PADDLING THE PACIFIC: OCEANIA ACCORDING TO PAUL THEROUX

‘Something about Cook Islanders (there were only 20,000 of them altogether) made them seem special. Even with all the patronage from New Zealand, and their passionate interest in videos, the people remained themselves. They were not greedy. They were not lazy. They were hospitable, generous and friendly. They were not violent, and they often tried to be funny, with little success.’

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


‘Tahiti has its drawbacks – it is expensive, traffic-choked, noisy, corrupt, and Frenchified – but it is impossible to belittle its natural physical beauty, and in spite of the car exhausts there is nearly always in the air the fragrant aroma – the noanoa – of flowers, the tiare especially, a tiny white gardenia that is Tahiti’s national blossom.’

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


‘These Tongans were elegant – it was something in their posture, in their features, many actually looked noble – a prince here, a princess there.’

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


‘Paddling out to the island of Aunu’u I thought again of the pamphlet that had been given to me, with the rules that all visitors were urged to observe.

– When in a Samoan house, do not talk while standing.

– Do not stretch your legs out when seated.

– Do not carry an umbrella past a house.

– Do not drive through a village when chiefs are gathering.

– Do not eat while walking through a village (it seemed to me that Samoans ate no other way, and usually were munching a very large jelly donut).

– Samoans are deeply religious – pray and sing with them.

– Do not wear flowers in church.

– When drinking kava, hold the cup in front of you and say “manuia” (“when drinking Coke” would have been more opposite, since that seemed firmly part of the culture).

– Bikinis and shorts are not considered appropriate attire in Samoan villages or town areas.

– Ask permission before snapping photos or picking flowers.

– Be extra quiet on Sundays.

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


‘At the very frontier of the Black Islands lies Fiji, the edge of Melanesia – so close that some of its tinier islands, Rotuma and the Lau group, for example, overlap Polynesia. In these transitional straddling dots of land, the people are regarded as Polynesian. There is a strong Tongan influence in the Lau culture. They make and sail canoes in the Lau group. They wear crunchy mats around the waist, Tongan-style. They paddle. They fish. They dance. They recall their great sea ventures. In a village on the Lau island of Lakeba they hold an annual ceremony in which sharks are summoned – a “shark-caller” up to his or her neck in the lagoon is circled by a school of sharks, attracted by the person’s chanting.’

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

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