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Dr. Otto Heim
School of English, The University of Hong Kong
Samoan ghost stories: John Kneubuhl and oral history

Hailed as "the spiritual father of Pacific Island theatre" (Balme 2007: 194), John Kneubuhl is best known as a playwright and a Hollywood scriptwriter. Less well known is that after his return to Samoa in 1968 he also devoted much of his time to the study and teaching of Polynesian culture and history. The sense of personal and cultural loss, which his plays often dramatize in stories of spirit possession, also guided his investment in oral history, in the form of extended series of radio talks and public lectures, as well as long life history interviews. Based on archival recordings of this oral history, this talk will consider Kneubuhl's sense of history and how it informs his most autobiographical play, Think of a Garden.


Otto Heim's research focuses on writing and performance in the Pacific, with particular attention to ongoing processes of decolonization and ecological transformation. Recent publications have addressed the connection of sovereignty and ecology in Oceanian poetry, island logic and poetic re-mappings of the Pacific, and the forging of Oceanic communities in Pacific theatre. He is also working on a book-length study of the work of the first Polynesian playwright, American Samoan John Kneubuhl.