“Immersion”, by Hélène Artaud: how the peoples of Oceania have changed the Western view of the world


In Bora Bora (French Polynesia).

“Immersion. Meeting of the Atlantic and Pacific worlds”, by Hélène Artaud, Les Preventers de Thinking in Circles, 298 p., €21, digital €15.

The increasingly porous frontier between the human and non-human universes, just like the idea of ​​a nature so shaped by man that it would no longer be thinkable, if not in the form of the “Anthropocene lead philosophy and the social sciences to a general revision of their fundamental concepts. This paradigm shift is eminently felt in Immersionthe new book by Hélène Artaud, specialist in maritime anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris.

Cook and Tupaia

Supported by an inspired and elegant writing, his thesis consists in highlighting the displacement of the scientific gaze on the world: this one would have passed from a Western perspective centered on the land to a non-Western perception dominated by the sea. “ocean turning point” would find its origins in the meetings between Pacific islanders and long-distance explorers, starting with the fruitful collaboration between Captain Cook (1728-1779) and the Polynesian navigator Tupaia (1725-1770), which led in particular to the development of a common card.

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For Hélène Artaud, this map, where the nautical knowledge of the Oceanian peoples was superimposed on European mathematical rigidity, embodies the clash between two opposing sensibilities. Western sensibility, called “Atlantic”, approaches the ocean as a hostile place, as empty as the desert or the ice floe, and arouses in man the fear and the desire to exploit it by fishing or to dominate it. by technique, wooden or steel vessels, compasses, compasses and other instruments of navigation. This point of view has blinded even scholars, who have become incapable of considering another relationship to the sea and taking for ignorance what is only another form of knowledge. During her first “fieldwork” as an ethnologist in Mauritania, Hélène Artaud was thus able to observe to what extent the knowledge of the fishermen of the Banc d’Arguin belied the very widespread prejudice of an incompatibility between Islam and navigation.

Conversely, the “peaceful” vision maintains with the ocean, a source of rapprochement rather than of distance and dread, a sensitive, corporeal, even fusional relationship. It is labile, fluid and not fixed in concepts or calculations. Cook and other European sailors are already amazed at the ease with which native swimmers manage to travel miles and miles between their islands, including at night, without apparent fear of the flocks of sharks that accompany them…

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