Daily Archives: May 18, 2019

‘UNFAMILIAR FISHES’ BY SARAH VOWELL

‘Unfamiliar Fishes’ is Sarah Vowell’s bestselling book that recounts the fascinating history of the Hawaiian Islands.

UNFAMILIAR FISHES

Summary

For Sarah Vowell, it is no secret that Hawaii is America’s melting pot, where different cultures merge together creating an unusual yet coherent whole. But how did it happen that this once independent kingdom eventually became the 50th state? Trying to find out, Sarah decides to retrace the archipelago’s rich history.

To the sounds of Brother Iz’s famous songs, she wanders the streets slowly unraveling the islands’ past. Hopping from one museum to another, she discovers the old Polynesian ways, studies the nuances of the local language, learns about Hawaii’s royal leaders and desperate-to-civilize-the-heathens missionaries from New England. Everything she does, whether it’s nibbling at her lunch in Waikiki or paying a visit to ‘the haole rich kid school’ – the same Barack Obama proudly calls his alma mater – makes her think, analyze, and contemplate how some people changed the place.

Review

What comes to your mind when you hear the world ‘Hawaii’? Paradise. Flower leis. Ukulele. Grass skirts. Aloha spirit. Tourist-style hula dance. Shave ice. Hawaii Five-0. That ever so popular blue drink. Sandy beaches. Surfing. Malasadas. Oh, and spam! You can’t forget about spam. Now, what doesn’t usually come to your mind is the state’s history. You may be perfectly familiar with it; or you may have no idea who King Kamehameha the Great was. Whatever the case, the archipelago’s past isn’t something you tend to focus your attention on. But, chances are, this will change when you take ‘Unfamiliar Fishes’ in your hands.

Sarah Vowell definitely knows how to recount bygone times. She is not your typical writer who bores you with countless dates, names, and not particularly important events. She is more of a guide who gives you a tour of the islands, stopping here and there to explain a few relevant facts. She is quick and straight to the point. What she offers you is the pure essence – summarized report, in which she managed to squeeze almost one hundred years into two hundred and something pages.

Now, her presentation might be somewhat abbreviated, but it definitely doesn’t lack thoroughness. Actually, you may be quite surprised to learn just how much you didn’t know about America’s 50th state. While focusing primarily on the imperialist intentions of the haole missionaries (well ok, they started schools and created the Hawaiian alphabet, so it can’t be denied that they did something good), the narrative is sprinkled with interesting and often revealing snippets regarding the obscene natives, party-loving whalers, and incestuous monarchs. This mixed bag of characters gives you a clearer understanding of what was really happening in the ‘tropical paradise’ during the 19th century. I highly doubt that certain issues Sarah Vowell writes about get even the slightest mention in other history books. But then again, ‘Unfamiliar Fishes’ isn’t your regular history non-fiction. It really stands out from the crowd.

This might have something to do with the author herself – an extremely talented person who has the ability to make the most mundane, lifeless, and tedious subject more digestible for an ordinary human being not necessarily interested in the events of the past. Despite being acquainted with Hawaii’s history, she is not an expert and doesn’t even pretend to be. But she cares; and she digs deep. When such attitude is combined with a deliciously wry sense of humour and a ready wit, the result simply must be spectacular. And in this case, it is.

If you try hard, you will probably find a thing or two that maybe should have been written differently. Sure. But, quite honestly, there’s no point in searching for flaws or imperfections. Instead, sit back with a glass of Mai Tai and immerse yourself in this very engaging read. Soon you will be hooked and possibly planning your own journey. Just to discover the real Hawaii.

A CHAT WITH… BRYAN WEBB

Bryan Webb, an Assembly of God missionary, has been residing in Vanuatu for more than fifteen years. In his two books, ‘Hungry Devils’ and ‘The Sons of Cannibals’, he relates his experiences of living in a foreign land, giving readers a fascinating account of front line missions. Being a very kind man, he took the time and answered a few questions regarding his work and the South Pacific.

BRYAN WEBB

Pasifika Tales: You are a missionary so travelling to distant lands is an important part of your life. But how did you end up in Vanuatu?

Bryan Webb: Our journey into the Pacific started while I worked the night shift in a factory to pay my way through college. Many of my fellow workers were Pacific Islanders. Their descriptions of their islands were mesmerizing, and of course everyone invited me for a visit. My wife Renee and I developed a number of close friendships and took them up on their invitations. Once we had visited several Pacific island nations we felt sure the islands would always be our home. A number of factors convinced us to settle in Vanuatu: the people, the opportunities, but mostly friendships.

