Monthly Archives: June 2014

PACIFIC ISLANDS BY GRAEME LAY

Pacific Islands. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Graeme Lay, the author of ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest’ as well as several other books set in the Blue Continent, gives his recommendations.

Hike over the hills of Pitcairn Island

It’s a small but very rugged island, and the panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean are sublime. The whole ‘Mutiny on the Bounty’ story is bound up in the island’s history too, and there are many relics of the mutiny to see there today. It’s a fascinating place and the people are marvelously friendly. All 57 of them! Pitcairn is hard to get to, but well worth the effort.

Drive or cycle around Rarotonga

The coast road or the inland road provide constantly changing views, of the lagoon and the mountains of the interior. There are lots of great places to stop off at along the way, too, for a snack, a coffee, a fresh coconut drink or a beer. I’ve followed the roads around Rarotonga many times and never tire of them. Invariably I end up at the bar of Trader Jack’s, on the Avarua waterfront, one of the great ‘watering holes’ of the South Pacific.

Visit the markets of the islands, such as the ones in Apia (Samoa), Avarua (Rarotonga) or Papeete (Tahiti)

The goods for sale, whether it’s fresh fruit and fish or snack food or souvenirs such as black pearls or pareu, are always great to sample or buy. The market in Papeete is enormous and sells everything you could possibly want. The food vans on Papeete’s waterfront, a short walk away, provide great places to dine cheaply while watching the sun go down over the lagoon.

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A CHAT WITH… GRAEME LAY

Graeme Lay is the author of several books set in the South Pacific. Along with ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest’, these include the young adult novel trilogy, ‘Leaving One Foot Island’, ‘Return to One Foot Island’ and ‘The Pearl of One Foot Island’; the non-fiction works ‘The Cook Islands’ and ‘Passages – Journeys in Polynesia’, and the adult novel ‘Temptation Island’. His recent historical novels: ‘The Secret Life of James Cook’ (2013) and ‘James Cook’s New World’ (2014) also feature largely South Pacific settings. Here you can read what he had to say about his beloved Pasifika.

GRAEME LAY

Pasifika Truthfully: When did you first fall in love with the Pacific Islands?

Graeme Lay: Probably from the moment I first set foot on one. That was New Caledonia, which is not a particularly beautiful island in itself. But the mixture of people – Melanesian, Asian and European – was captivating. I loved the cultural intermingling, too. Racial intermarriage has produced people of distinctive beauty. I had always been keen on French culture, so to see it transplanted to the South Pacific was fascinating. I’ve subsequently seen and relished the same cultural and racial mixture in French Polynesia. Samoa too has a great blend of Polynesian, Palagi and Chinese people.

While researching a book I wrote about the Cook Islands, I went to several islands in that group, which was a great experience. Mauke, for instance, is not visited by many tourists, but is a lovely ‘outer island’. Rarotonga is another favourite island of mine since I first saw it, in 1983. I now have many friends there too, which makes visiting it even more pleasurable.

PT: And where would you like to go? Is there an island you have never been to?

GL: There are lots of islands I still haven’t been to, although I’ve visited a good many. I’d like to see Easter Island – the easternmost point of the Polynesian Triangle. I haven’t yet seen the Hawaiian Islands, but I’m going there in August and greatly looking forward to seeing them. Raivavae, in the Austral Islands, is another island I’ve heard and read lots about. I’d like to go there one day. And also ‘Ua Pou, in the Marquesas.

PT: Do you think you could live in one of the Pacific countries; call it your home?

GL: I suspect not. I’m very much a New Zealander – a fifth generation one – so this is my permanent home. An extended visit to say, Rarotonga or Tahiti, would be lovely, but I could never call them ‘Home’. Some of the appeal of those islands may wear thin if I stayed for an overly long period, I suspect. ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’, as the saying goes.

