Tag Archives: Tuvalu

‘NEW FLAGS FLYING: PACIFIC LEADERSHIP’ BY IAN JOHNSTONE, MICHAEL POWLES

‘New Flags Flying: Pacific Leadership’ is a book edited by Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles. It documents the political history of fourteen Pacific Island nations.

NEW FLAGS FLYING

Summary

After ruling the Pacific Islands for a hundred years, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA decide to grant independence to most of the states.

The change from being colonial subjects to self-governance turns out to be harder than anyone could have predicted. Local politicians try their best to lead their countries into this new chapter in history. 

Review 

Politics is not an easy subject to broach. It is often mundane and not very ‘accessible’ to an ordinary person not particularly interested in affairs of state and diplomacy. But this book deals with it in the most engaging way possible. Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles created a gripping read you, quite honestly, are not able to put down.

First and foremost, I have to praise the language, which is simple, uncomplicated, and easy to understand. The authors could have used fancy (and rather mystifying) political jargon and inundated us with professional terms and expressions, but then the book wouldn’t be intelligible to all people. It would be a title addressed exclusively to experts. I am glad that Ian Johnstone and Michael Powles chose a different path and decided to aim the volume at general audience who simply would like to familiarize themselves with the political history of the region.

‘New Flags Flying’ provides considerable insights into a time when Pacific Island states were undergoing colossal changes. Recounted by leaders who were a main force in shaping the events, the book is a scrupulously honest depiction of the countries’ journeys to independence or self-government. Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Efi, Tofilau Eti Alesana, John Webb, Sir Tom Davis, Dr Ludwig Keke, HM King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Hon. Young Vivian, Sir Michael Somare, Hon. Solomon Mamalon, Sir Peter Kenilorea, Hon. Bikenibeu Paeniu, Sir Ieremia Tabai, Fr Walter Lini, Kessai Note, John Haglelgam, Sandra Sumang Pierantozzi, Hon. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, and Dame Carol Kidu share their personal experiences of taking their people into a very uncertain, at least at that time, future. The stories they tell – very emotional and thought-provoking – disclose not only the hopes and ambitions they had but also the struggles they had to face. Because no other part of our globe is more vulnerable to challenges and difficulties than Oceania; just as no other part of our globe demonstrates more resilience and ability to cope than those little islands do.

The interviews are accompanied by comprehensive commentary, background information, chronological summaries of significant events, and old photographs, which make the book even more interesting to delve into.

Now, although the title will be a fascinating read for every person who loves the Pacific Islands, for the Islanders themselves it should be of extra special value, as it contains lessons they can and ought to draw from. Why not use the past to improve the present and shape the future? Pacific policymakers should have this book sitting on their desks.

‘New Flags Flying’ is a great piece of literature. I can only congratulate the editors on the job well done and tell you that their work is definitely worthy of your time and attention. I could not recommend it more!

‘A PATTERN OF ISLANDS’ BY SIR ARTHUR GRIMBLE

‘A Pattern of Islands’ is a memoir written by Sir Arthur Grimble. It recounts his time in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, where he served as a British colonial officer for nearly 20 years.

A PATTERN OF ISLANDS 

Summary 

In 1913, a 25-year-old Arthur Grimble gets nominated to a cadetship in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Protectorate. Being the only candidate, he accepts the post and soon after that leaves cold Britain for the heat of the Pacific Islands.

The little country welcomes Arthur and his wife Olivia with its kind-hearted inhabitants and a significantly different culture, to which the young officer must quickly adapt. Having the natives as his teachers, Arthur masters the Gilbertese language, gets to know the local customs and traditions, and discovers what it’s like to live at the end of the world. With each passing day he grows fonder of the place and the good-natured people he has a privilege to meet. And he realizes that his is the honour, not theirs. 

Review

I’ve been wondering for a while now, why are memoirs written by colonial administrators so unbelievably engaging? Is that because they transport you to exotic places? Or maybe the reason lies in the fact that they take you back in time? It’s probably both, right? Well, this particular title is no exception. Let me tell you right off the bat: this is such an interesting piece of work! First of all, Kiribati is the most fascinating topic. Could anyone write a bad book about this country? I highly doubt it. And second, Sir Arthur Grimble was a very talented writer, whose innate gift for telling stories in a poetic and descriptive way simply cannot be denied. That’s exactly what I call a perfect mix; a perfect mix of substance and style.

Although the book is a classic memoir, the author doesn’t focus solely on his experiences. In fact, he treats them as a sort of background to his descriptions of Kiribati, its inhabitants and their culture. And you should know that those descriptions are second to none. From the scenery to legends, rituals, and beliefs to people’s everyday lives, you can picture it all. It is quite astonishing what a careful observer Arthur Grimble was; and surprisingly unbiased one at that! You can really sense his genuine admiration and utmost respect for the Islanders. He came to Kiribati representing the great British Empire, but he didn’t even try to impose his ways of being on the locals. He chose to learn theirs instead. How rare is that? Don’t we all love to judge and criticize other cultures just because they are not similar to ours?

