‘A PATTERN OF ISLANDS’ BY SIR ARTHUR GRIMBLE

‘A Pattern of Islands’ is a memoir written by Sir Arthur Grimble. It recounts his time in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, where he served as a British colonial officer for nearly 20 years.

A PATTERN OF ISLANDS

Summary

In 1913, a 25-year-old Arthur Grimble gets nominated to a cadetship in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate. Being the only candidate, he accepts the post and soon after that leaves cold Britain for the heat of the Pacific Islands.

The little country welcomes Arthur and his wife Olivia with its kind-hearted inhabitants and a significantly different culture, to which the young officer must quickly adapt. Having the natives as his teachers, Arthur masters the Gilbertese language, gets to know the local customs and traditions, and discovers what it’s like to live at the end of the world. With each passing day he grows fonder of the place and the good-natured people he has a privilege to meet. And he realizes that his is the honour, not theirs

Review

I’ve been wondering for a while now, why are memoirs written by colonial administrators so unbelievably engaging? Is that because they transport you to exotic places? Or maybe the reason lies in the fact that they take you back in time? It’s probably both, right? Well, this particular title is no exception. Let me tell you right off the bat: this is such an interesting piece of work! First of all, Kiribati is the most fascinating topic. Could anyone write a bad book about this country? I highly doubt it. And second, Sir Arthur Grimble was a very talented writer, whose innate gift for telling stories in a poetic and descriptive way simply cannot be denied. That’s exactly what I call a perfect mix; a perfect mix of substance and style.

Although the book is a classic memoir, the author doesn’t focus solely on his experiences. In fact, he treats them as a sort of background to his descriptions of Kiribati, its inhabitants and their culture. And you should know that those descriptions are second to none. From the scenery to legends, rituals, and beliefs to people’s everyday lives, you can picture it all. It is quite astonishing what a careful observer Arthur Grimble was; and surprisingly unbiased one at that! You can really sense his genuine admiration and utmost respect for the Islanders. He came to Kiribati representing the great British Empire, but he didn’t even try to impose his ways of being on the locals. He chose to learn theirs instead. How rare is that? Don’t we all love to judge and criticize other cultures just because they are not similar to ours?

Now, apart from being an excellent study of the Gilbertese culture, the book is also an engrossing portrayal of colonial administration. The author doesn’t hide his support for colonialism, which only adds plausibility to the whole story. Bygone times are vivid in all their glory on every single page. So if you have ever dreamt of a time machine, or if you have ever been curious what it was like to work for the British Colonial Office, this definitely is a book for you.

Sir Arthur Grimble had a delightful way with words, so his memoir reads like a charm. Some may say the pace is a little too slow, but the narrative is so compelling that this really isn’t a bother. Plus, the author’s wonderful sense of humour and slightly self-deprecating manner make up for any minor drawbacks you may find. Personally, I couldn’t put this book down. But as they say, one man’s meat is another man’s poison!

Would I recommend ‘A Pattern of Islands’? Wholeheartedly. For whom would I recommend it? For those interested in Kiribati, or Pasifika in general. For those intrigued by history. For those wishing to immerse themselves in a literary masterpiece. Because this is one hell of a good read. Insightful, thought-provoking, and thoroughly captivating.

BEST BOOKS ABOUT KIRIBATI

‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific’ by J. Maarten Troost

If you want to get to know Kiribati – the real Kiribati – let this book be your guide. Although written by a foreigner and thus a bit subjective at times, it’ll give you a pretty clear picture of this wonderful equatorial country.

J. Maarten Troost’s funny and engaging memoir is filled to the brim with vivid descriptions of the places he visited, the people he met, and the customs and traditions he had a chance to get familiar with. His honesty in recounting his experiences is truly unparalleled. Read this book – you will laugh a lot and learn even more.

‘A Pattern of Islands’ by Arthur Grimble

When it comes to ‘Kiribati literature’, this book is considered a classic. And rightfully so. Arthur Grimble’s memoir is a mine of knowledge. Anyone interested in Kiribati should not only read it but have it in their collection.

