Wednesday, April 23, 2008

South Pacific - Part 1

Yes, I'm two days late for geography and didn't post last week at all. But I don't get paid for any of this (or anything else), so with the price being right I'm sure you'll all survive.

This week's geography post is a result of my personal astonishment. I really don't know nearly enough about geography, even if I do better than most estadounidenses.

My best friend did a cruise in French Polynesia recently. In addition to the globe sitting on the floor about four feet from me, I recently bought one of those plastic-coated reference maps students put in their binders. Durable and convenient. I glanced at French Polynesia and discovered that Tahiti was roughly due south of Anchorage. Well, hell, I thought it was much further west than that.

Embarrassment is thus a stimulus for this post, along with Jane R's suggestion of "Fiji and Tonga and all those Pacific Islands." One of those comes tonight, the other at a later time.

So here we go, at the eastern end of the South Pacific Islands!

West of Easter Island you have Pitcairn Island. If it immediately suggests to you the mutiny on the Bounty, your memory is serving you right. The inhabitants - all 48 of them - are pretty much descended from the crew and some islanders. The capital is Adamstown.

French Polynesia is a French "regional collective" with representation in the French National Assembly and certain levels of autonomy. This is area of rather quintessential South Pacific fantasy material as our minds wander to Tahiti, Bora Bora, etc. Papeete, Tahiti, is the capital.

If I were to ask you who was born in Paris then lived variously in Peru, Orléans, Copenhagen, Arles, and is buried in the Marquesas, you would - but of course - answer Paul Gauguin.

Paul Gauguin. Aha oe feii? (Are You Jealous?) 1892. Oil on canvas. The Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, Moscow, Russia.

West of French Polynesia lie the Cook Islands. They are in free association with New Zealand and the capital is Avarua. You just have to love the sounds of these names as they flow of your tongue.

Niue is likewise freely associated with New Zealand. It is located a bit further west than the Cook Islands. The capital is Alofi.

Tonga is about as far west as we are going today (except for the western extent of Kiribati). It stands out for two reasons. "Tonga is the only surviving monarchy among the island nations of the Pacific Ocean, as well as being the only island nation never to have been formally colonized." [Wikipedia] The capital is Nuku'alofa and the current monarch is His Majesty King George Tupou V, direct descendant of the first king.

The King of Tonga (Getty Images)

If you have never heard a Tongan church choir sing, brace yourself. You will be hit with a tsunami of a cappella harmony such as you have never heard before.

North of Niue we find American Samoa, long a strategic South Pacific holding of the United States. The capital is Pago Pago.

West of American Samoa is the Independent State of Samoa (formerly known as Western Samoa). The capital is Apia.

North of the Samoas are the Tokelau Islands, a territory of New Zealand (thus the NZ flag rather than a separate national flag). "Tokelau" also represents a broader concept of cultural identity that extends to an island that is politically part of American Samoa, so there is some tension in the region from an independence movement. There is no capital and each atoll is governed by a local administrative center.

We conclude our tour tonight with the nation that has, to my mind, the coolest flag among them: Kiribati. Formerly a UK colonial entity known as the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, the name is in the local language and represents "Gilbert's" rendered into a Pacific tongue. South Tarawa is the capital city.

With so many islands I can only do a bit of videos. Here is some Tongan music that falls into the "easy listening" category:

This one makes me want to dance a bit:

And, for the tourists methinks, a Tongan war stick dance (beefcake and rhythmic testosterone for Jane and Mimi):

Here we have some of that powerful singing in harmony along with what appears to be an investiture of a little boy into dance, then a concert of a premier Tahitian group (embedding disabled).

Click here for Turere Tematahotoa Best FemaleDancer at Heiva I Tahiti 1987. Oh my. What a dish!

Finally, returning home (to Montana?) a Samoan slap dance:

Peace be upon the islands!
--the BB


Jane R said...

Ooh, thank you, very helpful and informative. And weren't we blessed in Oakland to have Tongan neighbors and thus Tongan celebrations! The last one I remember was from a Jesuit ordination reception in a church hall where several of the Tongan men (dressed in tongan skirt with Western blazer as always on Oakland formal occasions) turned the simple church hall chairs into percussion instruments! They rocked the house.

Paul said...

You're welcome, Jane. I didn't feel very informative but I knew so little about the area that anything seems informative. I encountered the Tongans in Redwood City. They held services in St Peter's and joined us about once a year. When they all stood up and sang it just blew me away (almost literally). Yes, I can imagine them rocking the house.