PT: What was your first impression of the archipelago? What surprised you most about the country and its people?

BW: Renee and I began our Pacific travels in Micronesia, where the islands are tiny, so when I first arrived in Vanuatu I was amazed at the large size of the islands. The thing I found fascinating about the people was the amazing diversity of language and culture. In Vanuatu, Christian and Kastom, stone age and space age exist side by side. My first day in Luganville I was window shopping at LCM, one of our Chinese stores. Distracted by the items displayed in the window, I bumped into an elderly gentleman as I turned to go. I was startled to discover he was wearing little more than a hunting knife.

PT: Was it difficult to adjust to a new culture?

BW: Cultural adjustment is always a challenge. However, we found adapting to Vanuatu to be relatively simple. Bislama, the national language, is easy to learn and most people are very eager to befriend you and teach you about their culture. I think diving in and truly immersing yourself in the culture is the key to a successful adjustment.

PT: You described the peculiarities of living in Vanuatu in your two books, which are just phenomenal. It seems that one of the hardest things you had to deal with was ‘reconciling’ your teachings with the traditional values of Ni-Vanuatu people.

BW: I believe Christ and his teachings are transcultural. The greatest challenge I face is stripping my cultural preconceptions away so that I can present Christ and his teachings in the Ni-Vanuatu cultural context. Often what seems like a contradiction between Ni-Vanuatu culture and Christianity is really a contradiction between Ni-Vanuatu and Western culture.

PT: Do you think those indigenous beliefs and traditions, which are a big part of Melanesian cultures, should be preserved?

BW: Yes and no. Culture is complex. No culture is static, and that is a good thing. All cultures are in a constant state of flux. Culture ultimately springs from environment, and cultures change as the environment changes or as people collectively come to understand and relate to their environment differently. Ni-Vanuatu as a whole live in a rapidly changing world, with those changes some aspects of culture will become outdated or irrelevant, others will prove to be critical to maintaining their identity in this changing world. In the end only Ni-Vanuatu are qualified to guide themselves through this process. I am, however, completely opposed to the idea of asking people to follow outdated and irrelevant traditions, so that tourists can gawk at people living in the equivalent of a cultural zoo.

PT: You’ve been living in Vanuatu for quite a while now. Have you adopted any of the customs or practices?

BW: No doubt I have become a third culture person. I will never be fully Ni-Vanuatu, but I will also never be fully American again. Vanuatu has placed an indelible stamp on my life. I find myself focused on people rather than tasks, and events rather than time. Most of the changes are subtle and really don’t stand out till I visit America again.

PT: And how, in your opinion, has the country changed since your arrival?

BW: Vanuatu is rapidly modernizing. Cell phones and Internet have transformed communications. Women are gaining a voice in the culture. Most of the changes I see are good. The negative would be an increase in drug abuse and pornography.

PT: You wrote two books. How many more interesting tales do you have? Is there a third volume on the horizon?

BW: Vanuatu is so fascinating there is an endless list of stories. My challenge is taking the time to write. I am currently working on a book with photographer Gaylon Wampler. Gaylon is an amazing artist with a camera. Together we hope to create a stunning photo essay of Vanuatu. This project will be very different than what I have written to date. My first two books are focused on my experiences and were decidedly religious. This book will be completely focused on the people, culture, and beauty of Vanuatu. We are doing this as a gift to the children of Vanuatu and 100% of the proceeds will go to providing education for underprivileged children. This book was inspired out of my experience in the story, ‘Warm and Well Fed’ in the book ‘The Sons of Cannibals’. We are aiming for a December 2015 release.

‘THE SONS OF CANNIBALS AND MORE TALES FROM VANUATU’ BY BRYAN WEBB

‘The Sons of Cannibals and more tales from Vanuatu’ is Bryan Webb’s second publication regarding his missionary work in the Melanesian archipelago. Although a separate book, it is a continuation of his previous memoir, ‘Hungry Devils’.

THE SONS OF CANNIBALS

Summary

Having spent over fifteen years living in Vanuatu, Bryan is practically a local. Familiar with the area and armed with a wealth of knowledge, he is no longer bewildered by the unusual customs or seemingly odd behaviours of the islands’ native inhabitants. Together with his family, he heartily carries on with his mission to preach the gospel.

