Tag Archives: Pacific Islands Literature

‘THE STORY OF LAULII: A DAUGHTER OF SAMOA’ BY ALEXANDER A. WILLIS, LAULII WILLIS

‘The story of Laulii: A daughter of Samoa’ is the memoir of Laulii Willis, the first native born Samoan woman to become educated in and a permanent resident of the United States of America. The book was edited by William H. Barnes.

THE STORY OF LAULII

Summary

Laulii, a young woman of noble birth, has always been a rebellious soul. Eager to learn and help others, she aspires to lead a fruitful life.

When Alexander Willis – a Canadian carpenter – arrives in Samoa, Laulii gets intrigued by this bald-headed white man, who seems to be equally bewitched by her.

As time passes by and Alexander and Laulii get to know each other better, the feeling between them grows stronger. They take vows to spend the rest of their lives together, and soon after that Laulii leaves her beloved country and travels to America with her newlywed husband.

Review

Calling this book interesting would be an understatement. This is a marvelous piece of literature, in which the authors focus their attention on Samoa rather than on their own experiences. Laulii Willis writes: ‘I have been requested to give to the world a sketch of my life, including a description of my tropical native land, together with the domestic customs, habits, amusements and legends of the far-away country of Samoa. In doing so I have a two-fold object: One is to make other lands better acquainted with my people (…).’ Well, she definitely managed to accomplish what she had intended.

To be honest with you, I am not sure if I should say that Samoa serves as a backdrop for Laulii’s and Alexander’s stories, or if it is the other way round. I think I am leaning towards the latter.

The descriptions of the Samoan archipelago are omnipresent – they fill almost every chapter. Even the most personal narratives contain little snippets that show what the South Pacific country was like in the 19th century. Laulii Willis provides invaluable and utterly engrossing insights into the ways of being of the native Samoans. She carefully explains their culture, beliefs, traditions, practices, social mores, likes and dislikes, sparing no details whatsoever. Everything she writes about is so revealing, so thoroughly fascinating that you can’t help but read one more page, one more chapter until you reach the very end.

Even the part written by Laulii’s husband isn’t bereft of the commentary on Samoa and its inhabitants. Obviously, as a foreigner he couldn’t possess the same knowledge of the country as his wife, nevertheless his observations are just as interesting.

One can’t forget though that this volume is a memoir. Laulii’s life story is a riveting account, full of serious reflections mixed with amusing anecdotes. The journeys she undertook as well as the experiences she encountered make the book read like a novel. Laulii Willis certainly was an extraordinary woman – kind-hearted, passionate, bright, talented on many fronts. She didn’t want to ‘just be’; she wanted to make a change, to open doors for other women in her motherland.

As the memoir is written in a rather informal style, it reads very well. Actually, you may feel as if you were chatting to a best friend, who’s done things in her life you really want to hear about. In retelling her story, Laulii Willis is candid, straightforward, and very charming. Her husband is much more matter-of-fact, but his recollections take up only a small part of the book.

All in all, ‘The story of Laulii’ is something you should – must – read if you have any interest in Samoa or Pacific Islands in general. It’s a great – terrific – volume that scores high on all fronts. Buy it! You won’t regret doing so.

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FA’A SAMOA (PART 2)

‘If a man thinks he likes such a girl for his wife, he goes to his best friend, perhaps his brother of father, whom he thinks he can trust, and says: “Now, my friend, I will do anything for you, no matter what it is, if you only do me a great favor. I love, and I will make her happy if she will only be my wife.” If his friend agrees, which he generally does, he goes to the girl and tells her he has a friend for her. She asks “Who?” He says, “I will not tell you his name now, as you might not like him; you might like some other man better.”’

‘When visitors are at the house, children never speak to them until they are spoken to first or requested to speak. They would be punished if, of their own accord, they should attempt to take part in any conversation or express their opinions. When told by their parents, to do anything, they immediately do as they are bidden without for a moment thinking of asking why or questioning authority.’

‘It is not generally understood why mats are so valuable to the natives, but when it is remembered that they represent events and traditions, wars and families, one may realize what they mean to the Samoan.’

