An Australian South Sea Islander (Vanuatu) Multidisciplinary Artist
Postcards Unlocked #40
I have been locked out of my studio for 4 weeks and I’m finding that my current creative outlet lies within the kitchen. I reach for the bag of sugar and pour it into the pot of coconut milk. This is not my first batch of pani popo since lock down. My daughter stands at the bench behind me and slathers heaped spoonfuls of golden syrup onto coconut fried scones… And all over the bench. Occasional treats have turned into frequent requests. Warm, sweet, reliable comfort food, served up as symbols of love to my family during these trying times.
Our relationship with sugar however surpasses that of its soothing and addictive lure, the sweetness belies our bitter history. The genesis of our story is often referred to as blackbirding, a widely used but euphemistic term for the Pacific slave trade. Early Australian sugarcane plantation owners employed a strategic economic policy of sourcing ‘indentured labourers’ from the Melanesian archipelagos. As South Sea Islanders, Australian born descendants of the Pacific slave trade, these sugar companies are part of our history and material culture.
We are a Pacific slave diaspora, displaced and disenfranchised in Australia through forced migration. Our community has had to reconcile the loss of customary practices and create new practices to tell our stories and ways of being.
Our ancestors would call it ‘had wok’, they wouldn’t call it ‘sugar’, they would say “Passem had wok” (pass the hard work).
We were used to create sugar… So, I use sugar to create for us.