Monthly Archives: January 2014

THE SACRED FORM OF LAW

We all need some rules and guidelines. They are, whether you like it or not, an essential part of our lives. Can you imagine what the world would look like if no regulations existed? Well, I can. It would be nothing but a mess. Complete chaos. Total disarray. In other words, it would be a terrible place to live.

The importance of law and order has been recognized since remote times. Most countries had established their own social principles long before ‘traditional’ legal systems came into being. Such rules indicated what was forbidden and what was permitted. Individuals couldn’t just do as they pleased. Their personal freedom was restricted in favour of public interests. Was it wrong? No. Was it necessary? It surely was.

In the Pacific Islands the first ‘law’ that organized social life was tapu. Although the word is usually translated into English as ‘forbidden’ or ‘prohibited’, its definition is actually much broader. In order to fully understand the code, we must first dig into Polynesian culture.

The origins of tapu are strongly linked to the concept of mana, which can be defined as an extraordinary power derived from the gods. In the past, mana was a synonym for authority, influence, prestige and efficacy. It was a kind of supernatural force certain people, places and objects possessed. In case of human beings, mana could be both inherited or acquired during life. It could also be increased, decreased or even lost through one’s actions or behaviour.

Now, you may wonder what is the connection between the two concepts. Well, when something was tapu (‘forbidden’), it was actually sacred as it was imbued with the power of mana. And the higher the mana, the greater the tapu. Chiefs and noble families, as well as significant objects and places, were believed to have had an exceptionally high level of mana. That is why they were extremely tapu and out of bounds to those who didn’t have a dispensation.

The concept of tapu was so commonly used in the various Pacific Islands that it quickly became a means of social control. It imposed restrictions, limitations and prohibition. Everything and everyone could be made tapu. Such things or people couldn’t be touched, approached or sometimes even talked to. To give you an example, if someone’s house was declared tapu, unauthorized person was forbidden to enter it. In one of his books, Robert Louis Stevenson mentions how King Tembinok, the ruler of Apemama, made Stevensons’ compound sacred and thus inaccessible to the locals. The natives obeyed; as usual. Tapu was rarely violated by the islanders. They knew that ‘breaking the law’ would have some very serious consequences. They feared the anger of their ancestors, which would manifest itself through illnesses, catastrophes, disasters or even death. The rule was simple: showing a reckless disregard for tapu was considered an offence to the gods. And who would want to lose divine guardianship? No one. At least no one from the traditional Pacific Island society.

As you can see, tapu has always been a very complex system. It was a representation of mana, so its primary aim was to protect and preserve: people, places, objects and natural resources. But it cannot be denied that tapu was also an early substitution for civil law. By placing various restrictions upon members of the community – or in other words by declaring someone or something ‘sacred’ or ‘forbidden’ – chiefs, priests and rulers made sure that the society as a whole was moving in the right direction. And just as no one can escape the law (at least in theory), no one could also escape tapu.

Does the concept exist in the modern Pacific world? It does, though it’s definitely not as strong as it was in the past. But still, don’t be surprised if you go to New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Fiji or several other islands and learn that some average-looking place is loaded with the sacred power of mana…

A CHAT WITH… JAN WALKER

Have you already read ‘A Farm in the South Pacific Sea’? This fantastic book was written by Jan Walker – an incredibly talented and very warm person. She was kind enough to answer a few questions about her South Sea tale. Here’s what she had to say…

JAN WALKER

Pasifika Tales: Jan, why did you decide to write ‘A Farm in the South Pacific Sea’?

Jan Walker: My cousin June, the protagonist in the book, and I made the decision when I visited her on Maui in 1984. She knew I had two nontraditional textbooks for incarcerated adults about to be published by a small publishing company, and she’d read other material I’d written over the years. She wanted her story told and believed I could write it. During that visit, June told me her Tonga journals had been lost. She’d given them to her older sister who was allegedly contracting with a writer in the Chicago area to recreate and publish June’s story as nonfiction.