However, his work is not always easy. Certain cultural idiosyncrasies still prove to be an obstacle Bryan needs to surmount. Well, how do you share your faith with the followers of the Jon Frum Cargo Cult who await the coming of their prophet and his divine gifts in the form of TVs, cars, and refrigerators? You can only try. And this is exactly what Bryan does. He tries; every single day. And he surely gets his rewards. Because when the sons of cannibals labour together to build a church, he can’t help but smile.

Review

This book is no different from its informal predecessor, ‘Hungry Devils’. It is just a second volume that delivers another batch of short stories. And this is why it’s worthy of your attention. Webb’s tales are, again, phenomenal. Strikingly engaging, they will take you on an incredible adventure, revealing the secrets of Vanuatu that only the locals know.

Despite obvious similarities between the two memoirs, this one is a little more focused on the country’s enchanting culture. Ni-Vanuatu way of life serves as an underlying theme that runs through the entire book. In a few of the chapters, however, it is especially prominent. The author delightfully describes and explains how the natives give directions (left, right, right, left, left is right, right is left, up, down, toward the ocean, away from the ocean, generally: till you get to the tree), what ‘storian’ is, and how long one needs to wait to have something – anything – done. He also compares Melanesian traditions with their Western counterparts, analyzing the patterns of behaviour in both societies. These detailed, in-depth delineations not only give you a better understanding of the aforementioned culture but also make you aware of how diverse our world is.

Of course, Webb doesn’t write exclusively about the archipelago’s folkways. The narratives wander from his missionary work to the indigenous communities he meets, from the country’s geography to its rich history. Once more you are provided with a thorough and very enlightening tour of the islands, where the past coexists with the present in almost perfect harmony. You can’t blame Bryan for falling in love with the land of smiles, can you?

The Webbs’ experiences are recounted in a graceful, light-hearted manner with the necessary pinch of gentle humour. The author’s fearless self-reflection and ability to laugh at his own failings make this book brim with emotion and honesty. Sharing your successes is easy. Sharing your failures and mistakes, not so much. But Bryan Webb doesn’t seem to care. He is truthful and thus very inspiring.

Every single story in this compilation is a winning read. The writing is excellent, the content insightful, the Melanesian country unusually vivid. You couldn’t ask for more. Simply perfect.

‘HUNGRY DEVILS AND OTHER TALES FROM VANUATU’ BY BRYAN WEBB

‘Hungry Devils and other tales from Vanuatu’ is a collection of short stories about modern missions in the South Pacific, penned by Bryan Webb – a long-term resident of the islands.

HUNGRY DEVILS

Summary

Vanuatu is a challenging country for a missionary. With its many tribes, distinctive cultures, and over one hundred local languages, it tests even the strongest-willed of men. But Bryan feels right at home in this tropical Melanesian paradise.

Day after day, despite many adversities, he preaches the word of God to the native inhabitants, trying to incorporate his teachings into local traditions. At the same time, he gets to know the islands, absorbs the Ni-Vanuatu way of life, and immerses himself in everything the archipelago has to offer. He laughs and cries; he struggles; he fails and succeeds. But he survives and, so it seems, thrives.

Review

What a wonderful book this is! Thoroughly captivating, insightful, revealing, thought-provoking. Bryan Webb writes about Vanuatu with a fierce, uncompromising passion he doesn’t even attempt to hide. In the opening sentence of the first chapter he declares: ‘Vanuatu is the land that I love, my surrogate home, the land of my calling’. After such forthright statement, you just know the next pages are filled with some incredible tales. And you can’t wait to read them.

The most impressive feature of this account is its remarkable completeness. Everything – from scenery to people to customs and traditions – is described in equal measure. The author doesn’t confine his attention to one element only, but rather portrays the country as a whole. In some of the stories he takes readers on a guided tour to remote villages, painting a vivid picture of the lush tropical settings, while in the others he delineates cultural practices of indigenous and often forgotten tribes, providing an insight into their distinctive folkways. These different subject matters form a cohesive unity that makes the memoir an immensely interesting publication. But, not only is it engaging, it’s also very informative. This may have something to do with Webb’s extensive knowledge of the archipelago. As a long-standing resident of the islands, he demonstrates an unusually high level of familiarity with the Ni-Vanuatu culture and way of life. His narratives are characterized by accuracy and precision of an insider’s eye. Although from a distant land, Bryan Webb is a local; a local foreigner, you can say. His genuine affection for the Melanesian country couldn’t be more evident. He respects the natives, at all times. He never condemns them, even when their actions elicit his rage. But most importantly, he doesn’t judge what he sees and experiences. Not once does he suggest that something is worse, strange, less worthy. Whether it’s cultural relativism or the effect of his missionary kindness, I don’t know. It might be both.

