Tag Archives: Kiribati

GREAT SUMMER READS (2017)

‘Inside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals’ by Trish Nicholson

Working overseas has always been Trish’s dream. When she is offered a job in Papua New Guinea, she’s more than willing to take it.

Upon her arrival, Trish discovers a completely new world with hundreds of languages and a multitude of different cultures. And although she is eager to help the country and its inhabitants, she quickly realizes that it may not be as easy as she initially thought.

This is such a good book! The author’s adventures and experiences in the Land of the Unexpected throw much-needed light on the international aid, which is a very sensitive topic. But Trish Nicholson deals with it in a very light-hearted manner. Her poetic style and brilliant sense of humour makes ‘Inside the Crocodile’ a thoroughly enjoyable (but enlightening and thought-provoking!) read.

‘All Good Things: From Paris to Tahiti’ by Sarah Turnbull

When Sarah’s husband is asked to set up a new law office in Tahiti, she agrees – albeit reluctantly – to move to the end of the world (at least that’s what Tahiti looks like on the world map).

The picture-perfect country welcomes her with sounds, smells, colours, and views fit for paradise. Only her life is far from idyllic. Her overwhelming longing for a child makes each day a challenge. But as they say, all good things come to those who wait.

Sarah Turnbull wrote a very personal memoir – and did it masterfully! Her beautiful, lyrical depictions will transport you to French Polynesia, which – as you’ll have a chance to find out – has also a darker side. This is an engaging travelogue with a moving and poignant story that gives hope. You won’t be able to put it down.

‘Pacific Odyssey’ by Gwenda Cornell

Sailing the Pacific? Why not! Together with her husband, Jimmy, and two children, Gwenda decides to take a journey of a lifetime.

In the Blue Continent, they visit Samoa – much loved by Robert Louis Stevenson; meet the great-grandson of Tem Binoka in Kiribati and the descendants of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn; and take part in independence celebrations in Tuvalu. What is more, Jimmy even gets a chance to star in a movie in French Polynesia.

A boat, tropical islands, and great adventure. Isn’t that what we associate with a perfect summer? Well, that’s exactly why this memoir is a perfect summer read. It will surely satisfy your wanderlust, but it may also make you green with envy. Gwenda’s compelling stories plus her vivid descriptions will be reason enough to stay at home with this book in your hands. Ok, I’m just kidding. But be prepared that you’ll want to sail from chapter to chapter until you reach the very end.

‘Boxed Wine at Sunset: Two Americans. Two years. A small village in Vanuatu’ by Judy Beaudoin

What can one do after sending their kids off to college? Travel the world perhaps? Volunteer? Or maybe do both? Exactly! That’s the perfect plan, especially if one wants to avoid an empty nest syndrome.

After selling all their possessions and quitting their jobs, Kim and Judy travel to Vanuatu as Peace Corps volunteers. Working in the local primary school, the couple not only teach the youngest generations of ni-Vanuatu but also – or rather most importantly – learn a great deal about life in a different culture.

This is a wonderful memoir if you want to relax and get to know something interesting. Judy Beaudoin’s writing style is graceful and vivid, and the stories she shares… Well, they are impossible to describe in a few words – you have to believe me! Read this book and I can assure you that you won’t regret it!

‘Noa Noa: The Tahitian Journal’ by Paul Gauguin

Having decided to leave Europe, Paul Gauguin travels to Tahiti in the hope of finding an unspoiled paradise.

What he discovers is a unique place full of beauty. Living among the natives, he gets to know the local culture – full of ancient customs and traditions – which totally engrosses him. This fascination with Polynesian way of being inspires him to create.

Although quite controversial, Gauguin’s memoir is a terribly good read. Part autobiography, part travelogue, part study of the Tahitian society, this book is a valuable piece of literature. Magnificent illustrations, painted by the artist himself, only add to the overall charm. Definitely worthy of your attention!

Advertisements

‘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.

