Tag Archives: Kiribati

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.

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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.

‘PACIFIC ODYSSEY’ BY GWENDA CORNELL

‘Pacific Odyssey’ is an adventure memoir penned by Gwenda Cornell. It recounts her family’s amazing voyage through the islands of the Blue Continent.

PACIFIC ODYSSEY

Summary

Persuaded by her sea-loving husband, Gwenda agrees to set out on a sailing adventure across the Pacific Ocean. Together with Jimmy and their two children, Ivan and Doina, she leaves England and begins the great journey of discovery.

Visiting famous tourist destinations as well as little-known corners of the South Seas, the family explores the wonders of the region. Their yacht takes them to Samoa – the land of Robert Louis Stevenson; to the monumental statues of Easter Island; to French Polynesia, where Jimmy gets a chance to star in a movie. They meet the great-grandson of Tem Binoka in Kiribati and the descendants of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn. They discover the fascinating history of the Solomon Archipelago, attend the art festival in Papua New Guinea, and – together with the local inhabitants – celebrate the independence of Tuvalu. But most of all, they learn to seize the day, see the good in life, and enjoy each and every moment as much as one possibly can.

Review

This book can make you feel jealous. Sailing the Pacific for more than three years, touring all the lovely spots most people only dream of, getting immersed in indigenous cultures… Who wouldn’t want that? Fortunately, Gwenda Cornell’s memoir gives you the opportunity to satisfy your wanderlust cravings. It’s a wonderful ‘armchair escape’ to the tropics that lets you ‘see’ the islands of Oceania without ever having to leave your house.

Now, the book’s title is ‘Pacific Odyssey’. Quite honestly, it is less about the odyssey, more about the Pacific. By no means is this a manual for cruising enthusiasts. There is virtually no information regarding the technical aspects of sailing, so if this is something you hope to find, you may feel disappointed. Instead, the author devotes her attention to the places she and her family had the privilege to visit during their adventure. Her comprehensive, detailed descriptions of not only the islands but also certain customs and traditions are simply outstanding. Every sentence is filled with genuine passion and deep insight. Gwenda’s first-hand knowledge of the South Seas makes the travelogue an extremely interesting read as well as an invaluable guide for those who think about unleashing their inner explorer and embarking on a journey of their own.

The memoir might not be exceptional in terms of language and style, but it is certainly well written. Composed in a light-hearted manner and seasoned with gentle humour, it enraptures so much you don’t want to put it down. Just as Gwenda sailed from island to island, you want to sail from chapter to chapter. And the absolute icing on the cake is the book’s ending – extremely moving and thought-provoking; definitely worth contemplating.

‘Pacific Odyssey’ is the promise of an unforgettable voyage that you wished was reality. Charming, educational, funny and poignant at the same time, this memoir is a pure delight from start to finish. Just remember that after reaching ‘The End’ you may feel a burning desire to check your back account, buy a boat, and sail away.

BEST LAUGH-OUT-LOUD BOOKS (PART 1)

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

Paul Theroux never fails to deliver a compelling story. His travelogue – which is a truly wonderful journey across the Pacific Ocean – provides fascinating insights into the islands of the Blue Continent, giving readers a chance to absorb its undeniable charm. This informative, enthralling, witty, and – most of all – genuinely funny account captures attention right from the beginning. It simply could not be written any better. Ultimate reading enjoyment is guaranteed.

‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific’, ‘Getting Stoned with Savages: A Trip Through the Islands of Fiji and Vanuatu’, ‘Headhunters on My Doorstep: A True Treasure Island Ghost Story’ by J. Maarten Troost

J. Maarten Troost’s ‘South Pacific trilogy’ is everything you’d ever want from travel literature. Not only do the books let you ‘experience’ different cultures, but they also give you the opportunity to see them through the eyes of another human being. The author’s adventures keep you absolutely riveted, and his astonishing sense of humour makes each story a pleasure to read. Phenomenal work!

‘Dodging Machetes: How I Survived Forbidden Love, Bad Behavior, and the Peace Corps in Fiji’ by Will Lutwick

Finding love in a tropical paradise… How cheesy is that? Well, Will Lutwick proves that even such ‘ordinary’ story can be turned into a thrilling and highly amusing narrative. This thought-provoking memoir is a real page-turner. Finely created with a good dose of jocularity and intelligence, it not only entertains but most of all enlightens and educates.

‘Nowhere Slow: Eleven Years in Micronesia’ by Jonathan Gourlay

This is a truly wonderful, brilliantly written collection of essays. Even though some of the stories deal with quite serious subjects, Jonathan Gourlay’s wit and delightful wry humour lighten the overall tone of the book, making it almost hilariously funny. One thing you should bear in mind: this is not a title for very young readers!

