100th Anniversary of the 1918 Influenza Pandemic Approaches: Callout for Pasifika and New Zealand Focused Producers.
An Unfortunate Anniversary
The 1918 Influenza pandemic was the greatest single instance of human mortality on record, with at least 50-100 million people perishing within an 18 month period.
The Pacific Island States were particularly hard hit, with a single ship out of Auckland infecting Fiji, Tonga, and Western Samoa. Other Pacific states have similar stories of terrible mortality.
In New Zealand the outbreak was fought while nearly all medical and nursing staff were on the Western Front half a world away, and the Government initially attempted to minimise the outbreak’s reports so as to not impact the war effort.
Nearly 10,000 New Zealanders died in the space of a few months, including Maori at a rate four times that of the non-Maori population. The response to the outbreak led to some communities banning Maori as the source of the disease, exposed desperate poverty in the centre of Auckland, killed the first female physician registered in New Zealand, produced an illegal quarantine of the Coromandel, and saw whisky distributed as medicine.
A Forgotten Tale
The event has been forgotten for the most part, perhaps because the heroes are women, children, and the elderly. Perhaps because it reminds us of uncomfortable truths about colonialism and the history of the Pacific. Perhaps because we don’t like remembering things we cannot control, plagues included.
The 1918 pandemic drove the creation of public health efforts across the Pacific. It revealed the poverty at the heart of New Zealand cities and drove sharp reform of how health care was delivered to Maori communities. It inspired Western Samoa to independence, and helped cement American Samoa as a part of the USA. It changed many Pacific societies profoundly.
Looking for Collaborators
I am looking for collaborators such as documentarians, playwrights, and other media producers or artists to work with in commemorating an event whose 100th anniversary next year will draw media attention across the globe. I am a subject matter expert, but have no expertise in the creation, funding, and distribution of media.
This is a topic in which interest is rapidly growing. I hope to start working soon to help tell the stories of the experience of the Pacific and New Zealand during this brutal era.
John Ryan McLane