WORKING IN PARADISE: BEST BOOKS (PART 2)

‘An Island in the Autumn’ by John Smith

After spending twenty years as a Commonwealth administrator in Nigeria, John is given a fresh assignment – he is sent to Solomon Islands to serve as Financial Secretary. Although his job is quite fulfilling, he changes it three years later for the post of Governor of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands.

This is an enormously interesting memoir you will not want to put down until you reach the last page. John Smith shows and carefully explains the process of decolonization, describing at the same time what life on a Pacific island is really like.

‘Gallivanting on Guam’ by Dave Slagle

When you are offered a really great job in a really great place, there’s nothing that can go wrong. Or is there? After moving to Guam to work as a general manager of Tropical Gym, Dave thinks his life just can’t get any better. Everything changes when he is drawn into a bitter dispute with his corrupt boss, who happens to be a very wealthy businessman, well-known on the little island.

Dave Slagle’s book is a terrific piece of travel literature. A bit controversial, yes, but extremely informative and laugh-out-loud funny. What’s it like to work in paradise for one of the richest men? Read this book and you will find out.

‘A Pattern of Islands’ by Arthur Grimble

In 1913, Arthur Grimble gets nominated to a cadetship in the Gilbert and Ellice Island Protectorate. A few month later he steps foot on the islands he will call home for the next nineteen years.

Not only is Sir Arthur Grimble’s memoir a gripping account of one man’s experiences and adventures in a foreign land, but also a very honest portrayal of colonial administration. As it turns out, it’s not always easy to be a representative of a British government in a small Pacific country.

‘Land of the Unexpected’ by Brian Smith

When Brian sees a job advertisement for an architect in the Daily Telegraph, he packs the bags and together with his wife and two children hops on a plane to Papua New Guinea to work for the PNG Works Department. Trying to revamp the county’s health care facilities, he travels from one province to another. In each of them he learns something new about the country, its people and their culture.

Despite the fact that some readers may find this book a little bit boring, it is a very nice account of an expatriate life in the Land of the Unexpected. Everything is described in great detail, so if you want to get to know Papua New Guinea, this is a title for you.

‘Letters from the Sleeping Lady – The Kindling of Two Teachers and Kosrae Island’ by Malcolm Lindquist, Tarry Lindquist

When Malcolm and Tarry decide to accept teaching positions at the local elementary school in Kosrae, they don’t really know what to expect. What starts as an exciting adventure, turns out to be a life-changing experience.

This written in the form of letters (to the authors’ granddaughters) book is a lovely, emotional, insightful look into the history and culture of one of the most fascinating places on Earth. Terry and Malcolm share with readers a small yet important piece of their lives, and they do it in such a wonderful and engaging way, you’ll probably want to become a teacher yourself right after you reach the last sentence.

IDYLLIC MICRONESIA

‘Ujae Island was part of Ujae Atoll, which, like every coral atoll, was a thin ring of reef studded with islets surrounding a lagoon. Ujae sat perched between the inner lagoon and outer ocean, and I quickly understood that the essential axis of the island was ocean-lagoon, not east-west or north-south. Walking to the two ends of that axis brought me to the island’s extremes. The lagoon was calm, shallow, and so transparent as to be color-coded by depth; its beach was smooth, sandy, and fringed by houses. The ocean was violent, mile-deep, and impenetrably opaque; its beach was rough, rocky, and utterly deserted. There were two sides to this island, and they couldn’t have been more different.’

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


‘After our first week in Palau, Bourne took us out on the Milotk, the thirty-six-foot Marine Resources boat, to the rock islands. Southern Palau is dotted with these unique islands. Some are extruded limestone formations, deeply undercut at the waterline from erosion and the rasping action of hungry chitons. The rock islands, their crowns covered with dense native vegetation, appear as giant green mushrooms growing from the water. Others are laced with beautiful white sand beaches, as close to tropical paradise as imaginable.’

