Monday, April 15, 2013

Island Dreams & Obstacles, or reading from Fiji to New Zealand + South Pacific Islands

This blog post is inspired by the Around the World in 12 Books reading challenge, by the 7 Continents, 7 Billion People, 7 Books - Reading Challenge 2013 and by the "It's Monday! What are you reading?" series, more about both, at the bottom of this post.

Fiji Islands: Island Dreams & Island Obstacles

When I signed up for the "Around the World in 12 Books" reading challenge, there was one destination i was especially excited about: the Fiji Islands. Just reading the words brought back memories of the days i spent there, as a stop-over option on the way back home from New Zealand. That trip happened years ago, but i still have the cheerful guidebook. What i can't remember, though, is reading a book from a Fiji author, or one that is set there.

Well. turns out, the reason for that is: there aren't  really many books from or about the place, at least not in English language. Yet searching on a wider scale delivered 2 interesting links - not books, but online collections / essays:

Legends and Tales from the Fiji Islands: The Snake God, The Legend of the Firewalkers, The Sacred Turtles, The Tame Fish, Legend of Old Fiji... - this is a fascinating collection of brief tales and legends, with cross-overs i culture and present celebrations. Enjoyed the tales. The first story, "A Legend of Degei The Snake God" tells how, according to Fiji legend, mankind stepped into the world, here's a bit:
"Greatest of all Fijian gods was Degei, the Snake god. In the beginning he lived alone, without friends or companions, and the only living creature he knew was Turukawa the hawk. Although the hawk could not speak he was the constant companion of the god..."

Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team: Snapshots from the Fiji Islands
An essay that explores and illustrates the situation in Fiji after the political crises that happened in Fiji in 1987 and 2000, especially in terms of women's rights, and democracy. It also includes a brief sketch of the history and the development:
"Fiji chiefs ceded sovereignty over the Fiji Islands to Queen Victoria in 1874 to end territorial conquests among rival kingdoms. In 1879, the British began bringing Indian labourers to work on the sugar plantations. At independence in 1970, the indigenous Fijian and Indo-Fijian populations were roughly equal in population.Following 17 years of rule by the indigenous chiefly backed Fijian Alliance Party, the 1987 elections brought the first Indo-Fijian-led government to power. 
Tensions increased between the indigenous Fijians, largely heading the government and the military sector, and the Indo-Fijians, who were perceived to be dominating the economic, educational and health sectors.Backed by hard-line indigenous Fijians nationalists alarmed at the emerging political influence of the economically successful Indo-Fijians, Lieutenant Colonel Sitiveni Rabuka staged the first military coup in the Pacific area in May 1987. Rabuka declared Fiji a republic and withdrew the country from the Commonwealth. In September 1987, he mounted a second coup and repealed the Constitution."
The whole essay is noteworthy, as it gives a larger view to entangled themes. And it also connects back to the book I read in January: "Leaving India" - a memoir that explores the twisted family story of an Indian family, and to my own surprise, included several chapters about a Fiji Islands - the new home that some of the family members found. 

Here's what i wrote back then, the whole review in form of a book talk is up here: A book talk across continents: from Leaving India to Japan, America, Spain, and France :
The “Leaving India” book, I read the first chapters now, and it is outstanding. I hadn’t really known much about it. It was basically the title that reaches out to five continents that made me pick it. And as it turns out, it is like a reflection of time, reaching back to the days of the British Empire and sketching a picture of life in India that explains the migrations of family members to other countries, like Fiji and South Africa. Which sounds like exotic choices, and left her wondering how that happened.
In her research and the interviews, she learns that one of the main reasons was that at one point slavery turned illegal in the British Empire. But a lot of plantations and early factories needed cheap labour. So migration programs were made, promising poor and often illiterate Indians work in other places in India, but the contracts they signed with a fingerprint then turned out to be 5-year indentured work in other countries of the Empire, like Fiji and South Africa. I didn’t know about that. And the South African chapter includes the story of Gandhi – who started as a lawyer in South Africa, and worked against the unfair racial laws and restrictions of the Indians there. It’s like a carpet of time, woven from a family tree. 

Intersections  & Chance finds & Some voyages
It's a thing that keeps happening, and that keeps amazing me: the way that regions and places that don't seem to be connected then lead to each other, or even include the stories of other places. Another chance find of that kind happened last week: I browsed the general list of travel e-books and in between the well covered classic guides of "10 must-see places in Italy, USA, etc" there was a book with the simple title: "Some Voyages". i clicked it, and it turns out that it's a book about the South Pacific Islands:

Some Voyages Around New Zealand & Elsewhere by Perce Harpham: "Writing at his eightieth birthday Perce describes his voyages to the islands of the South Pacific, solo around New Zealand, solo return to Australia and as skipper or crew on different boats."

