Category Archives: NOTES ON PASIFIKA

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…

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.