Tag Archives: American Samoa

GREAT ANTHROPOLOGICAL READS ABOUT PACIFIC ISLANDS (PART 1)

‘Coming of Age in Samoa: A Psychological Study of Primitive Youth for Western Civilisation’ by Margaret Mead

This widely recognized book is a fieldwork classic. It details Margaret Mead’s journey to the South Pacific, where she had a chance to study the lives of teenage Samoan girls in the early 1920s.

Focusing on everything from education to sexuality, the author not only described one of the most fascinating Polynesian cultures, but also compared it to its American counterpart. After so many years, it’s still a brilliant read – interesting, well-written, insightful.

‘Nest in the Wind: Adventures in Anthropology on a Tropical Island’ by Martha C. Ward

Martha C. Ward first came to the island of Pohnpei in the 1970s. That little sojourn resulted in her marvelous anthropological study of the local people and their folkways. 30 years later she decided to return to the FSM to discover what had changed since her initial visit.

In this second edition of her original work the author unravels the peculiarities of life in the tropics, putting emphasis on the evolution of Micronesian culture. An absolute must-read!

‘Becoming Tongan: An Ethnography of Childhood’ by Helen Morton

Helen Morton’s book is a wonderful analysis of childhood in Tonga, in which she delineates all the processes associated with this crucial period in people’s lives.

Being married to a Tongan and having lived in the kingdom for over three years, she demonstrates a high level of competence in understanding the South Pacific ‘way of being’. In her study she traces the patterns of children’s socialization – from being ‘vale’ to becoming ‘poto’ – with great care and attention to detail. This makes her account an immensely engaging read.

‘Literacy, Emotion, and Authority: Reading and Writing on a Polynesian Atoll’ by Niko Besnier

This is a very interesting publication as it investigates literacy practices on the Nukulaelae atoll in Tuvalu.

Niko Besnier, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, visited the Ellice Islands numerous times between 1979 – 1985. During those sojourns he became interested in everyday forms of literacy and began to examine the close relationship between language, culture, and personhood. The result? A rather academic but certainly fascinating book.

‘Gender Rituals: Female Initiation in Melanesia’ by Nancy Lutkehaus, Paul Roscoe

Initiation rituals constitute an important subject matter in anthropological studies, and yet there aren’t many titles that cover this topic in regard to Pacific communities. Edited by Nancy Lutkehaus and Paul Roscoe book is one of such publications.

Throughout the volume, the authors analyse practices of eight different cultural groups of Papua New Guinea (mainly the Sepik region), explaining how they influence and shape the local societies. Although focused on women, the book will definitely be of great interest for both genders.

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‘A FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY: EIGHT YEARS OF TROUBLE IN SAMOA’ BY ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

‘A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa’ is a chronicle of the Samoan Civil War as seen through the eyes of Robert Louis Stevenson, who witnessed the events while living on the island of Upolu.

A FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY

Summary

After cruising the Pacific Ocean, Robert Louis Stevenson decides to settle in Samoa. He becomes immensely interested in the country’s political situation, so he devotes his attention to the battle of three Western nations – Germany, Great Britain, and the United States – over control of the archipelago. As he observes the often tragic happenings, he shares his views on the colonial powers and their roles in the conflict.

Review

This is not quite a memoir, not quite a detailed analysis, and not quite a history book. It’s something in between. It’s an unsentimental, a very matter-of-fact account penned by a man who was an eyewitness to what we would call a great demonstration of power in the not-so-golden era of colonialism. It’s an ample explanation of the past, undeniably worthy of note. However, and you should keep this in mind, it teaches more than it entertains.

Although extremely informative, the book won’t be to everyone’s taste. If you are
a history enthusiast, you will most definitely love it. If you are a Pasifika aficionado, you may like it. But if you are just a literature fan, you will probably get bored with it after finishing the fifth page. This volume certainly wouldn’t win an award in ‘The Most Engaging’ category. This time, Stevenson’s writing style simply isn’t convincing; it is diffuse, unnecessarily prolix. His prose is overly formal, sentences winding, and lengthy descriptions more frustrating than enlightening. All these things make the whole book quite tedious and mundane. It’s not light-hearted literature that can be read for pleasure or enjoyment. Unless you take pleasure in broadening your historical knowledge, that is.

Of course, it would be unjust to focus on the negatives only. ‘A Footnote to History’ is an insightful account of the dramatic events, full of facts and details that are tremendously interesting. As a foreigner, someone from ‘the outside’, Stevenson acted as a partially neutral observer. Partially, because he openly sided with the Samoans. He was a fierce advocate for the archipelago’s independence from the colonial empires and never hesitated to criticize German, American, and British interests. Over 100 years ago, the book served as the author’s silent protest against the diplomacy of involvement; today, it is a reminder of what a dangerous game imperialism can be.

