Tag Archives: Papua New Guinea

PAPUA NEW GUINEA BY TRISH NICHOLSON

Papua New Guinea. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Trish Nicholson, the author of a fantastic travel memoir called ‘Inside the Crocodile’, gives her recommendations.

Visit Vanimo

Keen surfers should go to Vanimo in West Sepik Province. Its beach is famous for the surf, and there are now local guesthouses and a couple of hotels for a laid-back, friendly stay. You haven’t seen a sunset until you’ve seen the sun go down in Sandaun.

Embark on a journey on the Kokoda Trail

The Kokoda Trail is very popular and has historical wartime connections, but it can become a bit ‘touristy’. To appreciate the real Papua New Guinea environment, hire a reliable guide and walk in the mountains and through the montane jungles of the interior. It can be rough and you need tough walking gear, but it will be a unique experience of one of the wildest natural landscapes in the world.

Visit some of the islands by boat

Because of the difficult terrain, most travel within Papua New Guinea is by small planes, but the first inhabitants came by sea more than 50,000 years ago, and I recommend visiting some of the islands by boat – it provides an entirely different perspective. People on the many small islands surrounding the main island of Manus, for example, lead a different life and culture to mainland PNG, and yet they are closely connected by personal and professional ties.

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A CHAT WITH… TRISH NICHOLSON

Trish Nicholson is an extraordinary woman. She is a writer and the author of several books, an anthropologist, a photographer, a keen and experienced traveller. Her most recent publication, ‘Inside the Crocodile: The Papua New Guinea Journals’, is just as extraordinary as the lady herself. If you want to know more about Trish’s time in Melanesia, just read the interview.

TRISH NICHOLSON

Pasifika Truthfully: You spent quite a few years living and working in Papua New Guinea. Was it an adventure, a challenge, or a perfect mix of both?

Trish Nicholson: It was certainly a challenge, physically, emotionally and professionally, but I knew it would be and I believe one grows as a person by meeting challenges. I hadn’t gone seeking adventure, but looking back, my own curiosity and willingness to take risks to satisfy it meant that adventures simply happened.

PT: Why did you decide to ‘abandon’ your successful career in Europe and travel to a remote Pacific country?

TN: Working overseas is something I had wanted to do since childhood. Previous generations in my family had spent years in far-flung places in the world, so I suppose there was something of a tradition. As a schoolgirl, I wrote to the United Nations in New York to ask how to become an aid worker. Some kind person wrote back to me, saying I should become qualified in whatever I was good at, gain twenty years experience, and then apply for a job. And that is pretty much what I did. At University I studied geography and social anthropology and was intensely interested in how others lived, and the different ways of meeting human needs in different cultures. Later, there came a point in my professional career in Europe when I felt something was missing, and I realized that if I didn’t take this step to go overseas soon, it might be too late. The job in Papua New Guinea was the most interesting one that came up at that time.

PT: Ok, so you arrived in PNG… What shocked you the most?

TN: There were small shocks initially, like the heat and humidity which can, literally, take your breath away, especially as I was coming from the cold climate of Scotland. A fan in my house helped, but much of the time I was travelling to remote parts of West Sepik (Sandaun), so my body had to adapt. Once I got into the work, the sheer chaos of the local administration was a bit of a shock, and people in positions of power can benefit from chaos, so it took a while to show staff the benefits of better organisation. But the biggest shock was the extent of violence against women – a problem close to me because women who were my colleagues and friends were affected. It is difficult for a foreigner to know how to respond and I often discussed it with another friend, the local head of women’s welfare. The few books published about Papua New Guinea barely mention women, and they are accounts written by men who would have little chance to interact with women, so I made a point of including women’s stories in ‘Inside the Crocodile’.

PT: How did you cope with culture shock?

TN: My background in social anthropology helped because I was already aware of many different beliefs and ways of living in other societies. I found, though, that it was hard to live in two cultures at the same time, so I immersed myself as far as possible in trying to understand the local cultures – ‘cultures’ in the plural, because even within Sandaun Province there are different ways of viewing the world. Other expats in the area were from a range of cultures and nationalities, too, so one had to be adaptable. Times when I needed to relax and simply be ‘me’, I played my favourite classical music, and the chuckle of geckoes and screech of cicadas became part of the orchestra.