‘The turtle is what may be termed national property, and should a man catch a turtle and carry it to his own house and eat it with his own family, without letting the town know and inviting them to partake of it, the finger of scorn would be pointed at him as one destitute of liberality or the true spirit of a Samoan.’

‘It is a tradition and a belief to this day among the Samoans that when they “die” as we call it, they only “go to sleep”, and that as soon as they do so the spirit leaves the body and goes to the farthermost end of the island (some imaginary point) where there is always a large number of canoes that the spirits take. These canoes in the twinkling of an eye transport them to eternity, and come immediately back.’

Alexander A. Willis, ‘The Story of Laulii’

FA’A SAMOA (PART 1)

‘The children’s heads are kept shaved. This process was performed with a sharp stone or piece of bamboo before the white people came and brought razors. The hair was all taken off with the exception of what would be termed here a “beauty lock”, which was left, sometimes in front, sometimes at the side, or at the back of the head; we called this lock “sope”.’

‘Soon after a baby is born the mother presses its head by putting one hand at the back of its head and the other on its forehead, as they do not like projecting foreheads; then the mother pinches its nose between its eyes and flattens the end of its nose by pressing. When the baby sleeps it must always lie on its back, as they think it will tend to heighten the forehead to lie on the side of the head.’

‘The Samoans are a religious people; while they make no pretensions their every act is characterized by a fervent belief in, and dependence upon a heavenly father; here again they differ somewhat from the majority of the inhabitants of more civilized countries. After rising in the morning their first act is prayer, which is always accompanied with the singing of the hymn; no meal, or even the slightest refreshment at any time, is partaken of until preceded by a prayer or blessing.’

‘Our houses are oval. When a man has made up his mind to build a house he notifies all his relatives for miles around, and they all come together and help.’

‘The Samoans tattoo the whole of the body from the hips to the knees, covering the skin so completely with the pattern that it looks at a little distance exactly as if the men were wearing a tight pair of ornamental drawers.’

Alexander A. Willis, ‘The Story of Laulii’

‘SOUTH SEA IDYLS’ BY CHARLES WARREN STODDARD

‘South Sea Idyls’ is a collection of tales written by Charles Warren Stoddard, which recounts his journeys to Hawaii and French Polynesia. The book was first published in 1873. Its English edition is called ‘Summer Cruising in the South Seas’.

SOUTH SEA IDYLS

Summary

The Blue Continent is the place where Charles Warren Stoddard feels at home. In love with the islands and most of all in their inhabitants, he often returns to Oceania to appreciate the nature and simple life people lead there.

As he spends time with the native islanders, he discovers their beguiling cultures and takes delights in whatever is being offered to him. He quickly notices that in the Pacific, life is just sweeter, easier, and more beautiful than anywhere else.

Review

When this book was first published, it stirred up some controversy. Even today some people may consider it… slightly off-putting, if you will. Because, contrary to what you may expect, this account is not just about travels to foreign and exotic lands.

Before we delve into Charles Warren Stoddard’s personal experiences in the South Seas, let’s focus on the region itself. It is remarkably well described. The author made sure readers could ‘see’ the places he went to. Every single page is full of word-pictures, which show the extraordinary beauty of Polynesia. No detail is spared. Everything is so vivid you feel as if you were standing right next to the writer. Smells, tastes, views, sounds, sensations are almost real. This book is like a watercolour painting – mesmerizing to such a degree you can’t take your eyes off of it.

Now, if the book is the painting, Charles Warren Stoddard is the painter. I am not sure if he had ever held a brush in his hand, but what he managed to achieve with this travelogue-cum-memoir suggests he might have. All the stories presented in this collection are limned  with painterly skill. The author’s poetic and flowery language is in full blossom here and you can’t help but marvel at his tremendous talent. However, for some readers this distinctive writing style may be a little overwhelming. The account is not very ‘action-packed’; it thrives on detailed depictions of places, people, customs, traditions, and cultures. If this is not the type of literature you find enjoyable to read, this book will not be a good fit for you.