‘Bula: Sailing Across the Pacific’ by Bryan Carson

Bryan Carson’s travelogue is pure entertainment, nothing more and nothing less. It’s a fantastic adventure story written in a light-hearted manner that makes you smile from the very first to the very last page. If you have ever dreamt about cruising the Pacific, hopping from island to island, and meeting new people – this is a book for you.

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?

‘THE SEX LIVES OF CANNIBALS: ADRIFT IN THE EQUATORIAL PACIFIC’ BY J. MAARTEN TROOST

‘The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific’ is a travelogue written by J. Maarten Troost. It recounts the time he and his girlfriend spent living and working on the Tarawa atoll in the Republic of Kiribati.

THE SEX LIVES OF CANNIBALS

Summary

At the age of 26, Maarten is a proud holder of a useless graduate degree who excels at hopping from one temporary job to another. His life is becoming dangerously stagnant, so when his girlfriend, Sylvia, is offered a position of country director for the Foundation for the Peoples of the South Pacific in Kiribati, he is more than happy to pack his bags and move to this romantic, tropical paradise at the end of the world.

Soon upon their arrival, Maarten and Sylvia discover that Kiribati is not exactly what they thought it would be. Tropical, yes! At the end of the world, absolutely! But paradise, no way! The beaches are polluted, freshwater supply is deficient, gourmet food is non-existent, and recreational options are limited. What’s worse, the only music that can be heard on the island are the not-so-sweet sounds of ‘La Macarena’.

Yet, after two years of assimilation, Maarten and Sylvia are reluctant to go home. It turns out that life in Kiribati is just easier, simpler, and a little bit happier than anywhere else on the globe.

Review

When it comes to travel writing, J. Maarten Troost is a natural. His travelogue is one of the finest examples of the genre; it’s a book so engaging, you simply don’t want it to end.

What is most striking about this memoir is the author’s sense of humour: sharp, witty, sometimes a little warped. You can sense, almost from the very first page, that all the stories were written to amuse readers and give them a bit of enjoyment. And it seems that everything – sanitation, waste management, or the futile attempts to get a subscription to ‘The New Yorker’ – can be described with a certain dose of jocularity. Troost himself defined his writings as ‘not too serious, not too stupid’. This short line is indeed a very accurate summary of this title.

Not too serious, you already know why. But not too stupid? Well, somewhere in between the humour, Troost managed to bring up a few important subjects, such as Kiribati’s economic and political situation, ongoing problems, and biggest threats. Several chapters focus on local history, providing interesting insights into the islands’ forgotten past. What’s impressive and especially worth noting here is that all the weighty issues are tackled with surprising lightness – you learn about them without even realizing it.

The narrative is coherent and well-organized, which makes the book a pleasure to read. And despite the fact that the pace is rather slow (Kiribati time, eh?), it’s quite impossible to get bored with this story. It’s captivating and revealing; it’s as fascinating as only life in Pasifika can be.

The title is misleading – the memoir is neither about sex, nor about cannibals. But still…it’s a fantastic piece of travel literature. If you need a ray of light in your life, give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.

‘SAILING TO JESSICA’ BY KELLY WATTS

‘Sailing to Jessica’ is a modern-day adventure book as well as a memoir written by Kelly Watts. It tells the story of an amazing voyage Kelly and her husband set out on in December 2001.

SAILING TO JESSICA

Summary

At 35 years old, Kelly and Paul feel they need a change in their lives. A breeze of fresh air, something new and exciting. Something that would help them forget about their ongoing fertility struggles. Inspired by Tania Aebi’s book, they decide to sail across the Pacific Ocean. So they sell their house in Philadelphia, quit their jobs, and buy Cherokee Rose – a boat destined to become their new home. But, as they soon discover, sailing with no experience is not always an easy task. Nevertheless, Kelly and Paul are determined to succeed. And even the forty-knot gale they get caught in just two days after purchasing their sloop is not a discouragement.

Along the way, they visit quite a few interesting places. They encounter sea lions in Galapagos, buy black pearls in French Polynesia, and meet the sole inhabitant of the remote Suwarrow atoll in the Cook Islands. They drink kava in Fiji and enjoy the raw beat of drums in Tuvalu. Sailing up north, they stop in Kiribati. A short visit to this equatorial country turns into a lifelong adventure when Kelly and Paul meet their daughter Jessica. The miracle of adoption brings new meaning not only to their voyage but most of all to their lives.

