According to a recent news report, the Cook Islands are joining a number of Pacific islands who are pushing for a new name. Like many others, the Cook Islands were given their moniker by the colonial powers of the 19th century. The islands currently take their name from the explorer Captain Cook, but as an independent nation, the islands wish to reclaim their island with a name consistent with the language of the native peoples. Suggestions for a new Maori name include “Rangiaroa, or ‘Love from the Heavens’, and Raroatua, meaning ‘We Stand Under God.”
While many of us picture Mark Twain at home in the American South, the famed author also spend time exploring beyond the continental US. His early travels took him to the shores of Hawaii where Twain made notes about the curious sport practiced by the natives. He later published his reflections on the islands in his letters and in chapters of his novel Roughing It.
His Letters from Hawaii contains the following fantastic passage:
“In one place we came upon a large company of naked natives, of both sexes and all ages, amusing themselves with the national pastime of surf-bathing. Each heathen would paddle three or four hundred yards out to sea, (taking a short board with him), then face the shore and wait for a particularly prodigious billow to come along; at the right moment he would fling his board upon its foamy crest and himself upon the board, and here he would come whizzing by like a bombshell! It did not seem that a lightning express train could shoot along at a more hair-lifting speed. I tried surf-bathing once, subsequently, but made a failure of it. I got the board placed right, and at the right moment, too; but missed the connection myself. The board struck the shore in three-quarters of a second, without any cargo, and I struck the bottom about the same time, with a couple of barrels of water in me. None but natives ever master the art of surf-bathing thoroughly.”
This year’s winner of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards , Behrouz Boochani, submitted his manuscript from a detention center in New Guinea. According to NPR, the text was created by sending small snippets through What’sApp which were translated by Omid Tofighian (who also picked up the award in his stead). Boochani is a Kurdish-Iranian journalist who has been in limbo after seeking asylum. As part of an agreement, Australia has sent asylum-seekers to a detention camp in New Guinea, but the smaller island ruled the practice illegal in 2016. While the camp on Manus Island (where Boochani was staying) was closed, he and fellow asylum-seekers remain in a state of uncertainty on the island. His work serves as a hopeful letter in a bottle, raising awareness of his situation and the situation of Australia on a global scene.
While most of us can picture the idyllic beaches and classic tropical jungles that so typify the islands of Hawaii, many of us also forget that such a paradise is created due to the rich volcanic soil. While those volcanoes are mostly dormant, as this week’s news reminded us, the sleeping giants can awake with disastrous consequences. While volcanic eruptions have often legendary connotations, putting us in mind of the disasters of Pompeii or Krakatoa, they can also be mere hiccups, a belch of smoke or ooze of lava. The eruption from the Kilaueu volcano on Hawaii’s big island remains somewhere in the middle. Lava flows and earthquakes have reminded residents that this is very much an active volcano, yet some residents are loath to leave their beloved island homes, even as experts warn of future eruptions. An estimated one to five million people live near active volcanoes (depending on your definition), a choice that may seem puzzling until you consider the beauty, economic benefits, and sheer geographical scope of volcanic regions. A 2002 study showed that especially in developing nations the payoff of the rich agricultural resources is worth the risk of a potential eruption. For many of the residents of Hawaii, Pele’s gifts are worth risking her potential wrath.
Among remote islands, Henderson would top the list. This little dot of land claims as its closest inhabited neighbor Pitcairn Island. If that name sounds vaguely familiar, it’s probably because of its association with the famous story of the mutiny on the Bounty. After Fletcher Christian led the crew in a bold mutiny against Captain Bligh (a decision argued about both in the 19th century and today), the survivors escaped to hide in one of the most remote locations in the world, a tiny South Pacific island.
Henderson Island made news this week because of a different kind of rugged survivor: plastic waste. As news reported, the little island now contains “approximately 37.7 million separate items weighing in at a combined 19.4 million tons.” Perhaps even more shocking is that very little of the waste was related to shipping.
With Earth Day hopefully reminding us all to treasure the one planet we’ve been given, tiny Henderson Island reminds us that the things we throw away are never really gone. It’s up to us to protect the vulnerable places on this earth, as even the most remote islands aren’t beyond our choices.
Recent television has fully embraced the idea of the “adult cartoon.” Starting back with The Simpsons in 1989, Hollywood discovered that animation could be used to tell interesting stories to wider audiences. Television has continued to innovate with both comedies (such as Fox’s Family Guy) as well as dramas (like Netflix’s Bojack Horseman). FXX entered the growing world of broadened animation in 2010 with its series Archer. The original comedy involved a group of hapless characters trying rather unsuccessfully to solve a number of difficult cases in a James Bond-esque fashion. However, after several seasons, the show was reinvented as an imaginative crime noir series (though still retaining the show’s sense of the absurd). This season, the show is once again reinventing itself with the ninth season “Danger Island” being cast as a ridiculous buddy comedy set in the pre-war Pacific of 1939. Once again, the island acts as a metaphorical place of rediscovery and renewal – as well as a site of adventure and potential disaster.
One of the first large scale Christian missionary efforts in the world was to the small islands of the South Pacific. The newly-formed interdenominational London Missionary Society had read the accounts of explorers like famed navigator Captain James Cook and were inspired to help the people often described as fierce cannibals or worse. Early in the nineteenth century they sent their first missionaries, largely from London’s working class, on a small boat across the Pacific to convert the islanders. While the early missions ended in failure, success quickly followed as the missionaries received better training in understanding the local populace. One of the most famous of the LMS missionaries was John Williams who enjoyed great success in converting the peoples of the Pacific. He was also responsible for translating the New Testament into Rarotongan, a language spoken on the Cook Islands. However, Williams gained international fame when he was martyred in 1839 while on a mission to Erromango, Vanuatu (called “New Hebrides” by Cook in the nineteenth century). This week two of his possessions, a club and a canoe, are being auctioned in Dorset. The items bring to mind legends that Williams was cannibalized after his death (a position debated by anthropologists).