Tag Archives: Pacific Islands

WORKING IN PARADISE: BEST BOOKS (PART 1)

‘Micronesian Blues’ by Bryan Vila, Cynthia Morris

Having spent 9 years as a street cop, Bryan gets a job as a law enforcement specialist in Saipan. Soon after his arrival he discovers that the islands of Micronesia, although dazzlingly beautiful, will be quite a challenge.

This is a brilliant book! Exceptionally well written, funny, and very informative. Bryan recounts his experiences in a refreshingly honest manner, showing readers what it was like to be a police officer in Micronesia in the early 1980s.

‘The Coconut War: Vanuatu and the Struggle for Independence’ by Richard Shears

Richard, a journalist working for the Daily Mail, is sent to the Pacific to cover the war that has just erupted in the New Hebrides. Trying to deliver a good story, he is forced to manoeuvre his way through the complexities of the country’s politico-military situation.

Richard Shear’s account is a wonderful description of a foreign correspondent’s job. Even though it’s a history book, it’s far from being boring. Actually, it’s a page-turner that reads like the most interesting novel.

‘Solomoni – Times and Tales from Solomon Islands’ by Roger Webber

Roger, a fledgling doctor with a committed passion for helping others, travels to Solomon Islands to provide medical assistance to those in need. But as he quickly learns, treating people from a completely different culture is not always as easy as he may have thought.

If you are curious what it’s like to live and work in Melanesia, this is a perfect book for you. Filled to the brim with interesting facts and information, it will show you the real Pasifika; Pasifika like you’ve never seen it before.

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

To fulfil her youthful desire, Trish decides to apply for an overseas job in Papua New Guinea. After being chosen, she flies to the dragon-shaped island to work on a development project. At the time she has absolutely no idea what the realities of life for a development worker in Melanesia are.

When a foreign consultant comes to a faraway country to implement and guide changes, he must know it’s going to be hard. When that foreign consultant is a woman, she must know it’s going to be very hard. You don’t believe me? Just read Trish Nicholson’s engaging memoir.

‘Up Pohnpei: Leading the ultimate football underdogs to glory’ by Paul Watson

What’s the easiest way to become an international football manager? Find a team bad enough you’ll be allowed to coach them. For Paul and Matt, that’s Pohnpei.

This hilarious book is a proof that if you can dream it, you can do it. Paul and Matt’s adventures show the different side of football – without big money, famous players, and magazine-perfect WAGs. Although their job is not always easy, it brings more satisfaction than winning the World Cup.

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IDYLLIC MELANESIA

‘Thick dense cloud cover obscured the central mountain ranges of the mainland, but once out over the Solomon Sea visibility was excellent and I was enthralled at the beautiful turquoise colour of the shallow waters surrounding small islands and coral atolls which appeared to be floating in the deep blue ocean.’

Brian D. Smith, ‘Land Of The Unexpected’


‘With the morning sun, Savusavu revealed itself to be located in one of the most extraordinarily beautiful settings I had ever encountered in the islands. The town overlooked Savusavu Bay, an alluring expanse of blue water hemmed in by verdant peaks.’

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


‘The Île de Pins, touted by guidebooks to be the South Pacific’s most beautiful island even though used by Napoleon III as another Devil’s Island to incarcerate French convicts of a political nature, lies within extensive reefs at the lagoon’s eastern boundary. Like all the islands raped by loggers and sandalwood traders of the nineteenth century, its forests are gone, though a scattering of pines remains to illustrate its name. Hidden within is the landlocked lagoon of Upi, several square miles of pristine water broken only by coral mushroom islands dotted here and there and a single pirogue with rickety outrigger and ancient pointy sail to riffle the surface.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach For Paradise’


‘Vanuatu is misty mountains cloaked with lush tropical rainforests dotted with quaint thatch villages next to cold bubbling springs.’

Bryan Webb, ‘The Sons Of Cannibals’


‘We now returned to the other islands in the group Vanikoro (Vanikolo) and Utupua, Vanikoro particularly impressing me with its isolated beauty. A sheer-sided mountain plunged into the fjord like inlet where the ship anchored, while in contrast a narrow strip pf land at its base housed lush meadows and the peace and tranquility of the mission school. The sun set, completing the picture; a blazing red sky setting the mountain on fire, then almost before the magnificent show had disappeared, stars showed through the evening dark and the sky was a mass of delicate lights.’

Roger Webber, ‘Solomoni: Times and Tales from Solomon Islands’

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’

IDYLLIC POLYNESIA

‘The Marquesas were unique, unlike any island group I’d ever seen, a dream landscape for both poets and scientists.’