Apart from being a valuable history lesson, the volume is also a fascinating journey into the culture of Samoan people. Stevenson not only records the times of the war, but he also describes the attitudes and behaviours of the native inhabitants. He emphasizes their heroism, honesty, and amiability, contrasting these with the Westerners’ devious actions. As he reveals what fa’a Samoa really means, he encourages readers to learn from the Polynesians, giving their etiquette and moral values as examples to follow.

I must say that this book is one of the most underrated works from the Scottish author. It is by no means an easy read but well worth the effort. And although it may be quite challenging to get through all the eleven chapters (don’t give up!), I can promise you – sooner or later – you’ll get your reward.

GREAT SUMMER READS (2014)

‘Bula: Sailing Across the Pacific’ by Bryan Carson

Bryan, bored with his corporate job, decides to fulfil his dream and cruise the Pacific Ocean. He buys a boat and, together with his friend Figman, begins a great adventure.

After a short stop in Mexico, Bryan sails to French Polynesia, Hawaii, Kiribati, Tonga, American Samoa, Fiji, and New Caledonia. Along the way he meets a variety of people, both native Islanders and foreign visitors, makes some new friends, and has a lot of fun while discovering the wonders of the Blue Continent.

This is a brilliant story created to entertain readers and give them a little bit of enjoyment. Written with a fantastic sense of humour, it will make you laugh out loud from the very first page. A truly compelling read for one of those lazy summer days!

‘An Afternoon in Summer’ by Kathy Giuffre

Kathy, a single mother of two young boys, decides to spend her sabbatical year researching indigenous art of Rarotonga. Eager to live on a tropical island, she packs her sons and together they set off on a magical adventure.

After arriving in the Cooks, Kathy finds out that they have no place to stay. Her unlikely saviour is Emily, an 82-year-old Maori lady, who offers them a room in her house by the ocean.

This beautiful and heart-warming book is a must-read for every woman who dreams of escaping from reality, forgetting about problems, and decamping to an almost ideal location. It’s a touching story that inspires, evokes emotions, and stirs the soul.

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

At the age of 26, Maarten moves to Kiribati with his girlfriend Sylvia. Soon after arrival, their expectations of a tropical paradise are brutally shattered into pieces. The spectacular corner of the globe turns out to be a polluted, dirty island where one needs to find a way to survive while being ‘surrounded’ by the rhythms of ‘La Macarena’.

Nevertheless, Maarten and Sylvia learn how to enjoy the simple pleasures of life and after two years are reluctant to go home.

It seems that only J. Maarten Troost can create such a brilliantly written, humorous story that captures attention and simply doesn’t let go. It is a thoroughly engaging travelogue filled with hilarious anecdotes and some thought-provoking reminiscences that will leave you wondering what’s really important in life.

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

Upon returning from Kiribati, Maarten takes a job at the World Bank. His new, buttoned-down life quickly makes him tired. He misses the islands of the South Seas and dreams of another escape. Luckily for him, his wife Sylvia is offered a position in Vanuatu.

As they land in Melanesia, they are eager to immerse themselves in the local culture. They drink kava, get to know the country’s history, and discover the darker side of humanity – cannibalism. Everything seems to be almost peachy until Sylvia gets pregnant and the couple is forced to search for proper medical care. Unable to find it in Vanuatu, they decide to move to Fiji.

Another great story created by Troost. It’s definitely different from his first book, nevertheless it is just as good. It is a comic travelogue-cum-touching memoir, in which the author shares his thoughts and reflections not only on finding paradise but also on discovering the true meaning of ‘home’.

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

Inspired by famous writers, newly sober Maarten decides to come back to his beloved Pasifika in order to retrace Robert Louis Stevenson’s route through the Blue Continent.

Following in the Scottish author’s footsteps, he travels from island to island, taking time to explore all the places he has read about. Somewhere along the way, his adventure turns into an amazing journey of self-discovery.

This book is not as light-hearted and amusing as Troost’s previous works. It’s much more serious; it’s personal and intimate; it’s focused on giving readers valuable insights into the cultures of the South Seas. The author’s style may have matured, but it’s still utterly unique. You will definitely have a lot of fun while reading this fascinating tale!

‘BULA: SAILING ACROSS THE PACIFIC’ BY BRYAN CARSON

‘Bula: Sailing Across the Pacific’ is an adventure book that tells the story of Bryan Carson’s three-year-long voyage through the islands of the South Seas.

BULA SAILING ACROSS THE PACIFIC

Summary

At the age of 29, Bryan comes to the realization that working for the corporate world is not his calling. He dreams of an escape, something new and exciting. As he doesn’t want to waste any more time, he buys a boat and decides to sail across the Pacific Ocean.

