This past summer Professor Miriam Kahn (together with assistant Jodene Davis) took sixteen UW students to French Polynesia (Tahiti) for a month to learn about colonialism in the Pacific. History, for all the Pacific islands (except Tonga), is a story of profound colonization. What most people do not realize, however, is that French Polynesia is still a colony today—one of the few remaining colonies in today’s otherwise “post-colonial” world.
To learn about colonization, the students first spent one week in the capital city of Pape’ete on the main island of Tahiti and then three weeks on the outer island of Huahine where they lived with Tahitian host families. While in Pape’ete they met with politicians and activists, attended a political rally, and generally experienced urban life. On Huahine they learned about the complexities of colonialism firsthand through daily life with their families—and saw how colonialism weaves itself into every aspect of Tahitians’ lives through such things as language, environmental policies, education, health and medical care, religion, and tourism. One of the highlights for the students was that their stay on Huahine coincided with the annual month-long Heiva festival and they were invited to dance—as a UW group—in the festival.