Winner of the 2013 International Convention of Asia Scholars book prize in the social sciences category
The "Tahiti" that most people imagine-white-sand beaches, turquoise lagoons, and beautiful women-is a product of 18th century European romanticism and persists today to serve as the bedrock of Tahiti's tourism industry. This postcard image, however, masks a different, less known reality. French Polynesia remains a colony of France in the 21st century and was the site of France's nuclear testing program for nearly thirty years. The dreams and desires, which the tourism industry promotes, distract from the medical nightmares and environmental destruction caused by nuclear testing. Tahitians see the burying of a bomb in their land as deeply offensive. For them, the land abounds with ancestral fertility and genealogical identity, providing them with a constant source of both physical and spiritual nourishment. The imagined and lived perspectives of Tahiti seem incompatible, yet are intricately intertwined in the political economy of French Polynesia.
"Tahiti Beyond the Postcard" engages with questions about the subtle but ubiquitous ways in which power entangles itself in place-related ways. How does colonialism perpetuate and exploit these images? How can nuclear weapons testing exist in a place that is promoted as a pristine paradise? How and why is "Tahiti" crafted by a tourism industry whose goal is to create desire? How is this imagined product embraced, ignored, or sabotaged by Tahitians? Miriam Kahn uses interpretive frameworks of both Tahitian and European scholars, drawing upon ethnographic details that include ancient chants, picture postcards, antinuclear protests, popular song lyrics, and the legacy of Paul Gauguin's art, to provide fresh perspectives on colonialism, tourism, imagery, and the anthropology of place.
Miriam Kahn is professor of anthropology at the University of Washington and author of "Always Hungry, Never Greedy: Food and the Expression of Gender in a Melanesian Society" and coauthor of "Pacific Voices: Keeping Our Cultures Alive."
"Miriam Kahn shows how the glamorous image of Tahiti is a fabrication, from the white sand strategically placed on its beaches to the postcard of a French woman alluringly posed as a Tahitian. "Tahiti Beyond the Postcard" is provocative and original, and makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the contradictions associated with tourism and the politics of space in Tahiti." -Stuart Kirsch, University of Michigan