June was devastated by the loss of the journals, by her sister’s excuses for the writer who allegedly misplaced them, and by the final conclusion that the story really wouldn’t sell anyway; there just wouldn’t be enough interest in the U.S. I understood my cousin’s anger and sorrow. Her health was already in decline so we started developing a timeline for the Tonga years. She dug through files for stories she’d written in an attempt to reconstruct her adventure, and for any correspondence she had from that time. I carried a large stack of papers back to the mainland with a promise to begin background research. It was intense, time consuming work. Still, June wanted me to do the writing no matter how long it took.

PT: Did you have any doubts or second thoughts?

JW: Yes, many doubts. How could I write about the Kingdom of Tonga, a place I’d never been with a government unlike anything I’d experienced? How could I write about scuba diving? How could I portray June as the strong, independent woman I knew her to be so that came through for readers?

As those doubts were dispelled, I still wondered if writing about a living king and several other living people was proper. June understood that. She wanted a completed story that she could read and share with a few people. I achieved that for her well before her death in 1994. After she died, I put the manuscript in a box and wrote other books. When I learned of King Tupou IV’s death in 2006, I started rewriting the book for publication. The kingdom went through a tumultuous time, as characters in my book had predicted. As you might guess, it was June who informed me of those predictions, but I attributed them to a native character in the book.

PT: Where did you draw your inspiration from?

JW: From June and her personal strengths, first, but also from extensive research. I had a sense that she could be a small voice for the people living on remote islands in the vast South Pacific Sea.

I also believe that the abuses and losses she suffered through her life could be shown as part of her life without making her appear to be a pitiful victim, but rather a strong female survivor. I taught adult felons inside medium security prisons and maximum security units. I have studied victimizers and victims, and worked with them to help them make healthy choices as they do their time and work toward release back to their families and communities. Perhaps that work served as part of my inspiration.

PT: It must have been hard to write about someone else’s life. What was the writing process like for you?

JW: Yes, it is difficult to write about someone else’s life. I knew the book would have to be a fictionalized account of June’s adventure to provide me author freedom to create. I wrote an extensive backstory of her life prior to her Tonga adventure. Also, I created lists of everything I would need to know about the South Pacific and set up files and cross reference guides. I read extensively and amassed a large file of photocopied material.

June gave me photo albums that included pictures of her Mango Island fale (house), the church and school, the in-sea farm site, and many pictures of the people. Most of the pictures were taken with a Polaroid camera and have faded. To say the photos helped me write the story and describe settings and scenes would be an understatement.

PT: Did June give you any advice?

JW: She often told me to write more sex scenes, both loving and forced. She often said: ‘Sex sells.’ We argued about that off and on over the years. I wanted to draw on the depths of her character. She talked at times about the problems she’d encountered through life from the onset of puberty. She was very attractive; she often got unwanted attention from men in all facets of her life. In the end, she found the way I handled her sexuality an appropriate balance for the story.

PT: Speaking of your cousin and her incredible story … How much of the novel is true, and how much is pure fiction?

JW: This is all true: estrangement from her father from age 9 to full adulthood due to her mother divorcing him, taking June from their Chicago home but leaving June’s older sister behind; lifelong conflict with her controlling mother; June’s three marriages, the first at 17 and its events that are revealed near the end of the book; the man she loved who died in England; the reason the second and third marriages failed; learning to pilot small planes; ownership of an apartment building in Seattle; working in shipyards in Seattle and then with Morrison-Knudsen, civil engineers, in San Francisco; leaving Seattle to live in Hawaii after her third divorce and the brief look at that life; the Hawaii dive that opens the book; her search for a place to try in-sea spiny lobster farming and her connections to research laboratories in Florida and Australia; her arrival in Nuku’alofa and her stay at Beach House; meeting the man I call Tavita and traveling to the Ha’apai on his boat; all the events that occur on that trip; and the events as they unfold over the years in Tonga. The Fiji story is absolutely true.