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


‘I’ve snorkeled all over the South Pacific, but nowhere have I seen a place more bewitching than the South Pass of Fakarava.’

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


‘Rarotonga is the main island of the Cook Islands, a country in central Polynesia, west of Tahiti and east of Tonga. Tiny and beautiful, it is surrounded by a wide turquoise lagoon and sharp coral reef.’

Kathy Giuffre, ‘An Afternoon in Summer: My Year on a South Sea Island, Doing Nothing, Gaining Everything, and Finally Falling in Love’


‘In an attempt to attract a dribble of tourism, Niue has adopted the sound-bite title Rock of Polynesia for its two hundred fifty square miles, which rise from a narrow fringing reef like a two-layer wedding cake. It’s different from any island we’ve seen. It is girt by cliffs that continue down to some of the world’s deepest ocean bottoms, without lagoons or beaches. Nor does Niue have rivers and streams, for the plentiful rainwater simply sinks into porous limestone. This renders the coastal waters unbelievably clear. More than a hundred feet of underwater visibility is routine, the diving among the very best for the very few who get there.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach for Paradise’


‘It often seemed to me that calling the Hawaiian Islands “paradise” was not an exaggeration, though saying it out loud, advertising it, seemed to be tempting fate. They are the most beautiful, and the most threatened, of any islands in the Pacific. Their volcanic mountains are as picturesque as those in Tahiti, their bays as lovely as the ones in Vava’u; the black cliffs of the Marquesas are no more dramatic than those on Molokai and Kaua’i. The climate is perfect.’

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

PADDLING THE PACIFIC: OCEANIA ACCORDING TO PAUL THEROUX

‘Something about Cook Islanders (there were only 20,000 of them altogether) made them seem special. Even with all the patronage from New Zealand, and their passionate interest in videos, the people remained themselves. They were not greedy. They were not lazy. They were hospitable, generous and friendly. They were not violent, and they often tried to be funny, with little success.’

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


‘Tahiti has its drawbacks – it is expensive, traffic-choked, noisy, corrupt, and Frenchified – but it is impossible to belittle its natural physical beauty, and in spite of the car exhausts there is nearly always in the air the fragrant aroma – the noanoa – of flowers, the tiare especially, a tiny white gardenia that is Tahiti’s national blossom.’

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


‘These Tongans were elegant – it was something in their posture, in their features, many actually looked noble – a prince here, a princess there.’

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


‘Paddling out to the island of Aunu’u I thought again of the pamphlet that had been given to me, with the rules that all visitors were urged to observe.

– When in a Samoan house, do not talk while standing.

– Do not stretch your legs out when seated.

– Do not carry an umbrella past a house.

– Do not drive through a village when chiefs are gathering.

– Do not eat while walking through a village (it seemed to me that Samoans ate no other way, and usually were munching a very large jelly donut).

– Samoans are deeply religious – pray and sing with them.

– Do not wear flowers in church.

– When drinking kava, hold the cup in front of you and say “manuia” (“when drinking Coke” would have been more opposite, since that seemed firmly part of the culture).

– Bikinis and shorts are not considered appropriate attire in Samoan villages or town areas.

– Ask permission before snapping photos or picking flowers.

– Be extra quiet on Sundays.

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


‘At the very frontier of the Black Islands lies Fiji, the edge of Melanesia – so close that some of its tinier islands, Rotuma and the Lau group, for example, overlap Polynesia. In these transitional straddling dots of land, the people are regarded as Polynesian. There is a strong Tongan influence in the Lau culture. They make and sail canoes in the Lau group. They wear crunchy mats around the waist, Tongan-style. They paddle. They fish. They dance. They recall their great sea ventures. In a village on the Lau island of Lakeba they hold an annual ceremony in which sharks are summoned – a “shark-caller” up to his or her neck in the lagoon is circled by a school of sharks, attracted by the person’s chanting.’

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

PACIFIC ISLANDS BY TONY HORWITZ

Pacific Islands. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Tony Horwitz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of several bestselling books, one of which is ‘Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before’, gives his recommendations (this week we change The 3s for The 2s – just this week!)

Travel some part of the islands by sail rather than on a cruise or motorboat

I did so in Tahiti, which suffers from over-development and pollution. From the water, however, much of it is still magnificent. Sailing through the reef at Huahine and entering Bora Bora’s lagoon at night were two of the more memorable experiences of my travels. They also gave me a profound appreciation of Cook and his men, who navigated these and many other treacherous waters without maps or modern equipment.

