A text on exploitation.
I’ve just returned home from Fiji – I went to celebrate the wedding of a good friend to a lovely Fijian lad – and met with some of our voyaging and zero waste whanau to talk rubbish and solidarity… to experience some truly inspirational local sustainable tourism ventures, and to see friends.
It was my first time in Fiji. I sighed, a lot. Sometimes in awe – often in sadness, because what I saw, I see in so many places across our beautiful Moananui a Kiwa.
Fiji the beautiful, and afflicted. Look up at the beautiful sunsets and swaying palms….
Look down at the endless tides of plastic washing up on the sand.
Fiji, the one night stand of tourism hoards, descending down the ocean-liner gangways like a conveyor belt of consumption, all pink skin and loud shirts, overburdened infrastructures creaking under their weight.
Fiji, sweetheart of extractive, exploitative resorts, where beautiful local people – the true architects of your experience – are charged out for their services at $60/hr by foreign owners and paid just $3/hr in return.
Fiji, where people come to escape the problems of their lives, and ignore the problems of Fijian lives.
Fiji, playground for some, hunting ground for others… just like the rest of our region – 250 odd years of dusky Pacific maidens being leered at and preyed upon by predominantly older white men, with military backgrounds… our women, our lands, our waters, all things used to satiate their ingrained R&R desires.
It’s heartbreaking – but it’s also the Pacific, in a cowrie shell.
As a region, the Pacific has always underwritten the consequences of the West’s behaviour.
The RIMPAC exercises being held off the coast of Hawai’i, and held every two years, is possibly one of the most extreme cases of this. New Zealand has been participating in these exercises since 2012 (here’s a previous blog detailing the growth of the US/NZ military relationship in recent years).
Over a month, armed forces from 26 nations, including 25,000 personnel, 47 ships, 5 submarines, and more than 200 aircraft will engage in wargames that will be hosted by the US Navy, upon stolen lands and waters.
These wargames include live fire, missile launches, microwave and sonar weaponry that destroys coral reefs, sea mammals, turtles. Over 5 years of these weaponry tests marine ecologists tracked over 9 million instances of death or injury to marine wildlife.
The optics around the event are quite consistent – with the most common phrasing being that RIMPAC reinforces the US, and world, commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.
But of course, the majority of the Pacific is not free. Hawai’i is not free. Guahan is not free. Aotearoa is not free. Tahiti is not free. Tokelau is not free. Australia is not free. Canada is not free. West Papua is certainly not free. And were we to pursue our right to freedom – it will be these very armed forces that are enacted against us.
In fact we should never forget that these are the same naval forces that are authorised by the Maritime Crimes Amendment Bill to attack us in defence of the oil companies that we would protest against. The same naval forces in Israel that kill Palestinian fishermen and block aid for Palestinians in need. The same naval forces that protect the immoral, genocidal occupation of West Papua, blocking support for Indigenous West Papua peoples with “lethal force”.
These armed forces are the brutal fists of imperial occupiers.
Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Peru, the Republic of Korea, the Republic of the Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tonga, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.
This is not about protecting the freedom of the Pacific. It is about the maintenance and extension of colonial agendas. It is about the defence of extraction from Indigenous territories, theft of Indigenous lands, and the continued exertion of power over Indigenous Peoples.
The men of these armed forces will come ashore between exercises and, as has always be the case, will be responsible for spikes in sex trafficking and violent sexual assaults.
The sexual exploitation of women and children has featured in a recreational, and functional sense, at the heart of the military in the Pacific from its very origins. The two are inextricable from each other. At every military base in the Pacific, you will find heightened instances of sexual assault – the Pacific has been hyper-sexualized for the pleasure of crews, troops and tourism hoards since… well since the days of Cook really.
That is because we, the Pacific, as people and place, are viewed as commodities by the West.
Our people, lands and waters are commodities – used and tossed aside once fantasies are fulfilled. Stolen out from under us and used as training grounds for conflicts instigated by settler colonial governments in pursuit of power and resources. Packed full with toxic nuclear and chemical weaponry waste. Overburdened with the rubbish of consumerist hoards that it simply cannot sustain. Hocked out to foreign tourism investors that economically expel the righteously outraged occupants, replacing them with temporary escapees – who will only look up at the swaying coconut palms and pretty sunsets. Tourism providers that capitalise upon the fantasy package, constructed from the R&R culture of the military. Providers that enable and protect the continuation of rape and theft through hypersexualisation and spiritual denigration of our culture. Time and time again, the Pacific underwrites the decisions and behaviours of the West, with our resources, with our worlds, with our bodies.
So when I sat at the bar, in Fiji, and watched the middle aged, pink faced, sweaty, sleazy ex-military man preying upon young women I saw all of us, and all of our islands. And all of our mothers.
When I looked at the plastic rubbish flipping about in the waves as they lapped against the shores, I saw all of our waters, I saw all of our shores.
And what is happening right now, in Hawai’i, is happening to all of us.
We must, we simply must, stand up to RIMPAC, just as we must stand up to all exploiters.
From the leery predators, to the foreign tourism providers that court, couch, and enable them.
And we MUST call out our own governments for their participation in these abhorrent wargames.
Because if time is up on the exploitation of women, then it must surely also be up on the exploitation of our region.