The account of Grimble’s work in the Gilbert and Ellice Island Colony is an immensely interesting lesson on the country’s history, culture, and beliefs. It is serious and light-hearted at the same time. It reads well. So well that when you start you simply can’t stop until you reach the end of the book.

‘Tungaru Traditions: Writings on the Atoll Culture of the Gilbert Islands’ by Arthur F. Grimble, Henry Evans Maude

This is yet another book written by Arthur Grimble. Having spent over 20 years in Kiribati (or rather the Gilbert Islands), he had a vast knowledge of the local culture. This title definitely proves it.

The content of the book is unusually compelling and its encyclopedic style makes it a pleasure to read. The author thoroughly depicts the unique customs and rituals of I-Kiribati people, explaining at the same time the quintessence of their culture. A truly fascinating work!

‘Sailing to Jessica’ by Kelly Watts

Although Kelly Watts’s memoir isn’t focused solely on Kiribati, it shows it from a different perspective. After all, how many books are there that mention an adoption of I-Kiribati baby?

There’s a pretty good chance this emotional story will tug at your heartstrings and you may shed a tear or two, so consider yourself warned. But you will also ‘see’ the unknown side of Kiribati, you wouldn’t otherwise see. Set out on this journey with Kelly and Paul. You won’t regret it!

‘In the South Seas’ by Robert Louis Stevenson

Another classic, isn’t it? Few I-Matangs (white people) know Kiribati as well as Robert Louis Stevenson did. That is exactly why this travelogue is so worthy of your attention.

Are you interested in Kiribati’s past? Would you like to read stories about the great ruler of Abemama, Tembinok’? Or have you ever wondered what the life in the Gilberts looked like in the 19th century? If you answered yes to my questions, this is a book for you. Period.

‘THE POPPY PROJECT: HOW FIJI’S MOST FAMOUS DOG GOT SAVED’ BY FIONA INGRAM

‘The Poppy Project: How Fiji’s Most Famous Dog Got Saved!’ is a short book that tells the story of Poppy, a badly injured dog found in Fiji. It was written by Fiona Ingram, a well-known children’s author.

THE POPPY PROJECT

Summary

As a pig-hunting dog, Poppy is used to a machete. But when one day her owner misses his target, a terrible accident happens.

With her nose and upper jaw cut off, Poppy is left to fend for herself. A true miracle occurs when she gets found by a local teacher and then taken to the Animals Fiji Clinic. Caring for such a badly-wounded dog is not easy, especially if money becomes a problem. But with a little help from good people – and Facebook – anything can be achieved.

Review

This book, or I should rather say a short story, is just lovely. It’s not a masterpiece in terms of style, but it’s definitely worth reading as it touches on a very sensitive and – sadly – quite neglected topic.

The story itself is movie-ready. It could be the next ‘Marley and Me’, only better and with a happy ending. An average person will probably find it hard to believe though. How can a dog with half of its muzzle missing survive? How is that even possible? What is more, how is that possible in a country like Fiji, where proper veterinary care is virtually non-existent? Well, I guess this is what we all call ‘a miracle’. Yes, Poppy’s life is one great miracle. A miracle that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for Good Samaritans.

The way Fiona Ingram told the whole story is very simple yet extremely moving. Some of the fragments really tug at the heartstrings, making readers fall completely in love with Poppy, but also leaving them deeply saddened or even on the verge of tears. Mind you, it’s hard not to cry while reading about such tragic events, especially if words are accompanied by expressive photos. Any compassionate human being will feel for that poor little dog, whose bravery and unswerving will to survive is so impressive that you just can’t remain unmoved. Which is why the sad story ends on a positive note – with Poppy (warning: spoiler here!) finding her forever family.

As I have already mentioned, this is not your ordinary book. This is not a book you’d choose if you wanted to take delight in literary mastery. It’s a book with a mission. It was created to tell Poppy’s story, but also – or rather most importantly – to raise awareness. People should know that animals have feelings; that they experience pain and beam with happiness when someone shows them affection. And it is our responsibility as human beings to take good care of them: feed them, help them whenever they need our help, love them. Because animals are not things we can leave if we feel like it; they are not things we can kick, hit, or throw rocks at. They are not!

