Pacific Destiny

My people do not need white man’s help”

pacificdestiny

1956
Directed by: Wolf Rilla
Written by: Richard Mason & Jack Lee
Starring: Denholm Eliott, Susan Stephen, Felix Felton
Duration: 1 hour 37 minutes
(Set on Tarawa, Kiribati. Filmed in Samoa)
Pacific Destiny is based on the novel ‘A Pattern of Islands’ by Sir Arthur Grimble.

Set sail and cast your net into Kiribati’s past for comedic colonial mishaps and well intentioned cultural adoption. The film follows a sprightly, young colonial officer Arthur and his beautiful new wife Olivia as they journey from London to the Gilbert and Ellice islands (now Kiribati and Tuvalu).

Once in Gilbert and Ellice islands they encounter a senior colonial administrator who makes no attempt to disguise his disappointment at the level of Arthur’s inexperience. Both Arthur and the other colonial officers are portrayed as people with good intentions hampered by a certain superiority complex and a recurring bungling. A disgruntled senior islander voices this with stern disdain: “My people do not need white man’s help” (for justice).

Arthur begins to redeem himself with his attempts to understand the local people he is living amongst, in what are often cringe-worthy scenes. This is felt most acutely in the scene where a meeting takes place in someone’s bedroom, which although perfectly innocent, does come across as inappropriate. Nevertheless, the ongoing buffoonery and exasperation gives the film a light-hearted, humorous vibe.

Arthur’s hapless blunders result in him and Olivia being ‘punished’ with a posting to an even more remote island – modern day Tarawa. Riddled with self doubt they try to make the best of their new austere surroundings. It is here that both Arthur and Olivia bloom – free from the oppressive disapproval of their peers. Arthur learns to appreciate the people he is living amongst, to integrate and to gain acceptance. The acceptance is formally established when undergoes the ritual of being tattooed, an outward sign of belonging, after which one of the islanders often refers to him as his ‘son’. This then entitles him to participate in key island social events such as re-claiming the soul of a deceased islander by hunting down the killer shark.

In spite of the film’s humorous criticism of colonialism it does not do enough justice to the islanders who do not hold central roles, and are almost always portrayed as rowdy and infantile. Perhaps it is intended as a reflection of how they were perceived by the colonials, but the end result is too shallow a portrayal.

Pacific Destiny gives a superficial glimpse into the culture and rituals of the people of the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati), but it is still a worthwhile watch. Save it for a winter Sunday afternoon where lush, colourful scenery provides a gorgeous backdrop for this very British colonial comedy.

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The Shoeshine Killer by Marianne Wheelaghan

 “Tarawa was so far from land…by the time the air got there it was super pure.”

Where did I hear about this book? From the lovely folk at TripFiction

Magnifying glasses at the ready for murder mystery intrigue on the tropical islands of Tarawa and Suva. The book’s main protagonist is a bold, clinically fastidious but endearing detective; Louisa of mixed Scottish and Pacific heritage. Her mixed heritage gives the reader a unique perspective of these Pacific islands – both an outsider’s perspective and, to a lesser extent, an insider’s. The novel opens with Louisa’s bumpy touchdown in Suva, where things continue to deteriorate – lost luggage, a deserted airport and a political coup. The only salvation for the night appears on a dark, lonely road in the form of a lift from well-meaning strangers. Yet this chance encounter plunges Louisa deep into a turbulent, gritty world of gangs, murder and police paranoia. At the centre of it all is the shoeshine trade in Suva.

The tropical islands are the perfect background for a murder mystery; where the sultry idylls of the tropics are a stark contrast to violence, deceit and murder. The mystery unravels as we criss-cross between Suva and Tarawa where detectives, thugs, hoteliers and evangelists collide. These characters challenge the stereotypes of the carefree tropical island; giving the reader an insight into the varied realities of life on these islands. Through the shoeshine boys we learn how limited opportunities lead them to join the trade, one that can be violent and exploitative. We learn about battles with alcoholism and its consequences. We learn about the confounding role of the church in these contexts.

The book also exposes the contradictions of sun-blanched island life. Suva and Tarawa are tourist destinations – cheery places for people to escape to on holiday. Yet so many of its inhabitants are keen to leave, and seek their fortunes elsewhere. This contradiction of escapism is a key theme weaving its way throughout the book, binding all of the characters.

The most impressionable part of the book is the maneaba (meeting house) scene, which reveals the celebration of community in Tarawa. The whole village comes together in construction of the new maneaba: “Building a maneaba is as much about making villagers feel connected to one another and their village as building a village hall.” The opening ceremony of the maneaba is written fluidly and mesmerisingly; the drumming, the dance, the colours, the perfume move the reader right into the centre of the swelteringly packed maneaba in Tarawa.

High suspense, a nimble plot and the intrigue of remote far-flung locations make for an enjoyable, fast-paced read. Although Suva and Tarawa are captured well in this novel, I would have enjoyed an even deeper exploration of these places. What better excuse to read more from the Scottish Lady Detective series then?

This review was also posted on: TripFiction Book Reviews