PT: Let’s focus on your book for a while. ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest’… It’s an interesting title. I assume you didn’t choose it to immortalize the famous fa’afafine pageant. Is this how you perceive the islands? As a delicious mix of fascinating cultures?

GL: Most certainly. We gave the book that title because it’s different and catchy, and the contest itself was unforgettable. The fa’afafine phenomenon had always fascinated me, right throughout Polynesia. Each island group has an equivalent of Samoa’s fa’afafine, and to observe them and meet them is very interesting indeed. When I was working in Apia, one of my colleagues was a fa’afafine, and he was great company. It was Makisi who put me on to the Miss Tutti Frutti Contest.

PT: The book consists of fifteen different stories, but I’m sure you have many more to tell. Do you plan to write a sequel?

GL: I would very much like to. I’ve been to several other islands since I wrote that book, and always I’ve discovered great stories while there. Mangareva in the Gambier Islands and Pitcairn Island were particularly inspiring. Some of the more remote islands of Tonga, too, I found fascinating. There is always much to be inspired by in the islands of Pasifika!

PT: In your opinion, what is the biggest myth about Pasifika?

GL: The fact that people invariably apply the word ‘Paradise’ to the islands. There is no such place as ‘Paradise’ in the sense of a total Utopia. The belief that the islands of Pasifika are Utopian is false. The people there have such serious economic, political and social problems that the word ‘Paradise’ is a misnomer. The islands are alluring yes, beautiful yes. But ‘Paradise’? Definitely not. That’s just a tourism brand, and a misleading one. That’s why New Zealand has such huge Pasifika populations.

PT: If you were to choose the most beautiful island, what would it be?

GL: My favourite island in French Polynesia is Huahine, which is exquisitely beautiful and not over-commercialised. It also has a fascinating history, both Polynesian and European. Some of the finest archeological sites in the whole Pacific are found on Huahine. Captain James Cook knew the island well, and anchored his ships in the lagoon in front of the island’s only town, Fare, several times. I could never tire of sitting on Fare’s waterfront in the evening, sipping a Hinano lager and watching the sun go down over Raiatea, Huahine’s neighbouring island.

‘THE MISS TUTTI FRUTTI CONTEST: TRAVEL TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC’ BY GRAEME LAY

‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’ is a compilation of fifteen stories written by Graeme Lay. They are the collected accounts of many journeys the author took during the 1990s and the early 2000s.

THE MISS TUTTI FRUTTI CONTEST

Summary

In the Pacific region life is never dull and Graeme Lay certainly knows it. Travelling from country to country, he discovers the best of what each island has to offer.

In the Cooks, he consumes fiercely alcoholic bush-brewed beer and spends his time in the famous waterfront bars, rubbing shoulders with the locals. He then departs to Samoa, where he retraces the final days of Robert Louis Stevenson and learns quite a bit about the phenomenon of fa’afafine.

In Tonga, his next destination, Graeme is forced to impersonate a Mormon missionary while on Niue he gets a chance to cruise along the coast, attend the village church service, and witness a social gathering on the occasion of the Governor General’s visit.

During the voyages to French Polynesia, he searches for Herman Melville’s valley, uncovers the shocking secrets of Gauguin, finds out how to have a honeymoon, gets to know the connection between television and birth rates, and locates the heart of Tahiti.

Review

If you have ever wanted to find a perfect example of a travel book, search no more – you’ve just found it. This title is the quintessence of the genre; it’s a book that will literally take you to the magical islands of the Blue Continent the moment you start reading its first sentence. I’m not sure if this is the result of Graeme Lay’s extensive knowledge of the Pacific region or his remarkable storytelling skills. It might be both actually.