I know what you must be thinking right now: what exactly is controversial about this work? Well, apart from being a nice travelogue, it is also a homoerotic memoir. Now, let me be clear here, sexual references do not dominate the stories. In some tales (‘The Last of the Great Navigator’, for example), they do not appear at all. Nevertheless, a perceptive reader will easily notice a great number of young, handsome, and usually naked men who show up in most of the chapters. Interesting is the fact that even in these intimate descriptions, Charles Warren Stoddard is very subtle and completely devoid of vulgarity. But again, if this is something you don’t feel comfortable reading about, this book is not for you.

‘South Sea Idyls’ is a classic of travel literature. And as such it is without a doubt worthy of anyone’s time and attention. Yes, some of the author’s words may shock a little, but the islands… The islands are as stunning, as real as in no other book.

BEST SAILING BOOKS

‘Reach For Paradise’ by Andrew Rayner

This beautiful and immensely interesting book is a well-researched guide, which will certainly come in handy for those who plan to sail the South Seas. With lots of photographs, illustrations, and detailed maps, this memoir is a must-have on board. No, not because it is a sailing manual, but because it is an unparalleled source of inspiration.

‘Sailing To Jessica’ by Kelly Watts

Kelly Watts’s memoir is a perfect ‘sailing book’ for all the female sailors. Not only does it tell the story of Kelly and Paul’s emotional journey, but also presents readers with comprehensive and accurate descriptions of a nautical life. The author’s tips and advices, as well as her honesty in showing the good, the bad, and the ugly of cruising, makes this book an engaging and worthwhile read.

‘Sailing With Impunity’ by Mary E. Trimble

If you need a book that will encourage you to set sail for the Pacific Islands, this memoir should be your choice. Written in a lovely manner, it shows the breathtaking beauty of Polynesia, which will surely wake up your wanderlust. Do you also want to know what life on board is really like? Mary will tell you all about it.

‘Beer in the Bilges: Sailing Adventures in the South Pacific’ by Alan Boreham, Peter Jinks, Bob Rossiter

This book is about sailing, so anyone interested in reading about high seas, fierce winds, waves washing onto the deck will simply love it. ‘The Professionals’ write almost exclusively about their ocean adventures – and they do it so well that you will feel like a member of the crew every time you’ll have this title in your hands.

‘Pacific Odyssey’ by Gwenda Cornell

Gwenda Cornell’s memoir is not so much about sailing as it is about the islands of the Blue Continent, but it’s still a book you want to read if you are interested in cruising in the Pacific region. The author shares her first-hand knowledge of the island countries, giving you a chance to ‘visit’ them even before you set off on a journey of your own.

A CHAT WITH… PAUL WATSON

Paul Watson is a British writer, football coach, and…a very nice guy. He is best known for serving as the manager of Pohnpei State football team. He described his ‘Micronesian experiences’ in a memoir ‘Up Pohnpei: Leading the ultimate football underdogs to glory’. Interested to know more about Paul’s adventure? Read on.

PAUL WATSON

Pasifika Truthfully: I have to ask… Why Pohnpei?

Paul Watson: For the silliest of reasons, and quite an embarrassing one. As failed footballers, my flat-mate Matt and I decided we wouldn’t give up on our dream of playing international football and would try and find the lowest ranked international team in the world and get that nationality so we could play for them. Our searching took us to Pohnpei as they had never won a match of any kind. However, we quickly realized that we wouldn’t actually be able to naturalise as Micronesian passports are very hard to get and many Americans who have lived there decades and married Micronesians don’t have them. However, by coincidence the head of the Pohnpei FA had moved to London and when we met him he told us the team had stopped playing and what they really needed was coaching.

PT: Had you known anything about the Federated States of Micronesia before you went there?

PW: We did some reading of guidebooks, websites etc., but none of it really sunk in before I was there. This was 10 years ago and there wasn’t that much online about Micronesia.

PT: So you land in Pohnpei… What’s the biggest shock?

PW: The rain! It’s one thing to read that somewhere has one of the wettest climates in the world, but quite another to experience it! Every time it rained it felt like the world was ending, but the locals didn’t mind at all. It took quite a while to not just accept the rain but come to enjoy it, but I miss it now, especially when I’m in the cold, English rain.

PT: Let’s focus on football for a moment. Can we say that you introduced the game to Pohnpei? How big of a challenge was it?