PG Bryan, ‘The Fish & Rice Chronicles’


‘The picture in our dictionary showed an atoll as a small ring of sand and coconut-palms around a dead flat lagoon kept fresh by the ebb and flow of ocean tides through breaks here and there in the land. Marakei in the Northern Gilberts is indeed rather like that – a ribbon of palm-green not more than twelve miles round; the regular golden circle of its beaches, closed save for one tidal passage, encompasses a sapphire lake forever exquisitely at rest.’

Sir Arthur Grimble, ‘A Pattern Of Islands’


‘Finally, Kosrae loomed on the horizon. The island was lush ad green, with long stretches of sandy beaches and two large, pointy peaks that defined what locals called the Sleeping Beauty, for obvious reasons. It was so beautiful and serene – like something right out of a picture postcard from paradise – that I felt a great sense of calm and peacefulness wash over me.’

Bryan Vila, Cynthia Morris, ‘Micronesian Blues’


‘Beyond Nan Madol lay the ocean and several uninhabited islands on the horizon. The beauty of the place left us speechless.’

Paul Watson, ‘Up Pohnpei’

GREAT SUMMER READS (2016)

‘Sailing to Jessica’ by Kelly Watts

When reality doesn’t always meet your expectations, you need something that will set you free from your worries and bring back a smile on your face. For Kelly and Paul, a happily married couple dealing with fertility problems, that ‘something’ turns out to be a voyage across the Pacific Ocean.

As they sail from one island to another, they discover the beauty of life anew. Visiting fascinating places and immersing themselves in the exotic cultures of the South Seas, they finally start to look to the future with optimism and hope in their hearts.

‘Sailing to Jessica’ is a beautiful, uplifting story that will make you both laugh and cry. Being first and foremost a great adventure book, it will speak to all the sailing aficionados who can’t imagine their lives without a daily dose of thrill and excitement. Kelly Watts describes the good, the bad, and the ugly so I can guarantee that you will not be able to stop reading until you reach the last sentence.

‘Sailing with Impunity: Adventure in the South Pacific’ by Mary E. Trimble

Fulfilling her husband’s lifelong dream, Mary agrees to set out on a journey from Seattle to the islands of the South Pacific. After finding the right boat and saying their farewells, the couple is ready to set sail to paradise.

Despite dealing with the unpredictable power of nature, they manage to enjoy their new life aboard Impunity. They get to know the alluring world of Polynesia, taking delight in meeting local inhabitants and experiencing their ways of being.

Summer is the time of year when most of us feel the urge to travel. It’s not always possible to leave everything behind and just get away, but a good book will definitely satisfy your needs. I promise you that Mary’s words will transport you to the tropical isles. You’ll be able to feel the hot air, smell the sweet scent of flowers, and hear the cheerful buzz of people’s voices.

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

Following in James Cook’s footsteps? Why not! Two centuries after the great Englishman’s voyages, Tony Horwitz decides to embark on his own adventure, recreating Cook’s epic journeys through the Pacific Ocean.

Trying to fully grasp the Captain’s accomplishments, Tony happily explores the tiny islands. He spends time chatting to the natives, asking questions, and waiting for answers. He isn’t afraid to dig deep and, as a result, gets awarded with a riveting tale of the navigator’s life.

Not only will this masterfully written travelogue give you a lot of enjoyment, but it will also provide you with a great deal of information about history, Westernization, and most of all Captain James Cook. It is a compelling read that will let you discover the Blue Continent from the comfort of your home.

‘The Shark God: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in the South Pacific’ by Charles Montgomery

Ever since Charles came across his great-grandfather’s box as a 10-year-old boy, the pieces of paper that were tucked inside have been constantly in the back of his mind. Inspired by the unusual discovery, and especially by one intriguing description of the events that had taken place in Melanesia in the 19th century, he decides to visit the islands of the Pacific.

In Vanuatu and the Solomons, he searches for old myths and legends; for reality that blends with black magic. What he finds is a bewitching world of ancient rituals and traditions that completely engrosses his body, soul, and mind.

This book is as much about the author’s journey as it is about religion and different belief systems. It’s very thought-provoking but at the same time extremely entertaining. Charles Montgomery, being a talented writer he is, invites you to accompany him on a guided tour of Melanesia. Trust me, you don’t want to miss that chance.