Speaking of which, religion – or, to be exact, the author’s pastoral ministry – is as much of a prominent topic as Vanuatu itself. Webb outlines the peculiarities of his day to day work, offering you a glimpse into the world of twenty-first century Christian missions. Moreover, every chapter is laced with biblical citations that beautifully complement each tale. Now, I know what some of you may be thinking: that’s too much religion for one book. Well, even if this particular subject is beyond the sphere of your interests, I guarantee the author’s adventures will draw you in.

Especially taking into account that the memoir is incredibly well written. Despite the fact that it often broaches very serious issues, Webb maintains a light tone that is breathtakingly delightful. His style is concise yet detailed and descriptive – his words, which evoke a profound sense of ‘being there’, let your mind travel. And, I must say, this is an amazing journey you wish could last a lifetime.

All in all – I will be straight and to the point here – if you read ‘Hungry Devils’, you will be hungry for more.

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.

Palm heart on ash highway, Ambrym

Palm heart on ash highway, Ambrym

Pasifika Tales: 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!

‘SAVAGE ISLAND: AN ACCOUNT OF A SOJOURN IN NIUE AND TONGA’ BY BASIL THOMSON

‘Savage Island: An Account of a Sojourn in Niue and Tonga’ is a memoir penned by Basil Thomson, a British colonial civil servant, who was sent to the Pacific countries in 1900 as a special envoy representing the United Kingdom.

SAVAGE ISLAND

Summary

After the death of King Tuitoga, the chiefs and rulers of Niue kindly ask Queen Victoria to place their island under the protection of the Crown. When the British officials finally discover the value of this South Pacific territory, sir Basil Thomson is dispatched to sign a treaty of cession and hoist the Royal Union flag.

The Savage Island quickly charms the foreign visitor. In between performing his formal duties, he strolls the streets of Alofi and acquaints himself with the wonders of ‘The Rock’. With every passing day, as he gets to know the place, he is more and more mesmerized by the friendly inhabitants and their fascinating culture.

When his sojourn in Niue comes to an end, Mr Thomson is transferred to Tonga in order to convince king Tupou II to accept British protectorate. During this short visit he absorbs the Tongan way of life, learning quite a bit about the mentality of the native Islanders.

Review

Not every day you get a chance to lay your hands on a book about the colonial administration in the Pacific. Firstly, because few of the men engaged in the politics during that period felt the need to describe the details of international relations. Secondly, because even fewer of them had the ability and skills to actually do it. Basil Thomson’s account may not be the most compelling piece of literature ever written, but it is definitely worth your attention.

This short publication is a pleasant mixture of the author’s reminiscences, insightful observations, and amusing anecdotes. Despite the fact that Thomson concentrates predominantly on the political situation of the two states, his memoir is quite an entertaining read. The reason for this lies in his proficiency in combining the weighty subjects with light-hearted stories. In one chapter you learn about the complexities of the protectorate system, in another you discover what the Tongan ideals of beauty are. The meticulous delineations of island life and scenery provide you with an insider’s look into the famous Pasifika ways of being. It should be noted, however, that Basil Thomson had grown up in a society far different from the ones he visited in the Blue Continent. Therefore, his comments are often subjective and may exude a mildly unfavourable undertone.

Now, the greatest virtue of this account is unquestionably the historical background. It is the story of the times, which proves to be a valuable lesson on the Pacific Islands’ colonial past. The author concisely explains how some of the territories voluntarily asked for the protection of one of the mighty empires to avoid being taken over by another country, while other nations enjoyed their independence and were reluctant to succumb to official annexation by any Western power. As a government representative, knowledgeable about the state of affairs, Thomson was an expert in his field. With this book he offers readers a look behind the proverbial curtain of the politics and diplomacy in the ‘era of involvement’. Trust me, you do want to take that glimpse.

All in all, I must say that this is an interesting literary work. Not especially riveting, not particularly impressive but attractive enough to recommend it. It’s a well-written chronicle of the important events in the Pacific history, penned by a man genuinely fond of the islands. Plus, this is one of the very few books regarding Niue, and as such it deserves due recognition.