PW: I can’t say I introduced football to Pohnpei. The game had been played there for many years on and off, in fact I was told it was introduced by a Ghanaian teacher called Thomas Tetteh back in the 1980s. The man who introduced us to Pohnpei, Charles Musana, had played and coached football on the island for 15 years. The issue was that football was just a small group of people playing informally – what I worked with the keenest local players to do was to create the first ever league and make things more structured.

PT: Is football still popular in the Federated States of Micronesia? Do you follow it?

PW: Absolutely! Despite a lack of any FIFA funding, the game continues to grow across Pohnpei, Chuuk and Yap thanks to the hard work and dedication of individuals who want to give kids the chance to play the sport. I am still in touch with the guys in Pohnpei and was able to send out a coach called Chris Smith who did some amazing work last year in getting over 400 children playing regularly, introducing football into schools and training teachers so they feel comfortable running football sessions.

PT: You described your experiences in your book ‘Up Pohnpei’, which I think is fantastic. It is an entertaining and very uplifting memoir. Did you want to show readers that it’s always important to follow your dreams?

PW: Thank you! I guess the message is that you can follow you dream, however stupid it seems! I will always be glad I went to Pohnpei, even though it was a gamble and certainly left my financial situation difficult for a decade!

PT: What are some stories or anecdotes that didn’t make it into the book? Could you share one or two?

PW: A few things didn’t make it into the book but generally to protect the people involved, so still not sure I could tell the stories. One very safe anecdote that dropped out was the 5K Fun Run which I did alongside several of my players. I thought I was doing really well coming up to the final kilometer and then Roger Nakasone, our left-back and the fittest man I’ve ever met, sprinted past me giggling. He’d stopped to chat to some friends en route! That final part of the route everyone accelerated because there were so many dogs that started chasing you!

PT: What happened after you had left the islands?

PW: After we left, we left football in the capable hands of our captain and football leader Dilshan Senarathgoda, who visited Chuuk and Yap to run football workshops. The Federated States of Micronesia FA was set up, run by local people and ex-pats, and they put an application in to the East Asian Football Federation. Dilshan left the island to go to study in the US, but his dad, Vasantha, continues to run the game and teach it at the College of Micronesia and our former striker Bob Paul does amazing work training kids, while Steve Finnen and Albert Carlot help run the administrative side.

PT: Getting back to Pohnpei. What was the biggest life lesson you learnt there?

PW: I learned so much there, infinitely more than I ever taught anyone. Most of all I learned to take the time to understand different cultures and to respect that their values are different to yours. It may sound obvious, but it took a fair few glugs of sakau to truly embrace that!

PT: Do you have plans to come back to Micronesia one day?

PW: I’d love to return, but only to visit. The future of the sport depends on local people and they need FIFA to step in to give them the support they need. I’ll always do anything I can to assist with getting there and will continue to try and help other coaches get the chance to experience Micronesia – it truly is a unique and wonderful place.

‘UP POHNPEI: LEADING THE ULTIMATE FOOTBALL UNDERDOGS TO GLORY’ BY PAUL WATSON

‘Up Pohnpei: Leading the ultimate football underdogs to glory’ is Paul Watson’s memoir about coaching the Pohnpei football team.

UP POHNPEI

Summary

Paul and Matt have always dreamt about playing international football. But how can you make it into a team when you are not the next David Beckham? Well, the easiest way is to become a citizen of a country with a team bad enough you will get a chance to play. A quick search and… Pohnpei sounds like a winner.

When it soon becomes clear that naturalization may be a little problematic, Paul and Matt decide to search for an alternative option. Coaching? Why not! With little hesitation, the two friends leave cold Britain and head for tropical Micronesia.

With one of the world’s wettest climates, a disastrous football pitch, and a population whose obesity rate is 90 per cent, Pohnpei turns out to be a less than ideal place for football. But with a little bit of will and patience, everything can be achieved.

Review

‘Up Pohnpei’ is an eclectic mix of personal, sports, and travel memoir. You would think these can’t go well together, but I can assure you otherwise. Paul Watson created a very fine combination that will make you laugh, ponder, dream, and believe that you can reach for the stars if you only want to.

There is no denying that this book is about football, or soccer if you prefer. But don’t let this put you off. Yes, the references to this particular sport are probably on every single page, but the story itself is much deeper and much more multi-layered that you would expect.