PT: Did you have troubles accepting certain cultural practices?

TN: The treatment of women I have already mentioned, and it was something I could not accept. But sometimes there was an amusing side to the gender issue. Traditionally, men eat first, but when we had a World Bank representative visiting on one occasion and a party was put on for him and all the provincial staff, the Premier decided to adopt the western custom of inviting women to serve themselves from the buffet first. The women loved this idea and all went to the table with big enamel bowls, taking the best pork pieces, the ones with lots of tasty fat on them, while the men watched in great agitation. That experiment in ‘western manners’ was never repeated! But the separation of men and women at functions was a feature of Aussie social life, too, and I found that restricting. Papua New Guinean colleagues accepted me at work as an ‘honorary male’ and recognized that I needed to talk to men about work, but I would get black looks from expat wives in Aussie gatherings if I crossed to the other side of the room to talk to the men.

Another practice that caused me frustration was the custom of talking all around a subject to avoid giving a straight answer or giving out information – tok bokis in Tok Pisin – which made a nightmare of management meetings. I could understand the reasons for it, though, and soon adopted the technique myself when necessary. One of the reasons for tok bokis is that political, work, and personal spheres – which are strictly separated in western bureaucracies – are intricately interwoven in Papua New Guinea, as a result, dealing with most public administration issues is like walking in a minefield.

PT: Now, you worked on a World Bank-funded development project. What exactly were you responsible for?

TN: The project included a number of different components – agriculture and fisheries, education, health, roads and buildings, and project management – which were all intended to work together to achieve development goals. Expats leading each component worked with a counterpart Papua New Guinean who would take over from them. My role was ‘institution building’: to provide advice and support for all the components to co-operate, and to assist local staff and management to gain the most benefit from the project. This involved helping to sort out the chaos of staff appointments, designing and presenting training courses, giving advice to managers, setting up a provincial Staff Development Unit and training national staff to run it after I had left. The job was complicated by the fact that the expat project coordinator held the purse strings, but my boss was the Departmental Secretary – the head of the provincial civil service. As you can imagine, managing relationships was the most important, and challenging, part of my job. My position was within the regular staff structure and I was ‘the boss’ only of the Staff Development Unit, so to achieve any progress elsewhere in the organisation, I had to influence and work through others. Though more difficult, in the long term I think this is far more effective than giving orders or being a consultant on the outside.

PT: Being a woman, did you face any challenges?

TN: All the time! I’ve already mentioned the male/female divide in expat social life. And there were few single women around, so every unattached male expat made passes and resented being rejected. But my job was already too demanding to have any energy left for personal relationships. At work, to be accepted as an ‘honorary male’ meant dressing in baggy outfits that could not be considered provocative by even the most arrogant male, behaving with equal amounts of confidence and respect, and generally being professional and distancing myself from being ‘female’. In this way, I was accepted and respected by Papua New Guinean colleagues both in the province and at government headquarters in Waigani. It was often expats who had problems with it. When I was very ill in Goroka Base hospital, the chief medic there was horrified that I was going back to continue working in Sandaun. “Papua New Guinea is no place for a woman,” he said. I didn’t remind him that half the population were women.

PT: You wrote in your book that you didn’t have a chance to come back to Papua New Guinea? Would you like to?

TN: When an experience in a particular place has been so intense, and in a way life changing, I’m not sure it is a good idea to go back. I wouldn’t have a role now, people I knew have moved on in their lives, I would simply be an observer looking in briefly and I don’t think that would achieve any purpose.

PT: Your memoir is an extremely interesting read with an abundance of fantastic stories and tales. Would you mind sharing some tidbits that didn’t make it into the book?

TN: All the best stories are already in the book. Any events that aren’t in it are those that require too much background explanation for them to be properly understood, for example, a trip I made to Wamena in West Papua – perhaps I will write about that another time.

PT: This last question is an important one for the fans of your work: will you write more books? If yes, is there anything you’re working on at the moment?

