From Kokomo Industries: The Papua New Guinean Wonder Woman Brooch

GUEST POST: by Kokomo Industries

Kokomo Industries is a tiny handmade jewellery business but its aims are big: to promote and celebrate Pacific (especially Papua New Guinean) lore; and to reimagine pop culture imagery with an oceanic slant. The latest of these creations is the PNG Wonder Woman brooch, whose first small-batch release coincided with the premiere of the Wonder Woman 1984 movie on 26 December 2020.

The brooch is a blend of Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman costume (from the original television series) and the PNG flag. The flag was created in 1971 by then teenager Susan Karike from Gulf province. Our stars: a representation of our relationship with the wider Pacific. Our bird of paradise: a symbol of our unity-in-diversity cultural vibrancy and pride. On the brooch, the bird’s long tail feathers curl around to form a visual echo of Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth—at once a weapon and a tool, to shield the heroine from lies and deceit.

It’s an image I’ve been thinking about for decades, since religiously watching Wonder Woman (1975-1979) reruns on TV as a child. I sat in awe as Carter’s heroine made superhuman leaps onto buildings or high-flung tree branches while chasing down and outwitting criminals. She deflected bullets with the flick of her wrists. She was so strong and smart and brave.

I loved Wonder Woman even more when I discovered Lynda Carter’s mixed (Latina and European) ancestry. My own multiethnic identity (Aotearoa New Zealand Pakeha and PNG (New Ireland province)) felt seen and understood. Representation really matters—minorities know that, even as children. That’s one reason this reimagining is so important: the brooch immediately tells Papua New Guineans, “You can be that superhero.”

Wonder Woman has long been a feminist icon, fighting for equality, justice, independence, peace. But audiences had to wait until 2017 for the first big-budget Wonder Woman movie—far too long, considering the Marvel Cinematic Universe had enjoyed continued box-office success since the launch of Iron Man in 2008. I love the Gal Gadot Wonder Woman (2017) the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) eventually delivered to us, but consider this: when the DCEU jumped back onto the movie bandwagon, they gave us Man of Steel (2013), the sixth major Superman movie since Christopher Reeve’s version in 1978, and they followed this up with Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), the ninth movie where Batman has a leading role. In that movie, we see Gadot’s Wonder Woman for the first time, a fleeting moment commentated by Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne: “Wow. Pretty girl.”

I still don’t understand this commentary and I don’t care whether the writers thought it would be a nice way to expose Bruce Wayne’s thirst for women or to later juxtapose his first impression of Wonder Woman’s appearance with her superhuman abilities. (Not that beauty and strength are mutually exclusive. After all, as a child, I thought Carter was incredibly beautiful but that was just one characteristic of many that drew me to the superheroine). It was wrong of the movie-makers to reduce Wonder Woman to mere eye-candy, especially on her long-awaited, much-anticipated cinematic debut. Representation is not about being seen by a White man unless you are a White man—it’s about being able to see yourself.

Wonder Woman is—and has always been—much more than a “pretty girl”, existing independently of the male gaze. In her various iterations, she has single-handedly defeated Nazis, brought mad scientists to justice, defeated the god of war, piloted an invisible plane, helped women’s groups, and stopped drug traffickers. She is a hero beyond measure, but not beyond comparison.

I know so many equally as strong Papua New Guinean women: the young aunt who provides financially and psychologically for her nieces and nephews; the woman who continues to fight for justice for her son; the PhD who continually uses her position to make academic space for other Papua New Guineans to follow; the doctor who brings essential health services to the regions; the woman who held herself together through a violent break-in; the bubus who fought for our political self-determination; and my grandmother, who was a teenaged civilian prisoner of war at Ramale (near Rabaul). These women understand that our struggles are not just related to gender, but instead lie at the intersection of gender, race, ethnicity, age, class, politics, colonialism, representation and belonging. Some of these themes are touched on by Black Panther (2018) and Aquaman (2018), titular heroes who I hope are also brought to mind when you see Kokomo Industries’ new brooch.

When I first created the Wonder Woman brooch for Kokomo Industries, I referred to it as Pawa Meri. It was a fitting name and using our language made it all the more powerful. I’m still happy with that moniker, however I think it’s really important for us to acknowledge that Wonder Woman is just as fitting, if not moreso. In claiming that name, we are not just reimaging pop culture, we are also saying, “We are here. We always have been, and we will still be here in the future”.

In Lynda Carter’s version of the TV show, the title of Wonder Woman was bestowed upon whichever Amazon won a series of physical trials—a competition that was open to all. Any one of the people on her island could have been Wonder Woman, had they been the first to overcome the right challenges. In that way, the brooch represents all of us—Black Islanders, regardless of age or gender, whether at home or in the diaspora—as well as hope, independence, justice, power, and presence.

With that in mind, I say to so many Papua New Guineans I know: I sit in awe of you. You are strong. You are smart. You are brave. You are Wonder Woman.

There will be two more limited releases of the Wonder Woman brooch in 2021: one ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March; and another ahead of Independence Day on 16 September. Follow @kokomo_industries on Instagram for updates.

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