Mar 24, 2017 Last Updated 12:15 AM, Mar 15, 2017

THE Pacific lost one of its greats on Christmas Day 2016, with the death in Tahiti of John Taroanui Doom, at age 80. From across the political spectrum, Tahitians mourned the loss of the scholar, religious leader and anti-nuclear activist. The government of French Polynesia paid its condolences, stating: “With passion, but with great tolerance and respect for the views of others, John Doom gave his life to defend the Polynesian people.

He was a man of deep humanity, who loved the Polynesian people, their culture and languages.” For Oscar Temaru, “John was a man of letters but also a man of the divine word, above all a humanist and curious about everything. It was this curiosity that led him to witness France’s first atmospheric nuclear test – a monstrosity he immediately recognised.

The anti-nuclear movement found in him a peaceful but committed warrior”. Fortunately, John’s memoirs were published in October last year (A he’e noa i te tau -Mémoires d’une vie partagée). They document a life well lived. One of 12 children, Taroanui Doom was born on 6 May 1936, in Papeete, French Polynesia.

He grew up on the island of Tubuai, in the Austral archipelago. As a young journalist with the Office de radiodiffusion-télévision française (ORTF), John witnessed the first French nuclear test, codename Aldebaran, which exploded into the atmosphere above Moruroa atoll on 2 July 1966. 

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Death of a warrior

Pacific loses anti-nuclear advocate

FOR decades John Taaroa Nui Doom stood against the French Republic in a defiant bid to end nuclear testing in his home – Maohi. Often a lone voice at regional and international events – including the World Council of Churches – he called forcefully for the recognition of the rights of indigenous people in France’s Pacific territories.

The end of French nuclear testing in the Pacific in 1996 was due in a large part to the actions and passion of this humble yet forceful man. More recently he stood in solidarity with the people of Kanaky (New Caledonia) and West Papua even as his own people in French Polynesia (Maohi) called for greater autonomy.

On Christmas Day, Doom – commonly known throughout the regional ecumenical movement as Papa (father) or Papy (grandfather) died peacefully at home in Papeete, aged 80, succumbing to cancer. Born on Tubuai in the Austral Islands in 1936, Doom became a deacon of the Protestant Church, later to be renamed the Etaretia Porotetani Maohi (Maohi Protestant Church). Eventually he would became its general secretary after serving in several parishes throughout the islands. Doom represented his church to the Pacific Conference and World Council of Churches, urging those organisations and their associates to condemn French nuclear testing.

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THE apparent absence of debate, particularly among the Taukei, is attributed by commentators to ‘a culture of silence’. Open, vigorous public discourse is not yet a feature of Taukei or Fijian society at large. It has been explained in terms of a cultural milieu in which authority and communal structures coalesce to muffle expression.

While media controls and self-censorship have not helped, it is the epistemology, ways of thinking, of the Taukei that invites closer scrutiny. ‘Silence’ does not necessarily mean consent. It is the lack of oral and written expression about issues passing for acquiescence. From the colonial era to the present, Taukei took refuge in silence until the political climate improved.

Social media (Facebook, Twitter, blog sites etc.) represent a contemporary variation, allowing disaffected Taukei to express opinions anonymously. An assertive few, on opposing sides of the divide, eschew such inhibitions in that virtual world. Safe haven notwithstanding, it is outside the wider public domain. Sanctuary afforded by ‘silence’ comes at a price: uncontested interpretations of issues and events become historical truth and received wisdom. Reluctance persists among Taukei to ventilate issues of interest openly whether the traditional system, sustaining Taukei culture, the Taukei language, qoliqoli, the protection of land or the status of indigenous people post-December 2006.

It is compounded by several factors. Blood and kinship ties remain significant. Personalities matter more than issues. Opinions are an extension of the person and difficult to separate. And the ubiquity of connections renders security in numbers of larger societies meaningless.

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