TN: Those who enjoy travel and adventure can read my ebook, ‘Journey in Bhutan: Himalayan Trek in the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon’. I take the reader with me on a long trek through this Buddhist Kingdom hidden high in the Himalayas. We wander through pine forests, meet with yak herders in the high pastures, and clamber over 5000-metre passes close to the Tibetan border. After a mini-bus ride and scary near misses on hairpin bends overlooking a sheer drop, we visit ancient temples and I include lots of information about Bhutan’s culture and history.

And there is another book that I wrote to encourage others to write, so it explains how to plan, research, write, edit, choose a publishing option, and market a book, and many tips apply to writing fiction as well as non-fiction. The title is ‘Writing Your Nonfiction Book: the Complete Guide to Becoming an Author’, available as an ebook and in print (the paperback can be ordered online from The Book Depository which supplies anywhere in the world free of postage). I made the book international in focus – resources and suggestions can be applied wherever a reader lives – to help people in different countries and cultures to write their own stories. We need to hear these different voices speaking for themselves. That is why national literary competitions and prizes such as The Crocodile Prize in Papua New Guinea are so important, they give real encouragement to local writers.

What I am working on at the moment is also international in outlook, but it’s another kind of journey – a social history of stories and storytellers through time. I am more than three-quarters of the way through the manuscript, but it will take a little while yet to complete because it requires a great deal of research.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share some of my experiences with your blog readers.

‘INSIDE THE CROCODILE: THE PAPUA NEW GUINEA JOURNALS’ BY TRISH NICHOLSON

‘Inside the Crocodile’ is an engaging travel memoir penned by Trish Nicholson. It recounts the five years she spent in Papua New Guinea working on a development project.

INSIDE THE CROCODILE

Summary

Willing to fulfil her lifelong dream, Trish decides to apply for an overseas job. When she is offered a post in faraway Papua New Guinea, she doesn’t think twice about going. Without hesitation, she leaves cold Scottish highlands and ventures into the great unknown.

The Land of the Unexpected welcomes her with unusual heat and humidity, few passable roads, a multitude of different cultures, and more than 800 indigenous languages. However, despite all the exacting obstacles, Trish gets straight down to work. Armed with an open mind and eagerness to immerse herself in the local lifestyles, she starts the process of ‘developing’ the Melanesian country.

Review

Sometimes a book fulfils all your expectations. Sometimes it even surpasses them. That’s when you know you’re dealing with a really good piece of literature. But once in a blue moon, after reaching the last sentence of the chosen title, you may be rendered completely speechless, because you’ve just been struck by the magnificence of the author’s craft. And you may be wondering, what delights more: style or substance? In the case of Trish Nicholson’s memoir, one is equally good as the other.

‘Inside the Crocodile’ is such an engaging book that it would be quite difficult not to marvel at its content. Being an anthropologist, Ms Nicholson demonstrates exceptional ability to appreciate different cultures. While describing her sojourn in Papua New Guinea, she brings gentle awareness and insatiable curiosity to everything she sees and experiences. And even though she does not approve of certain behaviours or practices, she is far from being judgemental towards the island’s inhabitants. Her attitude to presenting the story seems to say: ‘I describe, you draw your own conclusions’. Of course, this doesn’t mean readers can’t sense the author’s stance on particular subjects – they definitely can. However, it is all very subtle. Trish Nicholson deliberately remains neutral and doesn’t disclose her opinions or possible biases. Which is, by the way, a truly admirable approach more people should adopt, as cultural competence – part of which is being able to accept cultural differences – is an essential skill for living in increasingly diverse societies.

Now, the narrative of this memoir is not limited to cross-cultural musings only. As the author worked on a World Bank-funded development project, she had the chance to familiarize herself with the world of ‘foreign’ consultants, experts, advisers employed to share their knowledge with the local communities. The word ‘development’ – especially when used in relation to small Pacific Island states – may bring somewhat ambivalent feelings. Ms Nicholson’s first-hand account provides a better understanding of this sensitive topic, explaining the difficulties that come with being an ‘outsider’ trying to impact peaceful lives of indigenous people by changing, improving, modernizing (choose your preferred verb) their beloved land. Is this wrong? Is this good? The book doesn’t give an unequivocal answer, but rather a bunch of relevant information to help you form your very own opinion.