First and foremost, it shows you that impossible can usually be turned into possible. Recounting his adventure, the author provides us with a high dose of motivation and hope. His own dream, so improbably unrealistic, came true. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t without problems, but he managed to achieve what he had wanted. Inspiring others to adopt this never-give-up attitude seems to be the underlying theme of the memoir. And that’s beautiful, because if we learn to follow our hearts and fulfill our goals and ambitions, then we will be genuinely happy people.

Paul Watson is very straightforward and honest in telling his story. When he describes his fruitless efforts and dozens of small failures, you admire his determination. When he shares his struggles to attract sponsors, you feel his disappointment. When he reveals his longing for his family back home, you understand his pain. You get drawn into his world the minute you start reading the first chapter, because you know it is real. His emotions are on full display, so you quickly get the impression that it’s not Paul Watson – the author of the book, but Paul Watson – my mate whom I’ve known for a very long time.

This shows how talented Paul Watson is as a writer. His wit and sense of humour – which come through on every page – make the memoir a light-hearted yet thought-provoking piece of literature, while his descriptive but not overwhelming style ensures it reads really well.

And where in all this is Pohnpei? The islands (not only Pohnpei) are as vivid as photographs. The author not only depicts the places he had a chance to visit and see, but also – or more importantly – provides insights into the local cultures. He explains various customs and traditions and delights readers with his very own observations. By no means is his account an anthropological study, but it presents quite a few interesting facts about the islands of Micronesia you might not have known.

All in all, if you are looking for an enjoyable, engaging, and uplifting  book, ‘Up Pohnpei’ will be a terrific choice. All the more so if you are a football fan. But I would recommend it most for all those people who tend to forget that everything is about belief. Remember, if you can dream it, you can do it.

‘NEW FLAGS FLYING: PACIFIC LEADERSHIP’ BY IAN JOHNSTONE, MICHAEL POWLES

‘New Flags Flying: Pacific Leadership’ is a book edited by Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles. It documents the political history of fourteen Pacific Island nations.

NEW FLAGS FLYING

Summary

After ruling the Pacific Islands for a hundred years, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA decide to grant independence to most of the states.

The change from being colonial subjects to self-governance turns out to be harder than anyone could have predicted. Local politicians try their best to lead their countries into this new chapter in history.

Review

Politics is not an easy subject to broach. It is often mundane and not very ‘accessible’ to an ordinary person not particularly interested in affairs of state and diplomacy. But this book deals with it in the most engaging way possible. Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles created a gripping read you, quite honestly, are not able to put down.

First and foremost, I have to praise the language, which is simple, uncomplicated, and easy to understand. The authors could have used fancy (and rather mystifying) political jargon and inundated us with professional terms and expressions, but then the book wouldn’t be intelligible to all people. It would be a title addressed exclusively to experts. I am glad that Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles chose a different path and decided to aim the volume at general audience who simply would like to familiarize themselves with the political history of the region.

‘New Flags Flying’ provides considerable insights into a time when Pacific Island states were undergoing colossal changes. Recounted by leaders who were a main force in shaping the events, the book is a scrupulously honest depiction of the countries’ journeys to independence or self-government. Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Tofilau Eti Alesana, John Webb, Sir Tom Davis, Dr Ludwig Keke, HM King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Hon. Young Vivian, Sir Michael Somare, Hon. Solomon Mamalon, Sir Peter Kenilorea, Hon. Bikenibeu Paeniu, Sir Ieremia Tabai, Fr Walter Lini, Kessai Note, John Haglelgam, Sandra Sumang Pierantozzi, Hon. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, and Dame Carol Kidu share their personal experiences of taking their people into a very uncertain, at least at that time, future. The stories they tell – very emotional and thought-provoking – disclose not only the hopes and ambitions they had but also the struggles they had to face. Because no other part of our globe is more vulnerable to challenges and difficulties than Oceania; just as no other part of our globe demonstrates more resilience and ability to cope than those little islands do.

The interviews are accompanied by comprehensive commentary, background information, chronological summaries of significant events, and old photographs, which make the book even more interesting to delve into.