Review

This book is exceptional for many reasons. To begin with, it is the most beautiful tale of love, family, and hope – it shows that everyone should chase their dreams and fight for their happiness despite any obstacles that may arise. Because ‘impossible’ does not exist. If you really want something, you will – sooner or later – find a way to achieve it. You just have to believe and dare to take the risk. I don’t think anyone would expect such wonderful words of inspiration from an adventure book. But I guess once in a while we all can be pleasantly surprised.

In addition to being a powerful ‘motivator’, it is also a fantastic read for all those people who dream of or are interested in sailing. Packed with technical terms as well as detailed and accurate descriptions of a nautical life, the story can be a great source of information for cruisers in all stages. There are some useful tips, there are some guidelines, there are some tricks that can make somebody else’s journey a worry-free (at least to some degree) and pleasant adventure.

Of course, the Blue Continent is also a prominent subject. Paul and Kelly’s route took them to places like Tonga, Fiji, Tuvalu, French Polynesia, Kiribati, and the Cook Islands, and I must say that all these beautiful locations are vividly described. Some of the countries are portrayed more cursorily than the others, nevertheless all of them do appear in the book. And there is one, absolutely fantastic piece on the sole inhabitant of the Suwarrow atoll that simply tugs at your heartstrings.

The memoir is, without a doubt, worth reading. It’s hard to find an attention-grabbing, action-packed adventure story that inspires and makes people think about their own lives. But this is exactly what Kelly Watts did. She wrote a lovely tale about sailing. And that’s not an easy thing to do because ‘lovely’ and ‘sailing’ simply don’t go together. Yet, she managed. She shared her experiences, thoughts, and emotions. The result? A well-written, funny, absorbing, informative, and thoroughly enjoyable book. Read it, and you will feel like a member of the crew.

‘IN THE SOUTH SEAS’ BY ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

‘In the South Seas’ is an account of a journey undertaken by Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny in June 1888. The book, which was published posthumously, describes their experiences in the Marquesas, the Paumotus, and the Gilbert Islands.

IN THE SOUTH SEAS

Summary

Due to his declining health, Robert Louis Stevenson decides to take his family on a voyage to the Pacific Islands. In the Marquesas, their first destination, the group becomes acquainted with local customs and traditions. They quickly discover that white people and the natives share as many differences as similarities. They also notice that the islands, however beautiful they are, hide some very dark secrets of the past…

After their stay in the Marquesas, the Stevenson party sets sail for the Paumotu Archipelago. They rent a magnificent villa on Fakarava atoll and spend their time exploring the surroundings and socializing with family-oriented and hard-working Paumotuan people. On one occasion, they attend a traditional funeral of an old man. This sad occurrence leads Mr Stevenson to trace the history of religious beliefs in the South Seas.

From the Paumotus, the group travels to Hawaii and then to the Gilbert Islands. They visit Butaritari atoll, where they witness a wild and boozy celebrations of the 4th of July, and attend a five-day long festival full of music and dancing. Afterwards, the family heads to Apemama to meet King Tembinok’ – a tyrant ruler surrounded by female wardens. Although the monarch does not accept the presence of foreigners, he makes an exception and grants the Stevensons a permission to live on the island, in their very own Equator City.

Review

I should be honest here, this book is not an easy read. Despite being very informative and interesting, it may not suit everyone’s tastes.

Stevenson’s travelogue is first and foremost an accurate and in-depth description of certain Pacific islands and their native inhabitants. As a keen observer of nature and people, the author paints a very real picture of what we often call ‘a tropical paradise’. And, let me tell you, this picture is not a rosy one but always full of respect for the Islanders. Because in Stevenson’s eyes the natives weren’t cruel cannibals, though he knew exactly that some of them had enjoyed human flesh. He didn’t treat them as savages either, even when their behaviour was far from the commonly accepted norms. Such attitude makes his South Sea tales very believable and convincing. As a reader, you simply trust everything the author says.

The book is exceptionally well written. Depictions, even if long in some parts, are second to none. They capture attention, they appeal to the senses, they make you want to be in that particular place – on the beach in Kiribati or in the warm waters of French Polynesia. Stevenson’s words leave you longing for an adventure. With every page your desire to experience the island life grows stronger. And then, suddenly, when you put the book down, you are forced to get back to reality while Pasifika slowly fades away.

The author’s style definitely delights, however some readers may struggle with the language. You are probably aware of the fact that it is quite archaic, so understanding Stevenson’s thoughts can be a challenge. But if you are prepared for the 19th century prose and not afraid of a few uncommon words, give it a try. I’m sure you won’t be disappointed, especially when you bury yourself in that magnificent atmosphere of the Pacific region.

I must say I enjoyed this book very much. It is a true classic and can be regarded as one of the most valuable pieces of literature that addresses the Blue Continent. It’s a must-read for those who are truly interested in the South Seas.