The stories in the compilation are as varied as the isles of Polynesia. This is probably why the volume shines with so many different colours. Some of the tales are just humorous pieces, written to entertain readers and bring them a little joy and happiness. Others are educational, thought-provoking narratives that not only help you understand the cultures of the South Seas but also let you notice all the distinctions that exist between traditional and modern societies. I must say, this wonderful mix is like a refreshing cocktail made with a bunch of exotic – sometimes unusual but always tasty – ingredients: personal anecdotes, adventure yarns, depictions of faraway places, and interesting ethnological facts. It’s something you could drink, excuse me…read, any day of the week.

The book is beautifully constructed. It’s good old travel writing with a strong focus on characters and places. Vivid portrayals of both people and the tropics will make you long for ‘the paradise’ so badly that you will instantly want to follow in the author’s footsteps; just to sit in a bar, listen to the ocean, and chat with the friendly natives. It cannot be denied that Graeme Lay is a man of enormous talent. Whatever he chooses to describe, he does it in the most engaging way possible.

‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest’ is a delicious read. It’s charming, insightful, highly compelling. It’s your ticket to the South Pacific. I can’t imagine you wouldn’t want to set out on this journey.

LONELY PLANET PHRASEBOOKS

South Pacific Phrasebook

This multi-language phrasebook is a perfect reference guide for people travelling to various Pacific islands. It covers the native tongues of Fiji, Hawaii, New Caledonia, Niue, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, New Zealand, and Rapa Nui. Apart from dozens of ready-made expressions, which are extremely useful in everyday conversations, it contains dictionary-style lists of common words, easy-to-follow pronunciation keys, and immensely interesting cultural tips.

Thanks to this practical book you’ll get a chance to acquaint yourself with certain Oceanic languages. If you ever choose to learn one of them, it’s a great thing to start with.

Pidgin Phrasebook

Another multi-language phrasebook, only it covers the pidgins and creoles of Vanuatu (Bislama), Solomon Islands (Pijin), Papua New Guinea (Tok Pisin), Torres Strait Islands (Yumpla Tok), and northern Australia (Kriol). These may not be the best-known languages in the world, nevertheless they function as lingua franca in some areas and thus are worth travellers’ attention.

The content of the book is very similar to that of other titles in the series. There are nice grammar and pronunciation sections, which give you a better understanding of each language, and a large number of widely-used phrases arranged thematically. Useful advices will be helpful especially for those visiting the islands for the first time.

Fijian Phrasebook & Dictionary

As this phrasebook is focused solely on one language, it remains the most comprehensive volume in the Pacific series. Not only does it offer common words and expressions, but it also provides theoretical information that may come in handy for socially conscious tourists.

An extensive grammar section makes a good basis for other, more practical, chapters. You can learn, for example, how to build your own sentences, so during your travels you won’t be limited to prefabricated phrases. However, if that is something you expect to find in this book, you will not be disappointed. Greetings, civilities, small talks – it’s all here, along with vocabulary lists, cultural tips, and other things you should know.

GUAM BY TANYA TAIMANGLO

Guam. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Tanya Taimanglo, a well-known Chamorro author of such books as ‘Attitude 13: A Daughter of Guam’s Collection of Short Stories’ and ‘Secret Shopper’, gives her recommendations.

Visit the Sirena Statue

Located in the capital of Guam, Hagåtña, it is the embodiment of the legend I am most fond of. I mention it in the first short story of my collection, ‘Resurfacing’. I also have a children’s book I released in 2010 dedicated to this mermaid legend, with illustrations by my brother, Sonny Chargualaf.

Visit Inarajan

A good friend, mentor and renowned artist on Guam, Judy Selk Flores has dedicated herself to restoring and maintaining Chamorro Culture. She created a History Center formerly known as the G. Flores store. She has nurtured its restoration and culture ebbs and flows there now. There is also a wonderful cultural tour I want to experience, called Gef Pa’go Cultural Village. Visiting the southern part of the island will never disappoint.

Spend Wednesday at the Chamorro Village

The night market in the heart of Hagåtña is a Mecca of culture. Food, art and dancing. I’ve been able to attend in the past, and can’t wait to see how it’s grown.