Substance is the point of every publication. But whether a title can be considered a really fine piece of literature depends largely on the style in which it is conveyed. Trish Nicholson is a poet. Her descriptive words let you wander with her through the forests, cross winding rivers, experience blistering heat, and hear the cheerfully singing birds. You rejoice at her successes, you suffer when she fights nasty bouts of malaria, you get sad when she finally has to say goodbye to her friends. Simply put, you are taken on a free journey to Papua New Guinea. Isn’t this a reason enough to approach…a crocodile?

Quite honestly, this title needs no recommendation. It’s a quintessential travel memoir; a promise of adventure, tears of laughter, and laughter through tears. Add on top of this thought-provoking, valuable insights into both local cultures and international development, and you have a winning piece. You will get hooked somewhere between the first twelve pages. And…you will love it! I can assure you of that.

A CHAT WITH… LEONARD FONG ROKA

Leonard Fong Roka – or ‘Captain Bougainville’ as he is often called – is a proud Bougainvillean, a writer, the author of five books, and a Papua New Guinea’s first Book of the Year Award recipient for his memoir, ‘Brokenville’. In this interview he shares his thoughts on his beloved homeland, the tragic Bougainville Crisis, and – of course – his (magnificent) works.

LEONARD FONG ROKA

Pasifika Truthfully: For those who are not familiar with Bougainville history, could you explain the Bougainville Conflict in a few sentences?

Leonard Fong Roka: For many the Bougainville Crisis was a 1988-1989 affair over unequal distribution of mining benefits from the Australian owned Panguna Mine in Panguna, but this is not true. The sources of conflict go back to the colonial era, when Bougainville was removed from its rightful place in the British Solomon Islands and placed under the German New Guinea. Bougainville is geographically and culturally a Solomon island. Colonization just [drew] a line between Solomon Islands; [the colonists] said: ‘Bougainvilleans, you are New Guineans’. What an insane act! Racially you can see the difference between Bougainvilleans and Papua New Guineans. That [was] the Bougainville problem that built up slowly over the years and culminated into the armed struggle in late 1988. I talk about all these in my other book, ‘Bougainville Manifesto’.

PT: You were only a child when the war erupted. What are your most vivid memories from that time?

LFR: The most vivid memories I have from that time should be in my recollection or the book, ‘Brokenville’. Killing of my father is one strong feeling that still exists [in] me. [I also remember] all those troubles my family faced, the many good and bad things, and life I went through. They are a scar in my life.

PT: Bougainville in the late 1980s / early 1990s was… If you could describe the place.

LFR: [I] should say that Bougainville in the late 1980s and the early 1990s was booming economically as papers, BCL, or the government then claimed. But to me, we – the indigenous people – were enslaved on our own land. Money from Panguna was not sealing our roads, was not building bridges over our rivers, was not financing our school fees, [so we could] attend schools and universities. We were exploited by PNG and BCL, but still they celebrated in the media that we were on top and the best economically. Liars they were.

PT: In your opinion, how did the conflict change not only Bougainville but also the whole country? What impact did it have on the native Bougainvilleans?

LFR: Bougainville Crisis gave us – Bougainvilleans – the power to screen decisions and to deal with our ruler – the PNG state – as we feel [is] right. We showed the PNG people what a mine does to our lives, and today we hear their every Tom, Dick, and Harry is running all over the place asking for compensation for their land and so on.

I think that we – Bougainvilleans – will build a better country soon despite setbacks and continuous PNG’s political aggression on our ambitions. We are learners, and we will pursue our freedom.

PT: What was your motivation for writing ‘Brokenville’?

LFR: My motivation for writing ‘Brokenville’ [came from] my little nieces and nephews. They need something to know that Bougainville and me had gone through a hard time in history; that [it all] had happened because of this and that.

PT: What lesson, if any, would you like readers to draw from your book?

LFR: I think ‘Brokenville’ has a lot for readers. One big lesson is that no matter what, we have to pursue our rights to freedom. We – the people of Bougainville – [must] go on.