‘A FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY: EIGHT YEARS OF TROUBLE IN SAMOA’ BY ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

‘A Footnote to History: Eight Years of Trouble in Samoa’ is a chronicle of the Samoan Civil War as seen through the eyes of Robert Louis Stevenson, who witnessed the events while living on the island of Upolu.

A FOOTNOTE TO HISTORY

Summary

After cruising the Pacific Ocean, Robert Louis Stevenson decides to settle in Samoa. He becomes immensely interested in the country’s political situation, so he devotes his attention to the battle of three Western nations – Germany, Great Britain, and the United States – over control of the archipelago. As he observes the often tragic happenings, he shares his views on the colonial powers and their roles in the conflict.

Review

This is not quite a memoir, not quite a detailed analysis, and not quite a history book. It’s something in between. It’s an unsentimental, a very matter-of-fact account penned by a man who was an eyewitness to what we would call a great demonstration of power in the not-so-golden era of colonialism. It’s an ample explanation of the past, undeniably worthy of note. However, and you should keep this in mind, it teaches more than it entertains.

Although extremely informative, the book won’t be to everyone’s taste. If you are a history enthusiast, you will most definitely love it. If you are a Pasifika aficionado, you may like it. But if you are just a literature fan, you will probably get bored with it after finishing the fifth page. This volume certainly wouldn’t win an award in ‘The Most Engaging’ category. This time, Stevenson’s writing style simply isn’t convincing; it is diffuse, unnecessarily prolix. His prose is overly formal, sentences winding, and lengthy descriptions more frustrating than enlightening. All these things make the whole book quite tedious and mundane. It’s not light-hearted literature that can be read for pleasure or enjoyment. Unless you take pleasure in broadening your historical knowledge, that is.

Of course, it would be unjust to focus on the negatives only. ‘A Footnote to History’ is an insightful account of the dramatic events, full of facts and details that are tremendously interesting. As a foreigner, someone from ‘the outside’, Stevenson acted as a partially neutral observer. Partially, because he openly sided with the Samoans. He was a fierce advocate for the archipelago’s independence from the colonial empires and never hesitated to criticize German, American, and British interests. Over 100 years ago, the book served as the author’s silent protest against the diplomacy of involvement; today, it is a reminder of what a dangerous game imperialism can be.

Apart from being a valuable history lesson, the volume is also a fascinating journey into the culture of Samoan people. Stevenson not only records the times of the war, but he also describes the attitudes and behaviours of the native inhabitants. He emphasizes their heroism, honesty, and amiability, contrasting these with the Westerners’ devious actions. As he reveals what fa’a Samoa really means, he encourages readers to learn from the Polynesians, giving their etiquette and moral values as examples to follow.

I must say that this book is one of the most underrated works from the Scottish author. It is by no means an easy read but well worth the effort. And although it may be quite challenging to get through all the eleven chapters (don’t give up!), I can promise you – sooner or later – you’ll get your reward.

‘KON-TIKI: ACROSS THE PACIFIC IN A RAFT’ BY THOR HEYERDAHL

‘Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft’ is a record of Thor Heyerdahl’s three-month-long voyage through the Pacific Ocean, penned by the explorer himself.

KON-TIKI

Summary

After developing a controversial theory that the Pacific Islands were settled not from Asia but from South America, Thor Heyerdahl is determined to prove it right. In order to do so, he decides to ‘travel back in time’ and recreate the voyage of the Peruvians. He assembles a group of people willing to embark on such a hazardous journey and together they travel to the land of the Incas, where they build an exact replica of an ancient balsa-wood raft. Within a few months, they are ready to set sail from Peru to Polynesia.

Their expedition starts out rough. Contrary to its name, the Pacific Ocean turns out to be not so peaceful and the men need to get used to handling the craft on the high seas. When the weather finally calms down, they begin to actually enjoy the experience. With each passing day, they are one step closer to reaching their final destination while their dream is one step closer to becoming a reality.