‘The Poppy Project’ should be a mandatory read for children and adults alike. This uplifting tale will make you believe that hope never dies, and that it’s worth being a person who is always ready to help others.

Personally, I would like to thank Animals Fiji for being there for Poppy and all the animals they have had under their care. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

I’M A CELEBRITY… ONE DOG’S LIFE IN FIJI

‘Poppy was originally a pig-hunting dog. Her ears were cut off when she was just a pup, as is the custom with such working dogs. Sadly, this is believed to make them less vulnerable when pigs fight back. Her job was to round up and corner wild pigs for her owner, who would then swipe at them with his machete. But one day, the owner missed the target and instead hit Poppy, cutting off her nose and half her upper jaw.’

‘By the time she was found, Poppy weighed only nine kilograms, about half her normal body weight. Without the happy chance of being discovered, she would have starved to death.’

‘”I visited Kavanagasau in rural Fiji on Fiji Kids charity work. Mr. Pillay told me about ‘a dog with its nose missing’ who visited the playground to look for food.”’

‘Playful Poppy became a Facebook star after staff at the Animal Fiji Nadi Clinic posted her story online. The clinic began to get her to a healthy weight and to raise the funds necessary to take her to Sydney to repair her nose.’

‘”Poppy would never have survived without the amazing help of Animals Fiji. Despite their lack of funds, they took her in and cared for and loved her.”’

Fiona Ingram, ‘The Poppy Project: How Fiji’s Most Famous Dog Got Saved!’

WORKING IN PARADISE: BEST BOOKS (PART 2)

‘An Island in the Autumn’ by John Smith

After spending twenty years as a Commonwealth administrator in Nigeria, John is given a fresh assignment – he is sent to Solomon Islands to serve as Financial Secretary. Although his job is quite fulfilling, he changes it three years later for the post of Governor of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands.

This is an enormously interesting memoir you will not want to put down until you reach the last page. John Smith shows and carefully explains the process of decolonization, describing at the same time what life on a Pacific island is really like.

‘Gallivanting on Guam’ by Dave Slagle

When you are offered a really great job in a really great place, there’s nothing that can go wrong. Or is there? After moving to Guam to work as a general manager of Tropical Gym, Dave thinks his life just can’t get any better. Everything changes when he is drawn into a bitter dispute with his corrupt boss, who happens to be a very wealthy businessman, well-known on the little island.

Dave Slagle’s book is a terrific piece of travel literature. A bit controversial, yes, but extremely informative and laugh-out-loud funny. What’s it like to work in paradise for one of the richest men? Read this book and you will find out.

‘A Pattern of Islands’ by Arthur Grimble

In 1913, Arthur Grimble gets nominated to a cadetship in the Gilbert and Ellice Island Protectorate. A few month later he steps foot on the islands he will call home for the next nineteen years.

Not only is Sir Arthur Grimble’s memoir a gripping account of one man’s experiences and adventures in a foreign land, but also a very honest portrayal of colonial administration. As it turns out, it’s not always easy to be a representative of a British government in a small Pacific country.

‘Land of the Unexpected’ by Brian Smith

When Brian sees a job advertisement for an architect in the Daily Telegraph, he packs the bags and together with his wife and two children hops on a plane to Papua New Guinea to work for the PNG Works Department. Trying to revamp the county’s health care facilities, he travels from one province to another. In each of them he learns something new about the country, its people and their culture.

Despite the fact that some readers may find this book a little bit boring, it is a very nice account of an expatriate life in the Land of the Unexpected. Everything is described in great detail, so if you want to get to know Papua New Guinea, this is a title for you.

‘Letters from the Sleeping Lady – The Kindling of Two Teachers and Kosrae Island’ by Malcolm Lindquist, Tarry Lindquist

When Malcolm and Tarry decide to accept teaching positions at the local elementary school in Kosrae, they don’t really know what to expect. What starts as an exciting adventure, turns out to be a life-changing experience.

This written in the form of letters (to the authors’ granddaughters) book is a lovely, emotional, insightful look into the history and culture of one of the most fascinating places on Earth. Terry and Malcolm share with readers a small yet important piece of their lives, and they do it in such a wonderful and engaging way, you’ll probably want to become a teacher yourself right after you reach the last sentence.