Bougainville needs to move forward and attain freedom from our rulers – the PNG government and its people – the New Guineans and Papuans – [whom] we call ‘redskins’ or Erereng in my language (Nasioi) or ivitu in my wife’s language in Buin.

PT: You are a very talented writer. Do you plan to write more?

LFR: Yep. I am working on two books now, which are my 6th and 7th. One is due in December 2015. It’s called ‘Valley of Tears’, and it explores how Conzinc Riotinto of Australia (CRA) infiltrated our land and started the Panguna Mine to finance Australia’s buffer state, that is PNG.

‘BROKENVILLE’ BY LEONARD FONG ROKA

‘Brokenville’ is Leonard Fong Roka’s account of the ten-year-long civil war that broke out on the island of Bougainville in 1988. The memoir won 2014 Crocodile Prize for Book of the Year.

BROKENVILLE

Summary

Leonard leads a happy and peaceful life on Bougainville until it is suddenly interrupted by the rumours of fighting in the nearby mountains. Although he doesn’t know whether the stories are actually true, strange behaviour among adults and the first trucks loaded with police personnel that appear on the streets prove that something is not right.

As time goes by, the growing violence leaves Leonard with no illusions. It is war. It is them against us. But who exactly is ‘them’, and who exactly is ‘us’? For a boy with a ‘redskin’ father and a Bougainvillean mother, this is not the easiest question to answer. Especially when he is forced to spend his days hiding or moving from one village to another in order to survive.

Review

This is such a good book! Raw, honest, authentic, a little edgy, wonderfully enlightening. Leonard Fong Roka offers an invaluable, unique insight into one of the most violent conflicts that took place in Oceania after World War II. For those who proudly call themselves Pacific Islanders, this is a must-read. For curious Pasifika aficionados… Well, let’s be honest here, this title should be compulsory reading for everyone.

And why exactly is this book so worthy of your attention? Because it’s a real gem; for several different reasons.

First and foremost, ‘Brokenville’ is the finest example of a personal narrative. Although penned by an adult, it brings a child’s eye view to the tragic events. Leonard Fong Roka was merely nine years old when the war erupted. His homeland – Bougainville Island – was the epicentre of bloodshed. Everything he saw and endured, every vivid recollection from that time is a testimony to the past. Testimony which not only chronicles the history but also – or should I say more importantly – the early life of an extraordinary man. Despite the author’s effort to avoid writing about himself, he is one of the actors. You feel for him when his father is killed by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, you admire his strength and determination, you respect him. Leonard Fong Roka relates his own experiences, but you can easily sense that he represents hundreds of thousands of people affected by the conflict. You cannot help but be deeply moved by his words. Even though he rarely displays any emotions.

This emotional moderation may be the result of the author’s strong focus on facts and historical accuracy. If you want to know more about the Bougainville Civil War, this memoir is a mine of information. Rich in meticulous detail, it documents every stage of the crisis, presenting the invaluable point of view of the person who witnessed the battle, survived, and lived to tell the story. I don’t think one can imagine what life in a war-ravaged country really looks like, but this volume might just give you a slight idea. With its comprehensive descriptions of brutality, terror, fear, it is a history lesson like no other.

The substance of the book definitely delights, but the author’s writing style – equally good – may be something you will be genuinely surprised by. Leonard Fong Roka creates with passion. His prose is almost completely bereft of emotions, and yet it evokes strong feelings. It’s quite journalistic, rather simple, and very candid. He seems to know exactly which word should be used when. Whether he does it unwittingly or with full awareness, I am not sure. One thing is certain – there’s obviously method in his madness.

‘Brokenville’ is without a doubt worthy of all its hype. It is a fantastic book that explains a great deal about the Bougainville Conflict. But most of all, it’s a touching memoir of a truly incredible, talented man – a fighter who dares to dream and reach for the stars.

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.

