Monthly Archives: June 2017

‘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.