This chapter evokes connections between Pacific and Africana modernisms, particularly around the appropriation and redirection of existentialist thought as a response to the crisis of ‘authentic being’ in emergent, decolonising literatures. It presents this relationship as ‘call and response’ more than ‘influence’—as an assertion of imaginative alliance. Through reading Russell Soaba’s creative relationship with Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) in Wanpis (1977), it opens new ways of thinking about Oceanian engagements with modernism and modernity, suggesting how new spatialities, dispersals of families and tribes shifts in production, threats to cultural continuities, and growing urban communities are approximated in innovative literary forms.

If Wanpis can be thought of as an Oceanian modernist portrait of the artist as a young man—or of a group of artists, or of a young literature—it is so in complexly Oceanian terms. These emerge in part through the conversations within which the book situates itself: the name James St. Nativeson activates as interlocutors James Baldwin and Richard Wright, among others. ‘Nativeson’ foregrounds as well both the novel’s contemplation of what it means, on the cusp of independence, to be a ‘native’ son, and the problematics of ‘return’, including Aime Cesaire’s Return to My Native Land and Amiri Baraka’s ‘Return of the Native’. Reading Soaba’s Wanpis in this grain, this chapter aims to ‘return’ modernist dimensions of a Papua New Guinea literary movement which has struggled for visibility in its attempts to express a new Oceania.