GREAT ANTHROPOLOGICAL READS ABOUT PACIFIC ISLANDS (PART 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A CHAT WITH… ANDREW RAYNER

Andrew Rayner is not your ordinary man, and his book, ‘Reach for Paradise’, is certainly not your ordinary publication. But, you wouldn’t expect anything less from someone who spent eight years sailing the blue waters, would you? If you want to know what Andrew had to say about his adventure, book, and – of course – Pasifika, just read the interview.

Pasifika Truthfully: People embark on a voyage for various reasons: they want to escape, forget about their problems, or simply see the world. Why did you decide to set sail?

Andrew Rayner: Most opportunity is luck, and venture’s often a combination of push and pull. In my case the children fledged, my wife gone and my business sold on one hand, and an insatiable travel lust for the Pacific on the other made circumstances that both enabled and stimulated me to get a boat and head for the horizon. Like many before me, the original intention was traduced as my intended three years afloat to be followed by a return to city work turned into five, seven and eight before the circumnavigation was completed.

PT: I do believe you can now say it was a life-changing experience.

AR: No question. Sailing gives quality time for thinking not often available on land. Clear starlit skies and a vast ocean lit from within by bioluminescence make a great page on which to reckon one’s view of things. And there’s an impression of more uncluttered society in the island communities that’s an aid to clarity of mind and appreciation of the precious aspects of human nature.

PT: What was the most and the least enjoyable part of the journey?

AR: Blue water sailors spend more time fixing the boat than sailing. Everything breaks sometime, most often when the nearest help is hundreds of miles away. ‘Boat maintenance in exotic places’ is a reasonable description of low latitude cruising. Another aphorism ‘The two best days of your life are the day you buy the boat, and the day you sell her’ has several grains of truth. Yet a boat is the only way to Pacific islands, bar a handful. Thus I’d say being faced with boat problems you can’t fix but have to fix is among the most testing.

The other side of this coin that makes it all worthwhile is the endless variety and joy of islands, of passages, of the ocean and the submarine life, and most of all the wonderful people out there.

PT: Knowing what you know now, would you like to repeat your adventure?

AR: Yes, at least at the age I set sail I would go again. Anyone who has the chance to undertake such a journey is hugely privileged.

PT: Now, let’s concentrate on Pasifika. For you, paradise?

AR: Foregoing quibbles about definitions, yes.

PT: If you were to describe in a few words each of the Pacific countries you had a chance to visit, what would you say?

AR: An impossible task that might produce a result unfair to everywhere. People need different things from their travels, and when asked standard questions about best islands I try to gage what the questioner is looking for. Intrepid travelers I’d send to Vanuatu, divers to the few places operating in PNG or the Solomons. Those looking for beauty combined with comfort love Bora Bora, and for an excursion into anthropology Rapa Nui. Vava’u has charter sailboats available and a magnificent archipelago to explore, and Aitutaki produces the finest dancing in the ocean. The tamelife of the Galapagos is wondrous, while the rest of the oceanic Pacific Ring of Fire never disappoints rookie geologists. Fiji, Niue, the Micronesian islands, the Kula Ring islands of PNG, there’s almost nowhere I wouldn’t wish to return to. But most important is to have time with the people.

PT: Your book can certainly help people visualize all those places. I must say it is a magnificent publication. The pictures, illustrations, maps simply delight. Why did you choose to embellish the written word?

AR: I remember ‘Treasure Island’ among the books I read when pretty small. The images left, Blind Pugh bringing the Black Spot, the Island, the chest of treasure, were drawings. I’m sure my enjoyment and recollection depended considerably on these drawings. Non-fiction books can of course survive without illustration, most in fact very easily, but some seem to cry for help. I felt ‘RFP’ could not convey the relationship of islands without maps, and my pen isn’t adequate to describe all that I wished without the help of illustrations. I am most fortunate in having as my wife and travel companion a superb painter and mapmaker.

PT: ‘Reach for Paradise’ is so unusual that it’s difficult to categorize. In your opinion, is it a memoir, a travelogue, or maybe a travel guide?