I exaggerated parts of the post Tonga romance. The man I call Tavita outlived June. He and I corresponded at length after her death. Her health was seriously impaired shortly after she returned to Hawaii, when she was living on Maui. She heard a small plane’s engine failing and saw the plane plunge into the ocean near Lahaina. She yelled to someone nearby to call for help, then plunged into the water and swam to the plane where she helped the struggling pilot get out of his seat harness. She kept his head above water until help arrived. Remember, she’d had a punctured and collapsed lung for the Fiji ordeal, and damage from smoking since her teen years. That taxed her lungs so severely that she had to start using oxygen. She was treated for the rest of her life for COPD. She developed breast cancer that couldn’t be treated due to her already failing health.

PT: Let me ask you about other characters. Have you met any of the people that are portrayed in the book?

JW: I didn’t meet but did correspond with the woman I call Betty Peace Corps in the book. The man I call Tomasi did move to Los Angeles. He remained in touch with June, so she knew he fathered several children. I corresponded with two of the three ‘little Junies,’ as she called them. Tavita had helped her stay in touch with them. She transmitted money to them through him. He helped them with purchasing cars and paying education fees. I saw the relationship they maintained through the years as a love story of an important sort. They lived out their lives in two different worlds, each with personal struggles.

PT: The ending of the story is extremely emotional and I do believe everyone would love to know what happened afterwards. Could you tell us a bit more not only about June, but also about people she met during her time in the Kingdom of Tonga?

JW: June returned first to Honolulu and continued to work with the seafood company there as they explored in-sea farming ventures. She did bookkeeping for a clinic that assisted abuse victims. She stayed in touch with the families on Mango Island, collected clothing and other items they requested and shipped them out three or four times a year. She grieved deeply when the character I call Rosie Jamieson – Beach House owner, died. As noted above, she stayed in touch with the Tongan Junes, and dispersed funds to them through Tavita. She followed Tongan news, and always had tidbits about the king.

She moved to Oahu shortly after the pilot rescue on Maui. I visited her at least twice a year for the last ten years of her life. June didn’t travel far from her apartment in those years. She hated being seen in public with oxygen tubes in her nostrils.

PT: Let’s focus on Pasifika for a moment. The way you described Tonga is simply amazing. Have you had a chance to visit the islands?

JW: I have not visited Tonga, except through June’s eyes and our conversations, and through extensive reading. June’s photos helped. Visiting remote places on Maui, Oahu and the big island of Hawaii helped me imagine life on Tongatapu and Mango Islands. I would love to visit Tonga one day to see what I might have described differently.

PT: I know you’ve been to Hawaii a couple of times. What are your thoughts on the Blue Continent?

JW: Actually, I’ve been to Hawaii too many times to count. How can I answer that in a few words? I grew up near, and still live near Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. I have view of the Sound, and Mount Rainier in the distance, from my home, and easy access to the beach. I also visit ocean beaches in Washington, Oregon and California quite regularly. I respect and revere the sea—all seas.

I worry about damaged coral reefs, bombed out atolls, depleted vegetation on remote islands, rogue nets entangling sea creatures. I believe the peoples of every land touched by the sea must share their love of their place by caring for it and sharing their stories. I believe the power of stories is as profound as the power of the seas.

‘A FARM IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC SEA’ BY JAN WALKER

‘A Farm in the South Pacific Sea’ recounts a true story of the author’s cousin, June von Donop, who had lived in the Kingdom of Tonga in the late 1960s and early 1970s. All the events described in the book are based on June’s personal journals and countless conversations the two women held.

A FARM IN THE SOUTH PACIFIC SEA

Summary

In 1967, American businesswoman, June Sandusky, decides to move to Tonga in order to start a spiny lobster nursery and forget about her difficult past: three failed marriages, a rocky relationship with her mother, and the death of a loved one during the World War II.

Soon upon her arrival she discovers that the South Pacific islands are not quite the paradise she hoped for. While native Tongans seem very friendly and welcoming, they are not pleased with her being an entrepreneurial woman. But the men’s opposition makes June even more determined to succeed.