Now, apart from being an excellent study of the Gilbertese culture, the book is also an engrossing portrayal of colonial administration. The author doesn’t hide his support for colonialism, which only adds plausibility to the whole story. Bygone times are vivid in all their glory on every single page. So if you have ever dreamt of a time machine, or if you have ever been curious what it was like to work for the British Colonial Office, this definitely is a book for you.

Sir Arthur Grimble had a delightful way with words, so his memoir reads like a charm. Some may say the pace is a little too slow, but the narrative is so compelling that this really isn’t a bother. Plus, the author’s wonderful sense of humour and slightly self-deprecating manner make up for any minor drawbacks you may find. Personally, I couldn’t put this book down. But as they say, one man’s meat is another man’s poison!

Would I recommend ‘A Pattern of Islands’? Wholeheartedly. For whom would I recommend it? For those interested in Kiribati, or Pasifika in general. For those intrigued by history. For those wishing to immerse themselves in a literary masterpiece. Because this is one hell of a good read. Insightful, thought-provoking, and thoroughly captivating.

‘PACIFIC ODYSSEY’ BY GWENDA CORNELL

‘Pacific Odyssey’ is an adventure memoir penned by Gwenda Cornell. It recounts her family’s amazing voyage through the islands of the Blue Continent.

PACIFIC ODYSSEY

Summary

Persuaded by her sea-loving husband, Gwenda agrees to set out on a sailing adventure across the Pacific Ocean. Together with Jimmy and their two children, Ivan and Doina, she leaves England and begins the great journey of discovery.

Visiting famous tourist destinations as well as little-known corners of the South Seas, the family explores the wonders of the region. Their yacht takes them to Samoa – the land of Robert Louis Stevenson; to the monumental statues of Easter Island; to French Polynesia, where Jimmy gets a chance to star in a movie. They meet the great-grandson of Tem Binoka in Kiribati and the descendants of the Bounty mutineers on Pitcairn. They discover the fascinating history of the Solomon Archipelago, attend the art festival in Papua New Guinea, and – together with the local inhabitants – celebrate the independence of Tuvalu. But most of all, they learn to seize the day, see the good in life, and enjoy each and every moment as much as one possibly can.

Review

This book can make you feel jealous. Sailing the Pacific for more than three years, touring all the lovely spots most people only dream of, getting immersed in indigenous cultures… Who wouldn’t want that? Fortunately, Gwenda Cornell’s memoir gives you the opportunity to satisfy your wanderlust cravings. It’s a wonderful ‘armchair escape’ to the tropics that lets you ‘see’ the islands of Oceania without ever having to leave your house.

Now, the book’s title is ‘Pacific Odyssey’. Quite honestly, it is less about the odyssey, more about the Pacific. By no means is this a manual for cruising enthusiasts. There is virtually no information regarding the technical aspects of sailing, so if this is something you hope to find, you may feel disappointed. Instead, the author devotes her attention to the places she and her family had the privilege to visit during their adventure. Her comprehensive, detailed descriptions of not only the islands but also certain customs and traditions are simply outstanding. Every sentence is filled with genuine passion and deep insight. Gwenda’s first-hand knowledge of the South Seas makes the travelogue an extremely interesting read as well as an invaluable guide for those who think about unleashing their inner explorer and embarking on a journey of their own.

The memoir might not be exceptional in terms of language and style, but it is certainly well written. Composed in a light-hearted manner and seasoned with gentle humour, it enraptures so much you don’t want to put it down. Just as Gwenda sailed from island to island, you want to sail from chapter to chapter. And the absolute icing on the cake is the book’s ending – extremely moving and thought-provoking; definitely worth contemplating.

‘Pacific Odyssey’ is the promise of an unforgettable voyage that you wished was reality. Charming, educational, funny and poignant at the same time, this memoir is a pure delight from start to finish. Just remember that after reaching ‘The End’ you may feel a burning desire to check your back account, buy a boat, and sail away.

‘WHERE THE HELL IS TUVALU?’ BY PHILIP ELLS

‘Where The Hell Is Tuvalu?’ tells the story of Philip Ells, who spent three years (1993 – 1996) working as the People’s Lawyer in one of the smallest countries in the world. The book is an honest account of his experiences in the South Pacific region.

WHERE THE HELL IS TUVALU

Summary

Philip, a young English lawyer, decides to leave everything behind and seek a new purposein life. So he quits his job and applies to VOS, the UK-based charity that places volunteers in developing countries so they can share their skills and knowledge with local people. What sounds like a great adventure, turns out to be an even greater challenge.

Soon upon his arrival in Tuvalu, Philip discovers a completely different world. A tiny island with an even tinier population plus hot and humid weather can be quite a shock for someone who has just come from densely populated, foggy Britain. But with a little help from his newly met friends, Philip learns how to cope with the demands of everyday life. He starts to understand people’s attitudes and behaviours, gets used to the largely unvaried diet with lots of canned food, and adjusts to sharing one room with dozen of ants. As the only law man in the country, he deals with a wide variety of criminal offenses, ranging from a pig theft to incest and murders. Every single day brings him something new: a new beginning, a new chance, a new joy, or a new sorrow.