AR: Aah, it’s those and more, with plenty of history, anthropology, literary reference, and even a naughty bit of my own verse thrown in. But none of that is the aim. ‘RFP’ is a celebration of Pacific islands, something I found despite diligent inquiry was lacking from contemporary bookshelves. The islands are magnificent and to varying degrees outside the modern world, not as colonial left-overs or some sort of a curiosity goggled at by boatloads of tourists but vibrant societies with rich culture and story. They deserve a reasoned overview through sympathetic eyes. Though ‘RFP’ may prove to be a travel companion where there was none like it before, I hope, too, it conveys the true spirit of the islands.

PT: I’m sure you have many more stories to tell. Do you plan to write a sequel?

AR: No, though tempting. I cut some 40% of the original manuscript to make ‘RFP’ manageable.

PT: Last question that I need to ask… Have you found your paradise? Is it Hawaii, where you now live?

AR: Location is as much a compromise as most things in life. We farm fruit in the most Hawaiian, thus Polynesian, part of Hawaii. It’s beautiful, remote and traditional. But 800 numbers, cable internet, and Costco a couple of hours away serve to make life easier. We are happy here.

‘REACH FOR PARADISE’ BY ANDREW RAYNER

‘Reach for Paradise’ is Andrew Rayner’s chronicle of his eight-year-long voyage through the islands of the Pacific Ocean.

REACH FOR PARADISE

Summary

Andrew has always dreamt of visiting the islands of the South Seas, so much celebrated for being a slice of paradise on earth. When the opportunity to fulfill that dream finally arises, he buys a boat and eagerly starts his great journey of discovery.

The Blue Continent makes an enormous impression on the Englishman. As he travels from bay to bay, he immerses himself in everything the region has to offer. From romantic Tahiti, to the islands where time begins, to the place in which money grows on trees – each and every corner exudes irresistible charm that Andrew finds impossible to resist. The breathtaking beauty that surrounds him, the fascinating cultures he encounters, and the wonderful people he meets make his adventure a truly unforgettable experience.

Review

I have never seen a more beautiful book. And by ‘beautiful’ I mean ‘aesthetically pleasing’. ‘Reach for Paradise’ simply delights. From the moment you lay eyes on the cover, you are completely mesmerized by the stunning design. Andrew Rayner’s words are embellished with photographs, exquisite colourful illustrations, and maps created by his wife, Robin, who herself is an enormously talented person. Her paintings – which you’d want to see framed and hanging on a wall in your house – wonderfully convey the magical allure of the islands, helping you imagine their tropical scenery. Each and every page of this publication is a celebration of art, literature, and – of course – the great Pacific.

Just as the book is beautiful, it is also difficult to categorize. You may now start wondering what genre it belongs to. I made an attempt to solve this mystery. With no success. It’s not entirely a travelogue, nor is it a personal memoir. It’s a mix of both, and more. The author’s reminiscences and anecdotes are combined with insightful, often anthropological observations that offer you a rare glimpse into the folkways of indigenous societies. It can be noticed that Andrew Rayner went to extraordinary lengths to keep his representation of the islands and their inhabitants accurate, faithful, and objective. He didn’t just travel through the Blue Continent, he studied it. He cared enough to explore its history and acquaint himself with the nuances of its cultures. Having analyzed numerous works devoted to the subjects, some of which make a guest appearance in the book, he wrote his account with a fullness of knowledge – dare I say – few men possess.

Now, if you think that is all you’re going to find in ‘Reach for Paradise’, you couldn’t be more mistaken. The volume is a well-researched guide – a mine of useful, valuable information that may come in handy for those who plan to set sail for the South Seas. By no means is this a cruising manual with tips and advices regarding nautical excursions. Nonetheless, it is definitely worth keeping onboard…as a source of great inspiration. Vivid and comprehensive descriptions that reveal Oceania’s hidden marvels will give you a good enough reason to go there. You don’t intend to travel? Well, after reading this book you’ll feel the overwhelming temptation to embark on your very own voyage to the isles of paradise.

Andrew Rayner created a beauty that is a sheer joy to hold in hands. His stories – brilliantly written and thoroughly absorbing – stir the imagination, igniting your inner wanderlust. This is travel literature at its best and, without the slightest doubt, one of the finest publications regarding the Pacific Islands. If this blue corner of our globe holds a special place in your heart, do not hesitate to buy this title. It is a must-have!

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.