WORKING IN PARADISE: BEST BOOKS (PART 1)

‘Micronesian Blues’ by Bryan Vila, Cynthia Morris

Having spent 9 years as a street cop, Bryan gets a job as a law enforcement specialist in Saipan. Soon after his arrival he discovers that the islands of Micronesia, although dazzlingly beautiful, will be quite a challenge.

This is a brilliant book! Exceptionally well written, funny, and very informative. Bryan recounts his experiences in a refreshingly honest manner, showing readers what it was like to be a police officer in Micronesia in the early 1980s.

‘The Coconut War: Vanuatu and the Struggle for Independence’ by Richard Shears

Richard, a journalist working for the Daily Mail, is sent to the Pacific to cover the war that has just erupted in the New Hebrides. Trying to deliver a good story, he is forced to manoeuvre his way through the complexities of the country’s politico-military situation.

Richard Shear’s account is a wonderful description of a foreign correspondent’s job. Even though it’s a history book, it’s far from being boring. Actually, it’s a page-turner that reads like the most interesting novel.

‘Solomoni – Times and Tales from Solomon Islands’ by Roger Webber

Roger, a fledgling doctor with a committed passion for helping others, travels to Solomon Islands to provide medical assistance to those in need. But as he quickly learns, treating people from a completely different culture is not always as easy as he may have thought.

If you are curious what it’s like to live and work in Melanesia, this is a perfect book for you. Filled to the brim with interesting facts and information, it will show you the real Pasifika; Pasifika like you’ve never seen it before.

‘Inside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals’ Trish Nicholson

To fulfil her youthful desire, Trish decides to apply for an overseas job in Papua New Guinea. After being chosen, she flies to the dragon-shaped island to work on a development project. At the time she has absolutely no idea what the realities of life for a development worker in Melanesia are.

When a foreign consultant comes to a faraway country to implement and guide changes, he must know it’s going to be hard. When that foreign consultant is a woman, she must know it’s going to be very hard. You don’t believe me? Just read Trish Nicholson’s engaging memoir.

‘Up Pohnpei: Leading the ultimate football underdogs to glory’ by Paul Watson

What’s the easiest way to become an international football manager? Find a team bad enough you’ll be allowed to coach them. For Paul and Matt, that’s Pohnpei.

This hilarious book is a proof that if you can dream it, you can do it. Paul and Matt’s adventures show the different side of football – without big money, famous players, and magazine-perfect WAGs. Although their job is not always easy, it brings more satisfaction than winning the World Cup.

IDYLLIC MELANESIA

‘Thick dense cloud cover obscured the central mountain ranges of the mainland, but once out over the Solomon Sea visibility was excellent and I was enthralled at the beautiful turquoise colour of the shallow waters surrounding small islands and coral atolls which appeared to be floating in the deep blue ocean.’

Brian D. Smith, ‘Land Of The Unexpected’


‘With the morning sun, Savusavu revealed itself to be located in one of the most extraordinarily beautiful settings I had ever encountered in the islands. The town overlooked Savusavu Bay, an alluring expanse of blue water hemmed in by verdant peaks.’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu’


‘The Île de Pins, touted by guidebooks to be the South Pacific’s most beautiful island even though used by Napoleon III as another Devil’s Island to incarcerate French convicts of a political nature, lies within extensive reefs at the lagoon’s eastern boundary. Like all the islands raped by loggers and sandalwood traders of the nineteenth century, its forests are gone, though a scattering of pines remains to illustrate its name. Hidden within is the landlocked lagoon of Upi, several square miles of pristine water broken only by coral mushroom islands dotted here and there and a single pirogue with rickety outrigger and ancient pointy sail to riffle the surface.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach For Paradise’


‘Vanuatu is misty mountains cloaked with lush tropical rainforests dotted with quaint thatch villages next to cold bubbling springs.’

