Journalist Kernahan spotlights trouble in paradise in this highly insightful portrait of French Polynesia.
Kernahan spent much time in the South Seas, as a young wife and mother cruising with the Rotary Club in 1959, convalescing after a motorcycle accident in 1965, back the following year as something more than a tourist, traveling and working there for the next 30 years. Kernahan feels her relationship with the South Sea natives truly began when she was in the hospital, where she saw the islanders without their jovial exterior, in pain or tending their sick relatives. After that she delved further into the Polynesian national character, trying to discover things the Bureau of Tourism wanted to keep under wraps. Kernahan's attempts to go through official channels were often frustrated, but in the end she did manage to find out more than the average visitor. She stayed in natives' homes; she discussed politics with them. She discovered them to be not at all the childlike savages of popular myth. In fact, she declares, it is the European population of the islands who are the savages. Kernahan learned of the half-Polynesian political activist Pouvanaa a Oopa, a WWI hero who became the first Polynesian to win a seat in the French National Assembly and was eventually exiled and jailed in France; of the nuclear testing on the islands, which she considers a disaster, but which some natives look upon as an economic boon. And she meets a wide array of colorful characters, like Susy No Pant, a uniquely Polynesian hooker; Pa Tepaeru-a-Tupe Ariki Lady Davis, a very domestic South Pacific queen; and Hinano, who posed as a Polynesian dancer in California until she was discovered to be the half-black daughter of an L.A. whore.
"Some Enchanted Evening'' it isn't, but Kernahan opens up new vistas for those intrepid adventurers who may wish to follow her.