Review

The book is hilarious and will make you laugh out loud from the very first page. The thoroughly compelling story is embellished with the author’s fine, sophisticated sense of humour that reveals his intelligence and sparkling wit. Being British, Philip Ells is not afraid of poking fun at himself. Whether it’s his cultural incompetence or yet another faux pas that he makes, he doesn’t mind writing about it with a healthy dose of self-deprecation.

Of course, not every chapter of this memoir will bring a smile to your face. The book gets a little more serious in its second half, as it broaches the subjects of domestic violence and women’s rights. These parts give readers fascinating insights into Tuvaluan lifestyle and traditions. What’s admirable about Ells is that he doesn’t judge – he describes, he shares his opinions, but he does not criticize. Even though some cases leave him filled with anger, he tries to accept the fact that different cultures have different moral codes, and sometimes a change for the better can take a long time.

The book is written in a casual and mostly light-hearted manner that is engaging and very appealing. Ells, as a narrator, is completely honest and quite straightforward – he shows everything and hides practically nothing. Just read the description of his first date with a lovely Tuvaluan girl and you will know what I mean.

The only thing you should not expect from this account is action. Yes, the pace is rather slow. However, this is a travelogue-cum-memoir, so such ‘laziness’ is perfectly acceptable. Besides, it’s the island time! You should just sit, relax, and enjoy your life.

‘Where The Hell Is Tuvalu?’ is a great read. It is actually the only non-fiction book (apart from travel guides) about this South Pacific country. Certain Tuvaluan customs and practices have obviously changed since the 1990s, but still, you can get the picture.

‘SAILING TO JESSICA’ BY KELLY WATTS

‘Sailing to Jessica’ is a modern-day adventure book as well as a memoir written by Kelly Watts. It tells the story of an amazing voyage Kelly and her husband set out on in December 2001.

SAILING TO JESSICA

Summary

At 35 years old, Kelly and Paul feel they need a change in their lives. A breeze of fresh air, something new and exciting. Something that would help them forget about their ongoing fertility struggles. Inspired by Tania Aebi’s book, they decide to sail across the Pacific Ocean. So they sell their house in Philadelphia, quit their jobs, and buy Cherokee Rose – a boat destined to become their new home. But, as they soon discover, sailing with no experience is not always an easy task. Nevertheless, Kelly and Paul are determined to succeed. And even the forty-knot gale they get caught in just two days after purchasing their sloop is not a discouragement.

Along the way, they visit quite a few interesting places. They encounter sea lions in Galapagos, buy black pearls in French Polynesia, and meet the sole inhabitant of the remote Suwarrow atoll in the Cook Islands. They drink kava in Fiji and enjoy the raw beat of drums in Tuvalu. Sailing up north, they stop in Kiribati. A short visit to this equatorial country turns into a lifelong adventure when Kelly and Paul meet their daughter Jessica. The miracle of adoption brings new meaning not only to their voyage but most of all to their lives.

Review

This book is exceptional for many reasons. To begin with, it is the most beautiful tale of love, family, and hope – it shows that everyone should chase their dreams and fight for their happiness despite any obstacles that may arise. Because ‘impossible’ does not exist. If you really want something, you will – sooner or later – find a way to achieve it. You just have to believe and dare to take the risk. I don’t think anyone would expect such wonderful words of inspiration from an adventure book. But I guess once in a while we all can be pleasantly surprised.

In addition to being a powerful ‘motivator’, it is also a fantastic read for all those people who dream of or are interested in sailing. Packed with technical terms as well as detailed and accurate descriptions of a nautical life, the story can be a great source of information for cruisers in all stages. There are some useful tips, there are some guidelines, there are some tricks that can make somebody else’s journey a worry-free (at least to some degree) and pleasant adventure.

Of course, the Blue Continent is also a prominent subject. Paul and Kelly’s route took them to places like Tonga, Fiji, Tuvalu, French Polynesia, Kiribati, and the Cook Islands, and I must say that all these beautiful locations are vividly described. Some of the countries are portrayed more cursorily than the others, nevertheless all of them do appear in the book. And there is one, absolutely fantastic piece on the sole inhabitant of the Suwarrow atoll that simply tugs at your heartstrings.

The memoir is, without a doubt, worth reading. It’s hard to find an attention-grabbing, action-packed adventure story that inspires and makes people think about their own lives. But this is exactly what Kelly Watts did. She wrote a lovely tale about sailing. And that’s not an easy thing to do because ‘lovely’ and ‘sailing’ simply don’t go together. Yet, she managed. She shared her experiences, thoughts, and emotions. The result? A well-written, funny, absorbing, informative, and thoroughly enjoyable book. Read it, and you will feel like a member of the crew.