With a little help from the warm-hearted people, she finds a perfect location for her farm. She arrives on Mango Island and instantly chooses the place as her new home. She hires a carpenter to build a house for her – a traditional palm frond fale with nice kitchen cupboards, Dutch doors, and wooden-framed beds.

As time goes by, June becomes accustomed to the new surroundings. She works in her nursery, has fun with her friends, finds a lover and a man who turns out to be her true soulmate. But life is no fairytale and June learns that nothing lasts forever.

Review

This is a truly wonderful book that takes readers on an unforgettable adventure to the South Pacific region. June’s experiences, chronicled brilliantly by Jan Walker, stir emotions to such an extent that you will literally have to pause every few chapters to calm your racing heart. This is, of course, the result of the story itself – highly engaging, but not easy to read. Some people may find it a little bit hard to get through the beginning. Long, detailed descriptions and lack of action can definitely make the narrative appear mundane. However, let me assure you, it gets better and better with every page. What is more, once you get to the end, you will most likely want to read it again.

Strong plot is supported by mature, well-developed, and more than believable characters: ambitious and independent June, caring Tavita, family-oriented Tomasi, somewhat bossy but helpful Mary, determined to make a difference Ana’alisi, and many more who are just as good. They are all different and they all have their vices and virtues. Their world, although dubbed ‘the tropical island paradise’, is not picture perfect. Love is sacred and painful at the same time; happiness mixes with sorrow; troubles lurk around every corner. This is the real life – sometimes you just have to fight; even if you are surrounded by marvelous lagoons, sandy beaches, and crystal-clear blue waters. I guess this is the reason why all these characters seem so incredibly authentic.

‘A Farm in the South Pacific Sea’ is not just a novel based on actual events. It is a story of passion, strength, courage, love, desire, and friendship. It broaches the subjects of gender roles and women’s rights in various cultures, providing valuable insights into these issues. Jan Walker addresses discrimination, domestic violence, sexual harassment with surprising bravery. Her words may be quite enraging to read – a few of the scenes are profoundly disturbing – but it can’t be denied that they are deeply thought-provoking and thus worth pondering on.

I do recommend this book. Wholeheartedly! You may shed a few tears at the end, you may laugh a few times at the beginning. Whatever your emotions, June’s adventure will surely touch your heart and soul. But, bear in mind that this is not a light-hearted romance. Neither is this a novel for young adults.

HEAVEN ON EARTH?

What constitutes a paradise? Have you ever wondered? Well, some people say it’s a place of extreme beauty where everything is covered with loveliness. Others claim it’s a secluded spot of no worries, no problems, no stress. And I think that such Heaven on Earth doesn’t exist.

Yes, I adore Pasifika. Truly, madly, deeply. But would I call it a paradise? I surely wouldn’t.

Of course, the islands are almost picture-perfect. Crystal-clear waters, sun-drenched beaches and coconut palm trees are all part of the tropical scenery. But take a closer look. Can you see how some of the atolls are being slowly invaded by the ocean? Can you see severe coastal erosions? No? Then maybe you can notice a lack of plants in certain locations? Those are the consequences of climate change. Rising sea level that gradually swallows shorelines. Saltwater intrusion that affects crops and contaminates freshwater supplies. Violent cyclones, devastating floods, prolonged droughts. How paradise-ish does this sound?

But wait, there’s even more. Due to forced migration from low-lying islands, Pasifika’s biggest towns are getting extremely overcrowded. More people, more rubbish. What once was an idyllic destination can now be compared to a little garbage dump. Literally. Everything, from empty cans to broken household goods, must end up somewhere. And it usually ends up on a beach or by the side of a road. They do not show this in travel brochures, do they?

That would be enough for the visual part. Now, let’s go undercover, shall we? You may think that Pacific Islanders are one of the friendliest people on Earth. And they are; honestly and without doubt. They’re kind, they’re generous, they’re extremely welcoming. Their glass is always half full, never half empty. This remarkable cheerfulness appeals to the hearts of visitors. But there is something most tourists do not get to see. What’s hidden behind the happy façade? Domestic violence, physical and emotional abuse, rapes.

