Thursday, September 13, 2012

South Pacific Books - Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomons, PNG


Lonely Planet’s South Pacific Guide

A History of the Pacific Islands - by Steven Robert Fischer 2002.  Good, highly readable account of Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia that spans pre-history right up to modern times.

The South Pacific - by Ron Crocombe 2008.  Goes into a lot of detail and is up to date. Topics include history, culture, health, education, corruption, economics, security, international relations, and more. However, the book is organized by topic rather than country or timeline, and the sections go by ambiguous titles such as ‘parameters’ ‘patterns’ and ‘perceptions’.  I’ve gleaned a lot of interesting tidbits by scanning the index for entries on our next destination.

The Fatal Impact - by Alan Moorehead.  Talks about the havoc wreaked by European explorers, but it really wasn’t worth buying.  It’s written in the 60’s and is dated.  It’s pretty much a basic history of Tahiti, Australia, and the Antarctic, and doesn’t offer any exciting new facts, figures, or ideas.

Fiji  -
The best book sources I found were the arrivals area at the Nadi airport and the University of the South Pacific bookstore in Suva.  My favorites were Daryl Tarte’s Fiji, Getting Stoned with Savages and Fiji - A Natural History

Stalker on the Beach - by Daryl Tarte - a nice little fiction piece based in an imaginary Fiji-like country.  A local business woman fights against an international tycoon’s attempts at exploitation.

Fiji - by Daryl Tarte - really good historical fiction read set against a backdrop of Fiji events from ‘discovery’ up through the eve of independence.

Deuba - can’t remember the full name of this piece, but it was a good, short study of traditional village life written by a future anthropologist who lived in the south Viti Levu village of Deuba, training local recruits during WWII.  Details on clothing, menus, spirituality, and more.

They Came for Sandalwood - can’t remember who this was by, but it was not the detailed study I meant to buy, which was by Marjorie Crocombe.  The book I did buy was a short tone which described the discovery of Rarotonga in a clumsy way.  I got it at USP.  Not recommended if you’re older than a fifth-grader.

Getting Stoned with Savages - by J Marten Troost - fun book about an expat who goes to work in modern-day Vanuatu and Fiji and describes the life and people there in an often comical way. 

Fiji - A Natural History - by Paddy Ryan.  Beautifully illustrated descriptions of Fiji’s common marine and land plants and animals.

Vanuatu -
Hard to find good books on Vanuatu; Happy Isles, Tales of the South Pacific, and the Shark God were probably the best reads. 
I didn’t find any good book stores here ( ex: the most comprehensive was the Vanuatu Cultural Center bookshelf, which had two history/culture books: To Kill a Bird with Two Stones in English and Les Melanesians in French) and the only book available on kindle was South Seas Hitchhiker .  Most of my books came via ABE books via Aus, NZ, and Britain at some expense.  (I ordered them 6 weeks in advance and went to the post office to check for them every day during the 10 days we spend in Vila.  On our last day, just when I had given up hope, there was a new mail clerk at the counter and she miraculously produced the entire stack of 7 books.  An owner of a Vila bookstore described similar experiences receiving books by mail here).
Here’s my list of Vanuatu reads:

To Kill a Bird with Two Stones - by Jeremy MacClancy.  The only full history of Vanuatu.  A small book, 1980’s, not that well written, races through some events, ends at the end of the condominium.

Beyond Pandemonium by Father Walter Lini and New Hebrides: the Road to Independence - both books written in the 80’s by local politicians, both delve a lot into party politics and were a bit boring for me.  Interesting to read something by a local leader though.

The Shark God - by Charles Montgomery 2006.  A journalist traces his missionary ancestor’s path through Vanuatu and the Solomons in 2002.  Focus on current events and magical and spiritual beliefs of the natives.  I really liked his account of the Melanesian Brotherhood’s involvement in the Solomons Civil War.  Great read.

Coconuts and Coral - by  Gwendoline Page 1993.  Written by a british colonial housewife, gives a good picture of the colonial family experience but contains very little on local culture or life outside of Vila.

South Seas Hitchhiker - by Robert Hein.  Hein, a gregarious, perpetually broke 35 year old backpacker, wanders through Fiji, Vanuatu, NZ, Australia, and beyond, crewing on sailboats and taking odd jobs on shore.  Nice book.

Happy Isles of Oceania, Paddling the South Pacific - by Paul Theroux 1992.  Good old grumpy Brit Theroux produces yet another wonderful travel narrative filled with fascinating encounters with locals.

The Natural History of Santo - by the Santo 2006 Global Biodiversity Survey.  This multidisciplinary French-university-based study descended on Santo in 2006.  It was one of the largest scientific expeditions anywhere, ever.  This big glossy 57- pg book is full of beautiful photographs and articles by participating scientists that range from very accessible to somewhat technical.  I found this one at the Beachfront Resort in Luganville for $60 US.

Cataclysm- by David Luders.  Third book in a three-part series based on ancient Vanuatu legends.  This book covers the Krakatoa-like destruction of a large volcanic island that used to be north of Efate.

