This imperial cartography that draws at the same time as it dominates (in practice of the Discovery Doctrine) finds striking Indigenous alternatives in the existence of Micronesian oceanic charts that situate islands and the various forces that surrounds them, or, on the other side of the world, the Ammassalik wooden maps that sculpt the trace of a coast or the relationship between islands of an archipelago.
The history of oceans could not possibly be limited to the history of European and U.S. colonialism — Sinthujan Varatharajah’s description of the “Chola Lake” in this issue reminds us of it. Yet, it is crucial to observe that numerous oceanic countries still remain under colonial control today. If we solely focus on the list of “non-self-governing territories” held by the United Nations, 15 out of 17 of these countries are islands or archipelagos: Kanaky – New Caledonia (cf. Anais Duong-Pedica and Sarah Pelage’s contribution), Tokelau, Tutuila (the part of Samoa occupied by the U.S.), Guahan (Guam), Ma’ohi Nui (so-called “French Polynesia”), Bermuda, Turk and Caicos, the so-called “British Virgin Islands,” Anguilla, Montserrat, Saint Helena and the Falkland/Malvinas. Of course, many others are missing from this list — from Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Curaçao in the Caribbean, to the Chagos and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean, or Aotearoa, West Papua, Hawai’i, and the Australian Continent in Oceania to only cite a few. The Arctic Ocean, absent from this issue after a few missed opportunities, should not be left out of this narrative as the coasts that form it consist of largely Indigenous (Inuit, Sami, Aleut, and the many Siberian nations) lands under occupation by Danish, Canadian, U.S., Russian, and Norwegian states.
The continuity of the oceans is not a simple physical observation. It is also a metaphor for the many forms of solidarity that oceanic nations’ struggles have maintained between themselves, thus re-appropriating the colonial racist categorization of oceanic areas such as Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia. In our respective conversations with Quito Swan and Talei Luscia Mangioni, we talk about this solidarity (whether formalized as Black Internationalism or as a front against the nuclear bombing of the Ocean) brought against French, British, U.S., Australian, and Indonesian colonialisms in Kanaky, Ma’ohi Nui, Vanuatu, Kiribati, Guahan, Okinawa, the Marshall Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, West Papua, East Timor, or from an Atlantic country like Bermuda, as well as continental African countries such as Senegal, Burkina Faso, or Mozambique. I can only hope that this history of solidarity can cultivate present efforts to stand with the struggle for decolonization in Kanaky or West Papua, or reparations for the many Indigenous people impacted by the deadly fallout of colonial nuclear bombings.
All Funambulist issues require help from various members of our community, but as this one has encountered several difficulties in its editorial process, it is crucial for me to point to the several friends and colleagues who brought last-minute help in making it what it became, in particular Huda Tayob, Tina Grandinetti, Anaïs Duong-Pedica, and Bruce Connew. Thanks to them for their incredible generosity. I thank you readers as well and wish you an excellent read. ■