‘The Fragile Edge: Diving and Other Adventures in the South Pacific’ by Julia Whitty

The Blue Continent has always been heaven for deep-sea divers. While shooting for nature documentaries, Julia Whitty ventures underwater to discover the kingdom of the great Pacific Ocean.

In three different locations: Rangiroa atoll, Funafuti, and Mo’orea, she explores the mesmerizing world of sea creatures and coral reefs, occasionally going on land to acquaint herself with the local cultures and see how globalization has been changing the remote places.

If you like watching nature documentaries, you will absolutely love this book! The author’s incredibly vivid descriptions will let you picture every scene in your mind’s eye. It’s a pretty spectacular ‘visual’ experience that may surprise you quite a bit.

‘HEADHUNTERS ON MY DOORSTEP: A TRUE TREASURE ISLAND GHOST STORY’ BY J. MAARTEN TROOST

‘Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’ is a memoir penned by a well-known travel writer, J. Maarten Troost. It is his third book on the South Pacific.

HEADHUNTERS ON MY DOORSTEP

Summary

In order to recuperate from a fierce battle with alcoholism, Maarten decides to return to his beloved Oceania – a happy place where life is simpler and problems a little easier to solve. Fascinated by Robert Louis Stevenson’s descriptions of the South Seas, he chooses to retrace the famous Scot’s route through the magnificent islands.

On board the Aranui III cargo ship, he arrives at his first destination. The Marquesas archipelago – the land of cannibals and extreme beauty – leaves Maarten in so much awe that he ends up getting a traditional (and a bit crooked) tattoo from a local (and not yet experienced in inking) teenager. With the imperfect turtle on his arm, he is ready to continue his journey.

He heads further south to Fakarava and then to very French Tahiti, before finally reaching the shores of his adopted home – Kiribati. After discovering that some things have changed and others have not, he leaves the Micronesian country and travels to Tusitala’s land – Samoa.

Review

Another book, another story – the author’s third on the Pacific Islands. But is this Troost at his best? I am not quite sure.

Unlike the author’s previous titles – ‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals’ and ‘Getting Stoned with Savages’ – this one is not about the Blue Continent. Well, not exactly, anyway. This is a memoir of a recovering alcoholic who tries (thankfully) to beat his addiction. This is his tale of dealing with and finally embracing those inner demons that sometimes make a person’s life unbearable. But if you expect it to be yet another let-me-tell-you-what-I’ve-been-through kind of a narrative, you will probably be surprised. Or not. This is J. Maarten Troost, after all – sharp, wickedly wry sense of humour is his trademark. So yes, he writes about battling that bad habit of drinking too much wine (beer, rum, vodka perhaps?), but he does it in the most light-hearted way possible. Quite honestly, his thoughts and reflections might give you an (illusory and obviously wrong) idea that alcoholism is a disease only slightly worse than a common cold.

Regaining sobriety theme makes up a sizable portion of the storyline. But where are the headhunters? Where are the ghosts? Did Troost manage to find a place for his much-loved Pacific Islands in this very personal memoir? He did. The countries may not be the main focus of his attention, but they do appear in the book. Following in Robert Louis Stevenson’s footsteps, the author concentrates on giving readers insights into the fascinating cultures he had a chance to encounter during his journey. As a tourist-writer – because this time J. Maarten Troost was just a visitor hopping from the isles of French Polynesia to Kiribati and Samoa – he contrasts the lifestyles of Pacific peoples with his own way of being. And taking into account that most of the places on his route were quite new to him, it’s easy to imagine the in-depth analyses he performs. Honestly, it can’t be described, it must be read.

Praising Troost’s writing style is pointless, really. We all know it’s phenomenal. The man is a master of irony, wit, and self-deprecating, tongue-in-cheek humour. A genuinely funny guy you want to ‘hang out’ with. Rarely is he serious, often very flippant. He comments freely on what he observes. And sometimes you get an impression that his mouth – or hand in this case – works faster than his mind. But you don’t care; because when you read Troost, you laugh. You just laugh.