Life in Pasifika is not a bed of roses, especially for women. They are often hit, they are beaten, they are sexually assaulted just because such behaviour is widely accepted and, most importantly, passed down from generation to generation. Young children see those things at first hand; that’s the way they are brought up. They believe it’s normal for a man to punch his wife. Or for a woman to obey her husband and stay silent while being harmed. Wrong thinking… What a trivial cause of violence, right? Trivial, yet hard to eradicate.

Such is the real Pacific. As you can see, it definitely can’t be considered Heaven on Earth. This place is no paradise for many reasons; too many to mention here. It may not seem like it, but the islands do have their problems; just like any other country in the world. The geographical remoteness doesn’t make them immune to global issues. Unfortunately. But don’t worry, the dream is still alive. And you can chase it; while lying on the beach, watching the sun sets or simply spending time in a luxurious fale.

Remember, you don’t love something because of its perfection. You love it because it’s unique; because it brings you joy and happiness. As they say, paradise is where the heart is. For me that’s Pasifika – a very special corner of our globe. Not ideal, but absolutely amazing and incredible. I take it as it comes; with the good, the bad and the ugly.

THE BLUE CONTINENT

Pasifika. Do you know where it is? Most people have no idea. Tell them about Tuvalu, Kiribati or Nauru and you’re likely to receive a blank or quizzical stare. Yes, it still happens. Sadly. This is why I thought I would start off with a quick geography lesson.

If you take a globe or a map and search for the Pacific Ocean, you will see a vast blue expanse dotted with thousands of islands. Some of them are easy to notice, others must be looked for with a magnifying glass. Tiny spots; splendidly isolated, marvelously remote. Have you found them? If yes, you have found a truly magical place.

What makes the South Seas so bewitching? I’m not sure. One may say those are the islands of pure beauty. Pristine lagoons encircled by coral reefs. Beaches with white sand. Beaches with black sand. Coconut palm trees gently swaying in the breeze. Alluring waterfalls hidden amongst tropical vegetation. Deserted shores and fragrant gardenia blossoms. Unadulterated loveliness.

One may say those are the islands of fascinating people. Graceful women and proud men; full of character, wisdom, charm. Always laughing, always joking, always having fun. Greeting others with a smile and sincere warmth. Generous. Unselfish. Respectful. Simply, easy to fall in love with.

One may say those are the islands of captivating cultures. Spectacular dances bursting with elegance and strength. Gentle sounds of ukuleles mixed with rhythms of drums. History written on tapa cloths. Stories inked on skin. Emotions expressed through flower garlands. Timeless, yet constantly evolving.

So yes, Pacific Islands are exquisite and utterly unique. As a matter of fact, I could use dozens of other adjectives to depict them. The question is, what for? Would my words be truthful? Would they portray Pasifika as it really is? No, they wouldn’t. No phrase and no expression can fully convey the beauty of the Blue Continent, because this place is simply indescribable. It has a distinctive ambience; a strange magnetism that cannot be explained. And once you feel the pull, you won’t be able to resist its force.

I know what some of you might think right now: Pasifika is no different from other spectacular locations. Well, call me biased, but I can assure you that it actually is. It is unlike any other region in the world. It’s unpretentious and authentic; filled to the brim with tranquil delights. Every green patch that breaks the shades of blue oozes with good vibrations. This is the corner of our globe where laughter is infectious and sorrows sink beneath the waves. I guess it could easily be termed ‘a private comfort zone’. You feel safe there. Safe and content. The islands give you this strange yet incredibly pleasurable feeling of belonging; a sense that this is the place where you are supposed to be. Only in the South Seas can this be felt.

Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote: ‘Few men who come to the islands leave them; they grow grey where they alighted; the palm shades and the trade-wind fans them till they die…. No part of the world exerts the same attractive power upon the visitor.’ In the 19th century, he already knew that. And so will you. Just let yourself discover the Blue Continent; get immersed in its charm and magic. Sooner or later you will fall under its spell. Exactly as I did.