Category Archives: IN QUOTES

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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KAVA, ANYONE?

‘Served in coconut shells, the kava had the grayish-brown tint of old dishwater, and a flavor that was faintly bitter and peppery.’

Tony Horwitz, ‘Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before’


‘Now let me tell you what kava really is and how it is a part of the culture in the Fiji Islands. Kava is called yagona, and the slang name for the liquid form is ‘grog’. It is the drink of chiefs and the drink of the farmers, the drink of the people.’

Michael J. Blahut, Michael J. Blahut III, ‘Bula Pops!: A Memoir of a Son’s Peace Corps Service in the Fiji Islands’


‘Fortunately, I was now in Vanuatu, where getting profoundly stoned every night is a venerable tradition. In the gold hour before sunset, the men of Vanuatu gather in a nakamal, typically a clearing under a banyan tree, where they consume kava, which, to the uninitiated, is the most wretchedly foul-tasting beverage ever concocted by Man. Kava derives from Piper methysticum, a pepper shrub that thrives high in the hills of Vanuatu. Traditionally, the kava is prepared by having prepubescent boys chew the root until it becomes a mulch of pulp and saliva, whereupon it is squeezed through coconut fiber, mixed with water, and swallowed all in one go from a coconut shell. Pondering this, you have to wonder And whose idea was that? I could not think of any circumstance where it would occur to me that consuming some kid’s globby spitballs might enhance my well-being. But we humans are a mysterious species, willing to try anything for a buzz, and fortunately for us, a long time ago, somewhere in Vanuatu, and enterprising individual discovered the secret to the most satisfying narcotic available for our pleasure.’

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Getting Stoned with Savages’


‘Kava-drinkers were never aggressive. They looked numb, like hypothermia victims, or patients who had just been dragged from a dentist’s chair. Kava-drinkers were weak and compliant; they whispered; they swayed when they tried to stand straight.’

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania’


‘”What does kava taste like?” I ask Lani. She shrugs. “I don’t know, I’ve never tasted it. In Tonga, women can’t drink kava, they just serve it to the men.’

Graeme Lay, ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’

THE ISLANDS OF MANY DELIGHTS (PART 1)

‘To picture Kiribati, imagine that the continental U.S. were to conveniently disappear leaving only Baltimore and a vast swath of very blue ocean in its place. Now chop up Baltimore into thirty-three pieces, place a neighborhood were Maine used to be, another where California once was, and so on until you have thirty-three pieces of Baltimore dispersed in such a way so as to ensure that 32/33 of Baltimorians will never attend an Orioles game again. Now take away electricity, running water, toilets, television, restaurants, buildings, and airplanes (except for two very old prop planes, tended by people who have no word for “maintenance”). Replace with thatch. Flatten all land into a uniform two feet above sea level. Toy with islands by melting polar ice caps. Add palm trees. Sprinkle with hepatitis A, B, and C. Stir in dengue fever and intestinal parasites. Take away doctors. Isolate and bake at a constant temperature of 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The result is the Republic of Kiribati.’

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


‘Fongafale (pronounced “Fō-gah-fah-lay”) was the major islet of the capital island of Funafuti. It seemed extremely green from the air, with tin shed houses partially hidden by coconut palms one side of the short runway. As we straightened up for our descent I could see in the distance an array of romantic-looking islets in a large lagoon comprising the entirety of Funafuti. My briefing pack noted that here the population was 5,000 and rising, home of the nation’s parliament, High Court, the Princess Margaret Hospital, Tuvalu Maritime School, daytime secondary school, government offices, civil servants’ homes – and the office and home of the People’s Lawyer of Tuvalu.’

Philip Ells, ‘Where the hell is Tuvalu?’


‘Fatu Hiva seems magical, a sort of Narnia in summer. We run up the valleys under the coconut and breadfruit trees, flowering plants everywhere. A tall waterfall an hour’s rocky climb up a goat track through old forest provides a shower and a shampoo. A boulder pool in the streambed serves as a first bath for weeks. The valley appears to have been cultivated from time to time since nature reclaimed it after nearly two thousand years of man, though no great effort is now made to gather fallen coconuts for copra. The hedges round a few paddocks are of hibiscus, grown for rope woven from its bark. The Fatu-Hivans pick for us lemons, bananas and pamplemousses, pomelo relations of grapefruit, perhaps the world’s most delicious citrus. The owner of the single tiny store asks for cartridges as barter for a chicken.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach for Paradise’


‘I now understood on a visceral level why this region of the Pacific was called Micronesia, which means “small islands”. In the United States, there might well be parking lots bigger than Ujae. In the Marshalls, Ujae was unusually large at a third of a square mile. This was a country of 1,225 islands totaling only seventy square miles of land – it was Washington, DC, shattered into a thousand pieces over an area the size of Mexico. Ujae was five times larger than the average Marshallese islet, most of which were uninhabited.’

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


‘My first impression of Tonga’s landscape, viewed through the bus’s smudged windows, was as dismal as Cook’s had been admiring. Pigs snuffled in the garbage that littered roadside fields. We passed graffiti-covered billboards for cigarettes, a vegetable stall named Prison Market, and a battered sign arcing over the road, emblazoned with the words “Long Live Your Majesty.” Sweeping under this arch, we entered downtown Nuku’alofa, the Tongan capital, which seemed at first glance a dreary expanse of ferroconcrete boxes.’

Tony Horwitz, ‘Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before’

THE REAL PASIFIKA

‘Let’s get one thing straight before we start. The South Pacific is not Paradise. […] But you will come here for the same reason the adventurers, mutineers, wanderers, pirates and hunters came – for the dream. And it is still here, the way it should be. Put your toes in the water of the clear warm lagoon, listen to the reef’s thunder and gaze into the middle distance as the sun blazes through the breeze-shuffled palms. It’s not Paradise here – it only seems that way.’

Graeme Kennedy, ‘New Tales of the South Pacific – Paradise NOT’


‘The simple and natural life of the islander beguiles me; I am at home with him; all the rites of savagedom find a responsive echo in my heart; it is as though I recollected something long forgotten; it is like a dream dimly remembered, and at last realized; it must be that the untamed spirit of some aboriginal ancestor quickens my blood.’

Charles Warren Stoddard, ‘Summer Cruising in the South Seas’


‘When I first visited the islands of the South Pacific as an adult twenty years ago, I was in no way disappointed by what I found there. The islands’ shores, reefs, lagoons and forests captivated me. From their coasts or mountains the Pacific Ocean’s beauty and changing moods could be readily observed: silken and docile one day, tempestuous and threatening the next. And every day, spellbinding.’

Graeme Lay, ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’


‘Careful scrutiny of a world map, however, shows that only these small islands of the Pacific are both remote enough and pleasant enough for serious paradise potential as generally defined. For most, isolation has proved a protection from the ugly contagion of an urbanizing and traveling world. The climate is right, tourism is thin, and valuable mineral resources rare. The military or strategic value that was once attached to some of these places is almost gone. Most have proved insufficiently interesting for permanent takeover by outsiders, and are peopled by their old clans. And most are simply lovely.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach for Paradise’


‘Few men who come to the islands leave them; they grow grey where they alighted; the palm shades and the trade-wind fans them till they die, perhaps cherishing to the last the fancy of a visit home, which is rarely made, more rarely enjoyed, and yet more rarely repeated.’

Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘In the South Seas’