Tales of the South Pacific - by James Michener 1947.  A great Michener WWII fiction with fine stories and memorable characters.  Basis of the musical ‘South Pacific”.

Solomons -

 Best bookstore in the Pacific so far in the Hyundai Mall in Honiara.  They also bought back some of my old books for a decent price.  Fat Boys, near Gizo is rumored to have a reading library, and Uepi Resort in north Marovo had a good natural reference library and a large fiction section for trade.  We got a lot of $1 books from Honiara and gave away a book in just about every Solomons village, which was very appreciated.

Song of the Solomons - by E Hunt Augustus 2009.  Second in a three-part series of WWII historical fiction based in the Solomons.  A great, fun, funny book, one of my favorites.  Keeping an eye out for the other two in the series.

White Headhunter - by Nigel Randall.  Story of 19th century Jack Renton, who was shipwrecked amongst the headhunter tribes of eastern Malaita and was adopted into local culture.  Anthropologist Randall has some good insights on the tribal world.

Solomon Time - by Will Randall.  Untraveled English schoolteacher travels to an isolated island in the Solomons to help the locals set up a chicken farm.

The Thin Red Line - by James Jones.  A classic world war novel.

Devil-Devil -  by Graham Kent.  A fun fiction read about a detective and a nun combating crime and sorcery in the Solomons.

The Last Wild Island: Tetepare - by Dr John Read.  A good book about two ecologists’ battle to have Tetepare Island in the West Solomons recognized as a protected area.

Solomon - Times and Tales… - by Roger Webber.  An excellent read about a doctor’s time in the Solomons.  He works on several different islands and visits seldom-seen parts of the interior on foot.  Well written.


Most of these were books I found at the Hyundai Mall in Honiara.  Check hotels and little tourist shops for used books.  Kindle has a decent selection of ebooks on PNG.

Notes From a Spinning Planet - by Melody Carlson.  A touching fiction novel about a student who visits PNG learns about AIDS and makes some self-discoveries.

Rascal Rain A Year in Papua New Guinea - by Inez Baranay.  A development worker struggles with the local culture and development culture in PNG’s highlands.

Diansinkan the Exiled - by Martin Kerr.  Fiction tale about a businessman tortured and evicted from Indonesian West Papua, who makes a new home in PNG.

Mister Pip - by Lloyd Jones.  A new classic about a village girl who lives through the terrifying Bougainville war.  Great book.

A Solomon Island Society - Kinship and Leadership Among the Siuai of Bougainville - a 1950’s ethnography of a SW Bougainville society.  Pretty well-written overall, alternates between interesting and dry.

Notebooks from New Guinea - by Vojtech Novotny.  Great book, highly recommended.  Humorus, engaging field notes of a Czech biologist, lots of interesting tidbits about the people and animals of PNG.

The High Valley - by Kenneth Read.  Pretty dated ethnography by an odd anthropologist who is driven to mental exhaustion by the experience.

The Lost Tribe - by Edward Marriot.  Easy read from a journalist who breaks the rules and has a not-too-inspiring encounter with a ’lost tribe’ in the PNG highlands.

Not a White Woman Safe - Sexual Anxiety and Politics in Port Moresby 1920-1934.  By Amirah Inglis.  I think this was her college thesis?  Research on the odd views of locals vs. Australians and sexual and social tensions in the 20’s and 30’s.

Papua New Guinea - by Sean Dorney.  A history of PNG by the TV reporter.  Focus on politics and economics 1975- late 90’s.  Gets good reviews. 

Intimate Communications - by Gilbert Herdt and Robert J Stroller.  A series of transcribed interviews with PNG Sambia villagers.  The Sambia live in the highlands and practice ritualized homosexuality from an early age.  Quite interesting.

New Lives for Old - Cultural Transformation in Manus 1928-1953 - by Margeret Mead 2001.  A long term study of cultural change in Manus, which experienced rapid modernization during WWII.  Mead argues that cultural change can come rapidly.

Seagulls Don’t Fly into the Bush - by Alice Pomponio.  Culture and economics of a people in the Siassi Islands.  A little dry, though the traditional trading activity in the Siassi Islands is fascinating.

The Island of Menstruating Men - Religion in Wogeo, NG - by Ian Hogbin 1996.  A study of traditional culture in Waigeo- magic, mythology, social structure and gender relations.

And We the People - by Tim O’Neill 1972.  Entertaining book about daily life and the people in this missionary’s remote PNG life.

Throwin Way Leg - by Tim Flannery 2000.  A humorous travelogue by a biologist who travels to remotest New Guinea in search of undiscovered mammals and adventure.

Wayward Women - by Holly Wardlow 2006.  A really excellent book about gender relations, violence, family, sex, and prostitution in the PNG highlands.  A must read for anyone interested in the staggeringly high level of violence against women in PNG.

The Ghost Mountain Boys - by James Campbell 2008.  Portrayal of the sufferings of the Allied and Japanese troops on the Kokoda Track during WWII.

The White Mary - by Kira Salak.  An excellent work of fiction by a very adventurous female war journalist who traversed PNG.  In the book, a lone woman fights her way far up the Sepik River and beyond in search of a missing friend.

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