Now, although the author’s style has remained much the same, you can’t help but notice that it’s been slowly evolving. At first glance, ‘Headhunters on My Doorstep’ is a whimsical read. But somewhere beneath the surface there is a meaningful message that resonates emotionally with an audience. Yes, Troost has visibly matured. If you liked the old lad, you may be slightly disappointed with this particular title.

I have to admit, I’m a big Troost fan. I adore everything and anything he creates. And when he writes about Oceania – I am simply in love. Do you yearn to escape to the tropics? If yes, this is your book. Just remember… It has an addition of mind-altering substances.

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’

GREAT ANTHROPOLOGICAL READS ABOUT PACIFIC ISLANDS (PART 2)

‘Tahitians: Mind and Experience in the Society Islands’ by Robert I. Levy

If you want to get to know Tahitians, you should read Robert Levy’s book. It’s as good as an anthropological study can get.

Levy visited Society Islands in the early 1960s and worked there for 26 months. During that time he lived among Tahitians and became acquainted with their distinctive ways of being. His publication covers a wide range of topics, from moral behaviour to love and relationships to personal psychological organization. It is a must-read for everyone interested in French Polynesia.

‘Tokelau: A Historical Ethnography’ by Judith Huntsman, Antony Hooper

There are very few books about Tokelau, which is reason enough to reach for Judith Huntsman and Antony Hooper’s title. Plus, it’s a really valuable piece of ethnohistory that not only examines the archipelago’s traditional lifestyle but also elaborates on its bygone times.

In nine chapters, the authors try to explain how Tokelau’s past relates to its present, and in what way it shaped the nation’s indigenous culture. Their focus on all three atolls makes the book an exceptionally comprehensive and equally enlightening study.

‘Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea’ by Bronislaw Malinowski

This is yet another classic in the canon of Pacific Islands non-fiction literature. Bronislaw Malinowski was, without the slightest doubt, one of the most influential social anthropologists of all time, and his works are still today regarded as groundbreaking in their field.

In this particular book, the author investigates the complex trading system conducted in the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea. Since the publication of his account, the Kula Ring has gained much attention, however no one has ever described it in such meticulous detail as Malinowski did. A truly fantastic volume!

‘Tungaru Traditions: Writings on the Atoll Culture of the Gilbert Islands’ by Arthur F. Grimble, Henry Evans Maude

Sir Arthur Grimble is perhaps best recognized for his memoir that recounts his time in Kiribati and Tuvalu (formerly the Gilbert and Ellice Islands), where he worked after joining the Colonial Office. Not many people know, however, that he also wrote another book – an immensely engaging ethnography based on fieldwork he carried out in the Gilberts.

‘Tungaru Traditions’, which was edited and published by Henry Evans Maude, provides significant insight into Gilbertese culture: customs, habits, rituals, practices; social organization; history; and even mythology. Not only is it compelling but also very pleasantly written.

‘Traditional Micronesian Societies: Adaptation, Integration, and Political Organization’ by Glenn Petersen

Glenn Petersen’s publication is one of the best books on Micronesia ever penned. It is extremely thorough and yet surprisingly detailed. The clearly structured content is presented in lively prose that is quite appealing even to those who aren’t very fond of academic writing.

The author describes Micronesian communities, aiming his attention at their organization around interlocking lineages and clans. This theme constitutes the focal point of the study. Petersen scrupulously explains the significance of this unusual social system, so that readers can fully understand the complexity of the Pacific’s northwest region.

A CHAT WITH… GWENDA CORNELL

Gwenda Cornell is an extraordinary woman. 35 years ago she packed her family and set out on a journey across the Pacific Ocean. She shares her adventures in an engaging memoir called ‘Pacific Odyssey’. If you want to know more not only about her book but also about her time spent in the Blue Continent, just read the interview.

GWENDA CORNELL

Pasifika Truthfully: Let’s start with the ending. You’d spent three years on a boat cruising the Pacific Ocean. Then you decided it was time to go back to England. Did you have a hard time getting used to leading a ‘normal life’?