I started to read into the it yesterday, and it’s like a different view of the world, with the water being the focus, and the world mostly a shore. And I like the idea of this 80-year-old sailor collecting his memories of his journeys on water in a book, to share with his family and grandchildren, but also with the world.

Islands and History
Another parallel in themes: islands and their history, told in stories. Just some weeks ago I read the novella "Historia, Historia", which is set on the Cape Verde Islands - they, too, share a history of colonialization, only that their roots are Portuguese. And like with the Fijis, there aren't many books about them, at least not in English. Or, like put by Eleanor Stanford in her book: "Since independence, there is more emphasis on the history of Cape Verde itself, but still, there are few books written on the subject. When Portugal donates texts, they mention Cape Verde in passing if at all. It’s a small stone in the shoe of the great empire. History is something that happens elsewhere."

Here's the blog post: "História, História" & "Little Brother" (from islands to futureworld)

New Zealand Reads, or: Aotearoa 
For the reading challenge, the "Fiji" destinations later was turned into "South Pacific Islands", to avoid the frustration of not finding books. As the South Pacific Islands also include New Zealand, I will add some extra links here: New Zealand was the guest of honor country  at the German book fair last year. Which lead to several special events, and also to a blog carnival that featured and connected New Zealand and German authors, a beautiful project, and i am glad i took part and helped organizing it, together with Michelle Elvy who lives in New Zealand: 

Aotearoa Affair - a blog fest
A collaborative web initiative in anticipation of the Frankfurt Bookfair, where New Zealand is the Guest of Honour.

Once upon a time in Aotearoa – Translating Maori Myths into the Now and into German
In her short story collection "Once upon a time in Aotearoa" Tina Makareti explores a world where old myths become part of everyday life and encounters between reality and magic are taken for granted. Included in this feature is one of the short stories: "Kaitiaki"

This Green Land - Campbell Smith in Translation
Beate Jones has recently translated into German Campbell Smith’s play about the Waikato artist Margot Philips, This Green Land (included in the feature are original and translation).

Chris Slane: Freedom of Information & Legends of the Past 
In his cartoons, Chris Slane ventures into the gaps of the modern world with his fabulous Privacy and Freedom of Information Cartoons. With the same ease, he moves back in history with works like the graphic novel, Maui: Legends of the Outcast.

Some other country
is a story collection with stories from New Zealand, which is sorted by historic timelines, starting with Kathrine Mansfield "At the Bay" in 1922 and leading to contemporary writers

Reading Challenge Link:
And here's the reading challenge page for the Fiji / South Pacific Island theme:

 "Around the World in 12 Books" - Fiji Islands / South Pacific Islands

Global Reading Challenge
This blog post is inspired by the "Around the World Reading Challenge" and by the Global Reading Challenge, more about it here: 7 Continents, 7 Billion People, 7 Books - Reading Challenge 2013 

The link is also listed in the "It's Monday! What are you reading?" series that is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey, participating blogs are listed in this Linky Book List

Previous reading blog entries are collected here: bookshelf: currently  reading... there also is a visual bookshelf, just click it to get there:

And my own new book... is Worl(d)s Apart. True.

1 comment:

Michelle Elvy said...

Dorothee! I love how things intersect -- people, places, books. I'm posting this from Fiji and was so glad to come to this and see you talking about Fiji and the books you are reading. As always, your world is so full of travel, both real and armchair-like. The reading challenge you're engaged in sounds terrific. What a great way to develop yet another community of readers/writers.

I highly recommend Lloyd Jones's Mr Pip, if you've not read it. He's a fantastic NZ writer, and this is my favourite book by him (so far).

Meanwhile, we discovered the lack of published works in Fiji when we first came her three years back. In fact, as we've sailed around the Pacific, we've come to see many different cultures whose basic understanding of their own history and identity has nothing to do with the typical European worldview, based very much in the written record. There is not much of a reading and writing culture in the South Pacific Island cultures -- but they are rich in oral histories and story-telling. And they live very much in the NOW (something to be admired, too). It's one of the frustrations and joys, this idea of how to understand another culture which has such a fundamental difference of how to view the world, and itself, from the way we've learned.

I wrote an essay about this coming out next year in in the NZ journal Takahē. It's based on our travels in Fiji and my reading of Robert Dean Frisbee's book about his life in the Cook Islands. A fascinating read, if you can track it down. It's out of print but worth the hunt.