Bryan Webb, ‘The Sons Of Cannibals’


‘We now returned to the other islands in the group Vanikoro (Vanikolo) and Utupua, Vanikoro particularly impressing me with its isolated beauty. A sheer-sided mountain plunged into the fjord like inlet where the ship anchored, while in contrast a narrow strip pf land at its base housed lush meadows and the peace and tranquility of the mission school. The sun set, completing the picture; a blazing red sky setting the mountain on fire, then almost before the magnificent show had disappeared, stars showed through the evening dark and the sky was a mass of delicate lights.’

Roger Webber, ‘Solomoni: Times and Tales from Solomon Islands’

IDYLLIC MICRONESIA

‘Ujae Island was part of Ujae Atoll, which, like every coral atoll, was a thin ring of reef studded with islets surrounding a lagoon. Ujae sat perched between the inner lagoon and outer ocean, and I quickly understood that the essential axis of the island was ocean-lagoon, not east-west or north-south. Walking to the two ends of that axis brought me to the island’s extremes. The lagoon was calm, shallow, and so transparent as to be color-coded by depth; its beach was smooth, sandy, and fringed by houses. The ocean was violent, mile-deep, and impenetrably opaque; its beach was rough, rocky, and utterly deserted. There were two sides to this island, and they couldn’t have been more different.’

Peter Rudiak-Gould, ‘Surviving Paradise: One Year on a Disappearing Island’


‘After our first week in Palau, Bourne took us out on the Milotk, the thirty-six-foot Marine Resources boat, to the rock islands. Southern Palau is dotted with these unique islands. Some are extruded limestone formations, deeply undercut at the waterline from erosion and the rasping action of hungry chitons. The rock islands, their crowns covered with dense native vegetation, appear as giant green mushrooms growing from the water. Others are laced with beautiful white sand beaches, as close to tropical paradise as imaginable.’

PG Bryan, ‘The Fish & Rice Chronicles’


‘The picture in our dictionary showed an atoll as a small ring of sand and coconut-palms around a dead flat lagoon kept fresh by the ebb and flow of ocean tides through breaks here and there in the land. Marakei in the Northern Gilberts is indeed rather like that – a ribbon of palm-green not more than twelve miles round; the regular golden circle of its beaches, closed save for one tidal passage, encompasses a sapphire lake forever exquisitely at rest.’

Sir Arthur Grimble, ‘A Pattern Of Islands’


‘Finally, Kosrae loomed on the horizon. The island was lush ad green, with long stretches of sandy beaches and two large, pointy peaks that defined what locals called the Sleeping Beauty, for obvious reasons. It was so beautiful and serene – like something right out of a picture postcard from paradise – that I felt a great sense of calm and peacefulness wash over me.’

Bryan Vila, Cynthia Morris, ‘Micronesian Blues’


‘Beyond Nan Madol lay the ocean and several uninhabited islands on the horizon. The beauty of the place left us speechless.’

Paul Watson, ‘Up Pohnpei’

IDYLLIC POLYNESIA

‘The Marquesas were unique, unlike any island group I’d ever seen, a dream landscape for both poets and scientists.’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’


‘I’ve snorkeled all over the South Pacific, but nowhere have I seen a place more bewitching than the South Pass of Fakarava.’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Headhunters on my Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’


‘Rarotonga is the main island of the Cook Islands, a country in central Polynesia, west of Tahiti and east of Tonga. Tiny and beautiful, it is surrounded by a wide turquoise lagoon and sharp coral reef.’

Kathy Giuffre, ‘An Afternoon in Summer: My Year on a South Sea Island, Doing Nothing, Gaining Everything, and Finally Falling in Love’


‘In an attempt to attract a dribble of tourism, Niue has adopted the sound-bite title Rock of Polynesia for its two hundred fifty square miles, which rise from a narrow fringing reef like a two-layer wedding cake. It’s different from any island we’ve seen. It is girt by cliffs that continue down to some of the world’s deepest ocean bottoms, without lagoons or beaches. Nor does Niue have rivers and streams, for the plentiful rainwater simply sinks into porous limestone. This renders the coastal waters unbelievably clear. More than a hundred feet of underwater visibility is routine, the diving among the very best for the very few who get there.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach for Paradise’