Immerse yourself in all things Maori

Many parts of Polynesia were so ravaged by Western contact that their traditional cultures almost vanished. The Maori did better than most, fighting extremely hard and maintaining their language and traditions, which are a large and vital part of New Zealand society. In my experience, Maori are also eager to share their culture and educate visitors. The beautiful east coast of New Zealand’s north island attracts fewer tourists than other parts of the country and it’s a fine place to see a Maori haka, visit a marae, and learn to hongi.

A CHAT WITH… TONY HORWITZ

Tony Horwitz needs no introduction. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, the author of seven books, and – most importantly – an all-round nice person. His fantastic travelogue, ‘Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before’, is a must-read for every Pasifika aficionado. Do you want to learn more about Tony’s journey across the Blue Continent? You can do so from this interview.

TONY HORWITZ

Pasifika Truthfully: What was first – the idea to write a book about retracing Captain Cook’s voyages or a desire to set sail?

Tony Horwitz: If you mean ‘set sail’ in the sense of embark on a global adventure, then that was my prime impetus and Cook’s travels provided a historical path to follow. However, I’m a woeful sailor and was much happier every time I could explore on land rather than by sea.

PT: Why did you choose Captain James Cook? Was it because of all the incredible places he travelled to?

TH: Initially, I was struck by the places he went and wanted to see them for myself. But as the journey went on, I became fascinated by Cook the man, so what started as a travel adventure grew into a biography as well.

PT: It is not a secret that for Pacific Islanders James Cook was no hero. What do people in the Blue Continent think of the famous British navigator?

TH: Is Blue Continent shorthand for the Pacific? It depends where you are. Cook has admirers in Australia and New Zealand but not many elsewhere in the Pacific. He’s generally seen as an advance man of empire and colonization and all the ills that ultimately resulted.

PT: Do you agree with their opinions? Do you view Cook as a villain or a hero?

TH: It’s undeniable that Cook’s voyages opened the door to colonization, disease, the dispossession of native peoples and other damage to their cultures. But Cook didn’t intend this harm. He was a product of the Enlightenment, on a scientific mission of discovery and, for the most part, expressed sympathy and respect for those he encountered. I don’t think he should be lumped with conquistadors and other Europeans who set out to conquer, kill, convert, and enslave.

PT: You visited various Pacific Island countries after you had read about them in Cook’s journals. To what extent did your impressions coincide with those of Cook?

TH: Obviously, the Pacific has changed tremendously since Cook’s voyages in the late 1700s. After colonization and other transformations came mass tourism, and sadly we’ve loved some parts of Polynesia’s fragile environment to death. But off the beaten track, there were many places where I felt the views and landscapes were very close to what Cook described. I also caught glimpses of the traditional cultures and characteristics Cook wrote about, such as the warrior heart of Maori society, the sensuality of Tahitians, and the deeply non-Western and non-materialistic nature of Aboriginal peoples in Australia.

PT: How much was your journey a journey of self-discovery? What did you learn?

TH: To be honest, I find self-discovery an overrated aspect of travel adventures. I’m more interested in discovering others. But I did learn many things, particularly during my time as a sailor aboard a museum-quality replica of Cook’s first ship, the Endeavour. I realized just how soft we are compared to sailors and explorers in the 18th century; few of us could endure a month of the physical and mental strains they put up with for years at a time. I also realized I can’t tie knots to save my life, and that its best not to look down when you’re near the top of a hundred-foot mast.

PT: ‘Blue Latitudes’ is an interesting book. It’s part travelogue and part James Cook’s biography. Was that your intention from the beginning?

TH: My original intent was to write a historically themed travelogue. But as I read and traveled more deeply, I really wanted to understand this extraordinary man who rose from lowly origins to the upper reaches of the British Navy and kept hurling himself off the edge of the known world. So the biographical component grew to roughly half of the book’s content.

PT: I do consider ‘Blue Latitudes’ a terrific piece of travel literature and one of the best books regarding the Pacific Islands. If you could give one reason why people should read it, what would it be?

TH: The book, I hope, allows readers to grasp what true adventure means. Sailing off the map, and having first contact with remote societies untouched by the West, is an experience we simply can’t have today outside of science fiction. I also hope readers will laugh at my own misadventures in Cook’s wake. I really wanted the book to be as entertaining as my travels were for me.

KAVA, ANYONE?

