What I thought I was getting: A collection of well-researched, fact-based newspaper articles from The Fiji Times about the history of the islands.
What I got: A collection of badly-typed stories without sources or annotations; full of assumptions and unexplained references. Lots of exclamation points!!!
What really got me: The plethora of references to Fijian culture as incorporating cannibalism, human sacrifice and other atrocious savageries like burying people alive if they got sick or displeased others – as if they were undisputed fact. When in fact we know now that many white explorers would make up lurid stories like these to denigrate “primitive” cultures or to satisfy some sort of sick, lustful fantasies of their own.
I felt like an unsuspecting American of the 1940s suddenly confronted with newsreel footage of Hitler’s death camps: It seems impossible that humans really have done this to other humans. I know humans are cruel, but for an entire culture to practice such casual and horrific evil, and on its own people rather than its enemies alone…well, something seems off. Misinterpretation? Slander by another culture? Stories told by the Fijians themselves to make them seem fierce and scary…?
I am of the Buddhist school of thought when it comes to holy sutras: I don’t trust one man’s version of history, even a king such as James. I want multiple sources to compare and contrast in order to get closer to the truth.
After the Disclaimers, The…
Book was actually quite good. I enjoyed reading lots of Fijian names, learning more about the relationship between Tonga and Fiji, and the history of inter-island rivalry and conquest. There was a rather hilarious bit where the rivalry between the Methodist missionaries and their Catholic counterparts led to better conditions for the islanders as the two religions fought to build more and better schools, hospitals, etc. for the natives. Samoa should have been so lucky.
The role of Pacific Islanders in the world wars has been on my mind lately, thanks to a PBS documentary on Guam and how much its people do for the US and how little we do for it in return. So it was interesting to read about the Fijians who received the Medal of Honor. And reportedly, the last cannibal in Fiji, who charged a Japanese battalion and cut off a piece of one of the soldiers to eat in battle.
People arrived on Fiji more than 3,000 years ago. Some Fijians think that they originated in African, in Tanganyika, and there are language similarities to bear this out. Others say there is no scientific evidence for this and that the early Fijians came from southeast Asia. Anthropologists believe that the peoples of Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji were all one at some point early on.
The Last Word
I think this book would be a great start to any exploration of Fiji; I would not recommend it as the only book. It needs a forward and some footnotes.
Three hand-hewn canoes.