‘It often seemed to me that calling the Hawaiian Islands “paradise” was not an exaggeration, though saying it out loud, advertising it, seemed to be tempting fate. They are the most beautiful, and the most threatened, of any islands in the Pacific. Their volcanic mountains are as picturesque as those in Tahiti, their bays as lovely as the ones in Vava’u; the black cliffs of the Marquesas are no more dramatic than those on Molokai and Kaua’i. The climate is perfect.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania: Paddling the Pacific’

‘SAILING WITH IMPUNITY’ BY MARY E. TRIMBLE

‘Sailing With Impunity’ is Mary E. Trimble’s memoir depicting the voyage through the islands of Polynesia that she set out on together with her husband, Bruce.

sailing-with-impunity

Summary

Longing for a change and following the dream of an offshore sailing, Mary and Bruce make a decision to quit their jobs, sell their house, buy a boat, and spend some time cruising the Pacific Islands. After weeks of meticulous preparations, they are finally ready to leave the marina.

They make their first landfall in French Polynesia. The country surprises them with enchanting beauty, the sweetest scents of flowers, and…an extremely nice gendarme trying (unsuccessfully) to buy their gun. Together with other yachties, Mary and Bruce tour the islands, savouring every minute in this picture-perfect paradise.

When the blissful days in the Marquesas, Tahiti, and Bora Bora come to an end, the couple continue their adventure. They agree to moor in the Pago Pago harbour to wait out the hurricane season. The capital of American Samoa turns out to be a safe yet very dirty harbour, especially after the country gets clobbered by Cyclone Ofa.

Before heading home, Mary and Bruce sail to Tonga, which definitely lives up to its friendly reputation, and then to Hawaii. The last leg of their journey isn’t as smooth as they would expect it to be.

Review

The Blue Continent is a perfect destination for…for everyone, I think, but sailors in particular. They have favoured this part of the world for a very long time. Who can blame them? Those tiny islands scattered over the Pacific Ocean are delightfully reminiscent of paradise (at least on the surface), so cruising from one little slice of heaven to another is a dream come true. And when in paradise, it’s a sin not to share all those paradise-ish experiences. Hence the almost countless amount of different memoirs and travelogues – some good, some not so much – that you may choose from to ‘travel’ (or no, in case of the bad ones) to the South Seas without leaving the comfort of your home. Will you be able to ‘visit’ the islands while reading Mary E. Trimble’s book? Oh, absolutely!

‘Sailing With Impunity’ makes for a very engaging read, mostly due to the fact that the author managed to maintain the right balance between the descriptions of their life aboard the craft and the descriptions of the places they had a chance to see. Before you go on land with the Trimbles, you will encounter fierce winds and rough waters; you will know what it’s like to cook on a rocking boat while battling a bout of seasickness; you will have to come to terms with the idea of sleeping no more than 4 hours at one time (let me tell you, you can feel exhausted just reading about it). Mrs Trimble is very truthful in recounting her and her husband’s journey. She spares no details, so those of you who have thought that sailing is an easy activity might get disillusioned. It is fun, yes; but it’s definitely not child’s play.

If you ‘survive’ the voyage, you will be rewarded with some wonderful stories about the islands and their inhabitants. The author’s vivid and surprisingly objective portrayals of the visited countries show them as they really are – ravishing, romantic, but not sugar-coated; filthy, unpleasant, but not repulsive. The memoir doesn’t present a one-sided view of Polynesia – and it’s worth remembering that all the opinions clearly reflect the author’s personal feelings and judgements – but rather the actual state of things. There is no criticizing, no comparing, no saying that something is better or worse. Mary E. Trimble made sure to stay open-minded throughout the journey and, most importantly, throughout her book. Even if she wasn’t free from cultural bias, she hid it extremely well.

The story is told in a lovely manner. Every page is written with passion only keen travellers possess. Detailed yet not overdone descriptions seize the imagination, arousing an abundance of different emotions. One minute you are green with envy, the next happy and relieved that you’re safe in your abode. And that’s exactly the way it should be.

This concise book is a very impressive piece of travel literature. But it isn’t only an engaging memoir. It is a tale about chasing your dreams and believing that everything is possible, especially if you have someone you love and can rely on by your side.