Gwenda Cornell: In fact we had spent a total of six years roaming the oceans before we returned to England. Personally I had no problems getting back to shore life and enjoyed meeting up with family, old friends and luxuriating in a bath. Our children however had a much more difficult time, although they had looked forward to going to ‘proper’ school. They were regarded by other children as being a bit strange as they did not know the characters of popular TV programmes or which football team (soccer) to support. After many years my daughter Doina has written about all this in her memoir of growing up at sea called ‘Child of the Sea’. Her book also includes quite a lot about her experiences in the Pacific.

PT: Now let’s get back to the beginning. Why did you decide to set sail in the first place?

GC: My husband Jimmy had always wanted to go to sea since he was a child and he persuaded me that this was the best way to see the world. We had both always enjoyed travelling, but did not have much money, so he fitted out the boat himself and that way we could get to see a lot of extraordinary places that were not easy to reach in those days, when air travel was much more expensive than nowadays. Many of the places we visited did not even have airports.

PT: Didn’t you hesitate to take your children out of school for such a long period of time?

GC: At the time, I thought that the experiences they could have would be so much more than anything they could learn in the classroom. Also they were at a good age 5 & 7 when we left. I prepared for the voyage quite carefully, qualifying as a teacher and had the full support of the school in London that the children were attending. When we first set sail we only thought of staying away for 2 or 3 years, spending one year in the Pacific, but our life was so entrancing we ended up spending much longer. Also the children did enjoy going to school in a lot of places, six months in New Zealand, one month in the Gambier, a week in Aitutaki and one day in Pitcairn.

PT: Would you say that your adventure taught Ivan and Doina more than they’d have ever learnt while sitting in the classroom?

GC: Absolutely, there is no question of that. For a start we had no TV, so they read voraciously. We always made sure we had topical books, so they read Thor Heyerdahl on the way to Easter Island, ‘The Mutiny of the Bounty’ on the way to Pitcairn and so on. They learnt so much about other cultures by making friends with local children and also a lot about nature, from tropical islands to free diving on coral reefs.

PT: And what did you learn?

GC: I learnt a tremendous amount about geography, nature and Pacific culture, plus an abiding respect for the Pacific peoples who have so much to teach us about how to live life fully and care for the less able members of our society.

PT: You described some of your experiences in ‘Pacific Odyssey’, which is an amazing book. How did that happen?

GC: I started while still in the Pacific by writing small pieces for the magazine Pacific Islands Monthly (I believe it no longer exists). When I returned to England, someone suggested that I expand these articles and turn them into a book. Fortunately, I had kept a detailed journal about our voyage so it was not difficult.

PT: I’m sure there are stories you didn’t include in your memoir. Would you care to share one of them?

GC: I have been trying to think of some instance, but could not come up with anything. The voyage I describe took place 35 years ago, so some of the memories are unfortunately fading a little.

PT: I understand. Let me ask you about the people you met. Do you keep in touch with any of the Islanders?

GC: Again 35 years ago communications were much different. There was no e-mail, Internet, Facebook, etc. We even made the first phone calls out of some places. Pacific Islanders were not very good at writing letters, especially where there was no post office on their island. But when we did meet up with some of them again, such as at the Pacific Festival of Arts, friendships were easily renewed. In the epilogue I wrote to the book after 30 years I do describe some of the people we encountered again.

However we have kept in touch with many of the people from different nationalities that we met on other sailing boats and the French Bouteleux family described in the book are still among our closest friends today.

PT: Would you say the voyage changed your life?

GC: Yes, it certainly did. We became much more involved with sailing and the cruising life. It also changed my view of the world and its various peoples and cultures.

PT: What advice would you give people who’d like to follow in your footsteps and set out on a journey?

GC: Just get out there and do it while you can. Some of these places may change or even disappear as a result of climate change. Make a plan and stick to it, be prepared to live a simpler life, less dependent on all that stuff you can have these days, that way it becomes more affordable.