This is a seriously sarcastic little book. If you took Terry Pratchett, Robert Aspirin, Carl Hiaasen and Joseph Heller and mixed them all together, then put them in traditional Tikong dress, you’d have half an idea of how funny this book is. It’s a very dry wit though–and at times rowdy and ribald. I enjoyed the heck out of it.
The book is made up of linked short stories, with each chapter telling you about a particular Tikong person, and some character overlap. There’s a man who starts his own church when the “Sabbatarians” don’t cut it for him; a man who has left the island to be educated abroad and is no longer considered a “real Tikong”; there is a fisherman who takes a development loan from a New Zealand NGO and becomes so miserable that he sinks the boat he was given in the ocean by chopping a hole in it with an ax.
One critical note: Women only appear in the periphery here. And I did have the sarcastic thought while reading, that the Tikong love of doing nothing most certainly does not apply to women, who are likely the invisible ones here providing bread for the menfolk, bringing up the children, and cleaning their houses, as usual.
The island of Tiko is fictional, but it stands for so many real island countries in Oceania. The author was born in Papau New Guinea to Tongan parents who were missionaries. He went to school in both those countries as well as Fiji and Australia. He worked as the Director of the Rural Development Centre in Tonga which is undoubtedly where he picked up a healthy boatload of skepticism about NGOs and South Pacific island nation governments alike.
There are two kinds of locals in Tiko. Those who want absolutely NO D-E-V-E-L-O-P-M-E-N-T and those who do want it. Those who don’t include Manu, an old islander who occasionally rides around the island with hand-lettered signs that say things like DEVELOPMENT IS A LIE, TIKO KNOWS SWEET BUGGER ALL, AUSTRALIAN COWS ARE QUEER AND NEW ZEALAND BULLS CAN’T DO NO DAMN GOOD EITHER. They include men like Sione, who has 16 children and rests every day except for the Sabbath. He loves the International Expert Mr. Marv Dolittle, sent to Tiko from The Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Canberra, Australia, because his name Dolittle, makes him think the white man is “one of us”. He spends his days at the office actively trying to do as little as possible–sleeping and playing cards with his secretary.
Those who do not want D-E-V-E-L-O-P-M-E-N-T include Sailosi, the Important Person who was so inspired by the speech of His Excellency Tiko’s Paramount Chief, who on the day of independence denounced the running dogs of Imperialism and Capitalism. He stops his typist from wearing lipstick because “it’s a foul foreign custom. While you’re at it, get rid of the French perfume, too. It smells froggy. Use the great Tikong all-purpose coconut oil…” They include men like the preacher who has a single cow, and is approached by a man who has a single bull. The preacher reacts with horror to the suggestion that his lovely cow should “date” this bull. He strikes the man in the face for even suggesting it…my cow shall remain an innocent virgin…
The movers and shakers:
Those who do want D-E-V-E-L-O-P-M-E-N-T on Tiko include Mr. Alvin Lowe, aka “Sharky”, of Alice Springs. He is extremely patronizing. “You no can speak English good?” He says to the fisherman/gardener Ika Levu, “switching to the language he used when talking to simple natives. “You no can savvy?” He yells after Ika Levu expresses doubt about taking out a development loan.
“Gawd! Me talk talk all same simple something na you no can savvy! Whassamatter? Me think think head belong you too much dumdum na full up shit something no good true! All right me all same try one more time yet, na you try savvy good or I’ll bloody well bash your coon head in, ok?”
The endeavors of the Wise Men who are from foreign countries don’t turn out well on Tiko. For example, they give the men cows and bulls to start great herds of cattle. But every time someone dies, the new ranchers are expected to hold a great feast and butcher one of the beasts. Because on Tiko, you share. Of course this concept is completely foreign to Capitalism. The running dogs from New Zealand belittle the running dogs from Australia, and visa-versa. Savvy Tikongs play them against each other. It is sad, infuriating, and hilarious all at once.
Rating: Five delicious mutton flaps! (Mutton flap is a cheap cut from the ribs of the sheep. It is very fatty, and very much enjoyed in the South Pacific.)