Along with his friend Figman, Bryan makes a safe passage to French Polynesia. After spending some quality time in Tahiti, he travels up north and visits the islands of Kiribati. Then, on his way to Hawaii, he gets caught in the ferocious storm but eventually manages to reach the archipelago. There he meets a girl named Misty, who accompanies him to Palmyra and American Samoa. In Pago Pago, the pair is joined by Muzzy, a sailor from New Zealand willing to show them the dark passage to the Kingdom of Tonga.

In the Friendly Islands, the boys say goodbye to their female crewmember, then leave Polynesia behind and sail to Fiji and New Caledonia, before ending their adventure in beautiful Australia.

Review

This book is basically a written version of ‘The Hangover’, except that its story takes place on a boat which leisurely drifts through the warm waters of the Blue Continent. By no means is this a piece of serious literature. This title was created to entertain, to enthral, to give readers a little pleasure and enjoyment. I can assure you, if you grab this travelogue, you will get it all.

Of course, you may assume that any three-year-long voyage would be an exciting experience worth documenting in one way or another. That’s probably true; although personally I think this largely depends on a sailor. And Bryan… Well, Bryan is not your ordinary person. His jovial personality and ever-present eagerness to have fun is exactly what makes this account so extremely interesting. He had a blast during his journey and he didn’t mind writing about it in detail. So you’ll get to know the good, the bad, and the ugly; along with the hot, the steamy, the scary, the frightening, the strange, and the oddly bizarre. Each and every tale is spiked with his unique sense of humour, so you’ll definitely have quite a few laughs while reading about his South Seas frolics.

Now, Bryan’s memoir is predominantly about sailing. However, if you expect it to be a technical guide, you might be disappointed. It is nothing like this. You won’t find any useful tips, any practical advices here. But you will find a tremendously engaging narrative that will take you to the rough waters and magical islands of the Pacific Ocean, letting you discover some of the most fascinating cultures in the world. Without leaving your home, you’ll be able to walk on the white beaches and swim in pristine lagoons. You’ll be able to meet local inhabitants and a bunch of crazy tourists. In other words, you will have a hell of a good time.

So if you want to become a member of Bryan’s crew, simply read his book. I highly recommend it. It is a decently written account of a great voyage and I’m positive it will keep you entertained from the very first page. And who knows, maybe it will even inspire you to chase your own dreams?

‘NEW TALES OF THE SOUTH PACIFIC – PARADISE NOT’ BY GRAEME KENNEDY

‘New Tales of the South Pacific – Paradise NOT’ is the first book written by Graeme Kennedy. This collection of five stories, which describes the reality of life in the Pacific Islands, is based on Kennedy’s own observations as well as his incredible knowledge of the region.

NTOTSP 1

Summary

Travelling through the Blue Continent, Graeme Kennedy gets a chance to visit some very interesting places and encounter even more interesting characters.

In the village of Aka’aka (Wallis and Futuna), he meets a man whose only dream is to return to the hustle and bustle of a big city. In Pago Pago, he spends his time at the hot and steamy bar with quite a few attention-grabbing individuals. He then escapes to Niue, where a middle-aged New Zealander changes his life, teaching everyone a lesson. After that he finally departs to Samoa to talk to a French priest who has chosen to serve God by helping people in Lepea village.

Review

The first thing you’ll notice about this book is how fantastically written it is. As a former journalist, Kennedy definitely knows how to put thoughts and feelings into words. His writing style – elaborate yet very clear, attractive but not overwhelming – makes the stories a pleasure to read while his imagery – powerful, vivid, and precise – makes the stories come alive. As everything, from landscapes to neighbourhoods, is depicted in the slightest detail, you’ll get a chance to ‘explore’ the surroundings. It doesn’t matter if it’s a luxury resort, a stunning beach, or a sleazy bar – you will ‘see’ it all. You will even feel the heat and humidity slowly surrounding you… Ah, that tropical paradise!

Speaking of which, are those islands really heaven on earth? In the eyes of Graeme Kennedy, they are not. After starting the book with a wide-ranging commentary on the history of Polynesia and its current situation, the author makes a great comparison between the so-called Eden and the actual South Pacific, which – just like any other place in this world – has its dark side. You’ll suddenly discover that not every street resembles the picture-perfect images from travel brochures, ever-so-friendly natives need to deal with their own problems, and tourists do not always get what they came for. But somehow the Blue Continent is still fascinating and magical. Even if it’s shown from a different perspective.

The stories in Kennedy’s compilation vary widely. Some of them are tragic, some are sad, some are simply hilarious. But they all have one thing in common: they are deeply thought-provoking; they change the way we perceive that blue land of bliss. Mind you, they change the way we perceive our world.

The book is short and can be read very quickly. It’s just perfect for a lazy evening spent at home or an even lazier afternoon spent at the beach. I am sure you will love it, especially if you enjoy travel writing with a twist.