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

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


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

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


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

J. Maarten Troost, ‘Getting Stoned with Savages’


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

Paul Theroux, ‘The Happy Isles of Oceania’


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

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

ULTIMATE PACIFIC ISLANDS BOOKS – TO BUY FOR A SERIOUS PASIFIKA AFICIONADO (PART 2)

‘The Pacific Islands: Environment and Society’ by Moshe Rapaport

Another very good reference book of the encyclopaedia kind that holds a lot of valuable information on the Pacific Islands. Pleasantly (and simply) written, it broaches all the important subjects every Pasifika lover may be interested in. Definitely worthy of your attention!

Bonus: Impressive illustrations, charts, and diagrams that explain the author’s words.

‘Food Culture in the Pacific Islands’ by Roger Haden

It is not a secret that Pacific cultures are food-oriented. This phenomenal publication makes a wonderful introduction to Polynesian, Micronesian, and Melanesian cuisines. Roger Haden not only familiarizes readers with the most popular local ingredients and dishes, but he also explains traditional methods of cooking and preservation techniques.

Bonus: Engaging chapters regarding food history and typical meals.

‘Architecture in the South Pacific: The Ocean of Islands’ by Jennifer Taylor, James Conner

Would you want to have a slice of heaven in your home? Although the authentic Pasifika style is so unique that it’s almost impossible to recreate, Jennifer Taylor and James Conner’s book may be a fantastic source of inspiration. But the authors aim not only to inspire but also to inform – the title is a brilliant study of local architecture, culture, and history.

Bonus: Striking colour photographs!

‘A History of the Pacific Islands’ by Steven Roger Fischer

There are quite a few good books on the history of the Blue Continent, but this one is probably ‘the most pleasant’ to read. It’s rather concise – not overloaded with unnecessary facts, dates, and information – and thus easily absorbed even by those people who are not fans of history.

Bonus: Chapters dedicated to genealogy of the Pacific peoples – immensely engaging.

‘The People of the Sea: Environment, Identity and History in Oceania’ by Paul D’Arcy

This is one of the most interesting books on Oceania ever written. It is focused entirely on the influence the Pacific Ocean has had on the islands’ history, culture, and everyday life. Few authors examine this subject in such detail, and I dare to say that Paul D’Arcy created a masterpiece.

Bonus: Captivating and highly explanatory narrative that presents a different dimension to Pacific Islands history.

ULTIMATE PACIFIC ISLANDS BOOKS – TO BUY FOR A SERIOUS PASIFIKA AFICIONADO (PART 1)

‘The Pacific Islands: An Encyclopedia’ by Brij V. Lal (editor), Kate Fortune (editor)

This substantial volume is a must-have for those who are interested in the Blue Continent. Over 600 pages cover all the important topics – from geography and environment to history and politics to peoples and their culture. It’s a true mine of information you definitely want to have sitting on your bookshelf.

Bonus: Lots of photographs, illustrations, maps, and tables that enhance the written word.

‘Reach for Paradise: A Journey Among Pacific Islands’ by Andrew Rayner

Andrew Rayner’s memoir-cum-travelogue is probably the most beautiful book on the Pacific Islands ever written. It is a treasure, pure and simple. Not only does it guarantee an enjoyable and insightful reading experience, but it also delights visually. I can assure you, it will hold your attention from the very first to the very last page.

Bonus: Every single page of this title is one big bonus!

‘We Are the Ocean: Selected Works’ by Epeli Hau’ofa

When you think of great Pacific writers, Epeli Hau’ofa’s name immediately comes to your mind. ‘We Are the Ocean’ is a brilliant book if you want to get a taste of the man’s works. It’s a terrific – absolutely terrific – combination of essays, poems, lectures, and fiction that not only entertains but most of all educates.

Bonus: Chapters from Epeli Hau’ofa’s novel ‘Kisses in the Nederends’ – hilarious!

‘Arts of the Pacific Islands’ by Anne D’Alleva

Art constitutes such an important part of Pasifika lifestyles. For those who want to delve deeper into this subject, Anne D’Alleva’s publication is a must-read. It explains the significance of artistic craftsmanship in Polynesian, Micronesian, and Melanesian cultures in great detail, letting you understand the real meaning behind various forms of Oceanian art.

Bonus: Breathtaking photographs that are worth a thousand words.

‘Globalization and Culture Change in the Pacific Islands’ by Victoria S. Lockwood

Cultures around the world are constantly changing, and the Pacific Island nations are not immune to this fact. Edited by Victoria S. Lockwood volume sheds interesting light on globalization and the effects it has on the remote countries scattered around the great blue ocean. A really fine piece of immensely engaging literature!

Bonus: In-depth case studies that offer a closer look at the topics discussed in the book.