Review

Is there a greater classic among adventure books than Thor Heyerdahl’s account of his Kon-Tiki expedition? I highly doubt it. His memoir is a riveting chronicle of human daring that grabs readers’ attention somewhere in the first few pages and holds it tight till the very last sentence. This is, of course, the result of the story itself – so unbelievable that you can’t help but wonder whether or not it really happened. Traversing more than 3,500 nautical miles of shark-infested waters on a wooden raft with virtually no equipment, eating little fish and drinking who-knows-what… Is this even possible? Can a person survive such a dangerous voyage? Apparently yes. Although for many of us it seems completely unimaginable, Thor Heyerdahl managed to achieve his aim. After 101 days he could proudly say: ‘Mission accomplished. I had proved my point; and I’m still alive.’ Oh, we do love this. We do love when someone takes the risk, overcomes obstacles, and succeeds. And that’s exactly what this story is about.

So yes, the account is extremely engaging – this cannot be denied. But it’s also quite disappointing. The narrative revolves around the expedition that was undertaken for a single purpose: to confirm a bold hypothesis regarding the settlement of the Polynesian islands. You would expect the author to elaborate on this subject and maybe even reveal some hidden secrets about the Pacific. Unfortunately, he doesn’t. True, he sailed from Peru to the Tuamotus, showing everyone it was doable. However, nowhere in the publication does he disclose if his theory was formally proved; you’re just left wondering. And Oceania? He barely mentions it. There is very little information concerning the islands – only a few cultural and historical facts. They are, by the way, immensely fascinating, so it’s a real pity they so rarely appear in the book.

Despite the fact that the memoir is written in a formal and slightly official manner, it reads very well. Heyerdahl’s prose is powerful, his language extremely precise, his depictions vivid and animated. All these make you want to turn the page and spend yet another exciting day on the Kon-Tiki raft with Thor, Bengt, Erik, Thorstein, Herman, and Knut, looking for the sweet shores of the nearest land.

This is, undoubtedly, a wonderful tale – dramatically told and thoroughly compelling. It sparks interest. With each word you crave for more. Adventure enthusiasts will love it. Those who are curious about Pasifika may find it slightly mundane.

‘ONLY IN SAMOA: A COCONUT JOURNAL. MEMOIRS FROM THE SOUTH PACIFIC’ BY LP M

‘Only In Samoa: A Coconut Journal. Memoirs from the South Pacific’ is an account of LP M’s adventures and experiences in the Samoan Archipelago – his beloved, ‘adopted’ home.

ONLY IN SAMOA

Summary

Bored with the Australian lifestyle, LP M and his wife Mandy feel it’s time for a little change. So they pack their bags and decamp to Samoa – an amazing place where the people are nice, the local beer flows, and the sun shines all year round.

In between the relaxation sessions with Vailimas in their hands, the couple explores the country, admiring its breathtaking beauty and getting immersed in its fascinating culture. They have fun with the friendly natives and make fun of the gullible foreigners. Every single day is full of bliss, so when their idyllic sojourn finally comes to an end, they are reluctant to go home.

Review

This is quite a mysterious book. As the title suggests, it’s a personal memoir. Indeed, it is personal. It’s private, even. The author doesn’t disclose his name, nor does he mention when the story took place. On the other hand, he is surprisingly frank in sharing his thoughts and opinions. Some of them are relatively strong, which might be the reason why certain facts and information are so carefully concealed. I must admit that this secrecy is very appealing. It definitely sparks interest. In the world where everyone knows everything about everybody, it’s nice to be simply left…wondering.

One thing you don’t need to wonder about is the author’s attitude towards Samoa as well as his own motherland. With his no-holds-barred approach to expressing his feelings, you know exactly what his views are. As LP M declares his great admiration and affection for the South Pacific islands, he thoroughly despises Australia – the country he was born and brought up in, and the country he has no respect for. His harsh words are emphasized with a distinctive spelling of ‘Australia’, which is written with a lower case ‘a’. Such preference for a foreign state instead of one’s homeland is not commonly seen, as people tend to favour things they are familiar with. This alternative, unexpected point of view may certainly come as a shock to some if not many readers. But the truth is, it only makes the travelogue more interesting.

Although the book is not the most outstanding work of literature, it reads well. The author’s style is clear and lucid and thus very inviting. It’s almost entirely denuded of poetry; what matters most is the story, not the way in which it is conveyed. This full of humour, kindness, and gentle irony memoir was never created to impress but rather to entertain and – above all – show people how incredible Samoa is.

All in all, I enjoyed the journey LP M had taken me on. He’s a wonderful guide and it was a real pleasure to ‘see’ the islands through his eyes. As the author himself writes: ‘One can’t help but fall in love with Fa’a Samoa – the Samoan way. Or as the locals say, “Only in Samoa.”’ I couldn’t agree more.