TUTURANI: A Political Journey in the Pacific Islands by Scott L. Malcomson

TUTURANI: A Political Journey in the Pacific Islands

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The title loosely translates as ""the people who appeared one day and never went away."" Such, claims Malcomson (a senior editor at The Village Voice) in this wry political survey of the Pacific islands, is the original populations' pervasive, if generally ineffectual, attitude toward the French, British, German, Spanish, and American invaders who have irreversibly altered their lives. Growing up in ethnically divided Oakland, Cal., gave Malcomson a sensitivity to questions of racial, cultural, and class identity--questions that become particularly complicated in oft-conquered Micronesia, French Polynesia, Fiji, and other scattered island groups in the Pacific. Moving methodically from island to island, chatting and drinking with the locals (men, for the most part, since local women tended to shy away), sleeping in seedy hotels or in private homes where rats made familiar bedfellows, the author uncovered a racial and cultural chaos in which activists committed to maintaining a traditional cultural identity are unable to define the culture they wish to preserve; political assassinations are considered business as usual; and those who were irradiated by nuclear tests and now serve as ""guinea pigs"" for American researchers are envied for their compensatory handouts from the US. Add to this villages burned by revolutionaries, a pervasive inability to do without foreign investment, and rising seas that threaten to erase some islands altogether, and Malcomson's acidic wit becomes most welcome. Weary of ""modern civilization,"" the author had hoped to uncover some less harrowing substitute in the Pacific, but as a Polynesian waitress informs him, this is no paradise. Not a pretty story--viewed here with an unblinking, unforgiving eye.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 1990
Publisher: Poseidon/Simon & Schuster