Now, although the title will be a fascinating read for every person who loves the Pacific Islands, for the Islanders themselves it should be of extra special value, as it contains lessons they can and ought to draw from. Why not use the past to improve the present and shape the future? Pacific policymakers should have this book sitting on their desks.

‘New Flags Flying’ is a great piece of literature. I can only congratulate the editors on the job well done and tell you that their work is definitely worthy of your time and attention. I could not recommend it more!

PACIFIC’S POLITICAL PAST

‘Meeting each other at those conferences gave leaders the chance to compare notes about their controlling powers: Australia, ready to grant independence; Britain, keen to do the same for all its colonies; France, anxious to keep control of its territories and delay self-government in the Franco-British Condominium the New Hebrides; New Zealand, itself part of Polynesia, ready to combine self-government with continuing support for its former colonies; and the United States, determined that the other colonial powers should decolonise but equally determined to keep control of most of its Pacific possessions.’

‘Through the 1960s and 1970s, the United Nations was an important source of encouragement and support for Pacific territories, most of whom were among the world’s last – and, some might claim, most poorly prepared – to achieve self-government or independence.’

‘Some leaders would have been happy to continue under colonial rule. Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, sometimes a titled English gentleman, sometimes a high chief wholly committed to traditional ways, acknowledges in chapter six that he had no sense the colonial period was ending because “we were part of the Queen’s regnum; we were happy – why should we change things? (…)’

‘Other leaders were more philosophical. Sir Ieremia Tabai of Kiribati and Bikenibeu Paeniu of Tuvalu give the clear impression of accepting as a fact of life that Britain was departing.’

‘Self-determination and independence were just the first steps in empowering Pacific peoples. The early leaders faced many varied challenges. The colonization of no two Pacific countries had been alike.’

Ian Johnstone,‎ Michael Powles; ‘New Flags Flying: Pacific Leadership’

‘MY MISSION TO FRENCH POLYNESIA’ BY S. DEAN HARMER

‘My Mission to French Polynesia’ is S. Dean Harmer’s memoir, which chronicles his two and a half year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to Tahiti, where he served from 1966 to 1968.

MY MISSION FRENCH POLYNESIA

Summary

Stanley has dreamt about going on a mission trip for 18 years, so when he finally gets the call he is more than excited. Especially when he finds out he is going to serve in beautiful French Polynesia.

After initial preparations, Stanley – full of youthful zeal – boards the plane to Tahiti, ready to start his great adventure.

In the South Pacific country, he gets right to work. While preaching the gospel, he visits even the tiniest of villages and meets incredible people who, as it turns out, will impact his life forever.

Review

I chose to review this book because it is Pacific non-fiction literature. I try not to be picky and review any book that falls into this category, so readers could themselves decide whether they want to read a particular title or no. Unfortunately, and this is such case, sometimes I just have to simply say that a certain book is… Well… Not good, to put it mildly.

I really was eager to start reading S. Dean Harmer’s account. I thought it would be an engaging memoir. A young man travels to French Polynesia… Sounds like a great adventure; a journey of a lifetime. And I’m quite positive that for the author it was a great adventure. He just didn’t succeed in telling the story.

The book is extremely short, thus you get the feeling that it is a little rushed and – what’s even worse – repetitive in many places. S. Dean Harmer writes almost exclusively about his mission work, which is interesting, but only to a certain degree. If it weren’t for the names of the places he had a chance to visit, you would quickly forget that his sojourn took place in a South Pacific country. It’s a memoir extremely sparse on details regarding the islands, their inhabitants and their culture. There are no funny or poignant anecdotes, no fascinating facts, no ‘discoveries’ people usually make while travelling to a distant land. When he writes about French Polynesia, he does so superficially, so the fragments often slips by unnoticed.

The strongest point of this book are photos. There are a lot of them, and they definitely enhance the written word. The author is not big on descriptions, so the pictures come in handy. They let you see some of the places he mentions (some are stunningly beautiful!), thereby helping you imagine what S. Dean Harmer’s mission to French Polynesia was really like.

I would love to say that I recommend this memoir wholeheartedly, but the truth is, it is not a great read. Actually, it’s not even good. It is not worth your time, money, or attention. But, of course, this is only my personal – and very subjective – opinion. Yours may be different.