Celebrating literature from the Pacific Islands.
Introducing world stories with mana.
Reviewing stories related to all things "island", including village life, colonialism, sea-faring, myths and legends.
I am an author of Young Adult Fiction books. I worked as a teacher in the Pacific Islands for seven years. Whilst in the Solomon Islands I taught PSSC English before the ethnic tension in 2000 forced a change of plans. I love Pacific literature, art and music. You can find me on Facebook at Beth Montgomery Author.
I watched a David Attenborough documentary on Sunday night about Birds of Paradise. As ever the photography was beautiful and the dancing birds were just gorgeous but the whole thing brought to mind a disturbing book I read a few years ago called Dead Birds. Written by Trevor Shearston the novel is a depiction of Italian naturalist and explorer Luigi D'Albertis' journey up the Fly River in Papua New Guinea. Set in pre-colonial 1877, the book depicts the violence of the plundering of indigenous communities by Europeans in search of biological and anthropological specimens.
Be warned, this book is really hard work. The narrator is gross, an 'utamu' or spirit of a beheaded tribesman. Once you get past the macabre fact that his head is placed in a specimen bottle you actually get to like the spirit and hope for revenge.
Dead Birds (ABC Books, 2007)
Shearston has done a terrific job maintaining the tribesman's voice throughout and showing his astonishment at all the technology and behaviour of the foreigners. It requires a lot of concentration though and I found I had to reread paragraphs to clarify meaning when I was tired.
The narrator is confined to the boat for most of the story so we don't get to see a lot of the action. Hundreds of Birds of Paradise were shot, all in the name of science. Not that I wanted to be in on the hunting expeditions but surely a lot of the characters' interactions would be better presented out in the jungle.
As a reading experience it was challenging, a mind bending exercise for a writer studying point of view and voice. However I wouldn't recommend it as a spot of light reading.
It must be remembered that the portrayl is fictitious and D'Albertis did make it back to Europe in real life, however I found the historical theme really whetted my appetite for more information of early exploration of the Pacific and the work of naturalists.