Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Dance of Tahiti by Jane Freeman Moulin

The Dance of Tahiti by Jane Freeman Moulin. 1979.

July is one of my favorite months because it is Tahitian dance month. Well, at least it is in Tahiti where the annual Heive I Tahiti takes place. Kinda of the Olympics of Tahitian dance. Over the years I would try to figure out how I can watch as much of it online as possible. Things have gotten easier with youtube and now I follow a French Polynesian tv station on Instagram so I got to see clips all month.

My love of Tahitian dance was like all the things Polynesian that I am interested in, slow and evolving over the years. According to family lore, we went to Disneyworld when I was young (5?) and they said I could pick anything at the gift shop. I had a deep love of mice so they figured I would pick something Mickey. Well I picked a hula doll. I have no idea why. I was not the type of girl who ever, every wanted to play with dolls (except Barbie). I still recall what she looked like and seeing her at the store but then I no memory of ever seeing it again. Did my family go back and exchange it? I have no clue.

Then we had a trip to Oahu and Maui when I was in like 6th grade to slowly stoke the fires. But more recent (well 2002) they were offering Tahitian dance at my YMCA on Friday nights. I went and it was great. My teacher I later realized actually had her own Tahitian dance group and was kinda using the Y as a paid practice space. She even brought in live drummers. I loved the music and the drumming. I wasn't very good but didn't care.  She later told me about the annual Tahitian Dance festival in San Jose, the Tahiti Fete. My husband and I went every 4th of July holiday since I think 2003 for years. Then they sometimes moved it to Hilo and we fell of going. I went this year and got to see...the Tahitian Dance group who I use to be in perform at the Fete.

Sadly, my YMCA class ended and I was left without a class for a few years. Then one night while walking to get some food I heard the sound of the pahu (sharkskin drum) coming from a Russian Ballet studio. I peered thru the blinds and saw a bunch of girls in pareaus Tahitian dancing. It took me a few more months to figure out who this group was and then I emailed them and asked if I could join and told them of my "experience". They let me in and I had much to learn. We did 1 hour of hula and 1 hour of ori and aparima (both Tahitian dancing). I stayed with them for 3 years and even performed twice on stage at the Palace of Fine Arts. I made some friends and learned a lot. I then had to leave the group because I switched jobs and can't make it to their Wednesday night practices anymore. I still go to their events and was thrilled to see them at the San Jose Fete.

But this is suppose to be a book review so let me get back to that. When I started collecting for the Bibliotiki I always had a focus on Tahiti but I never could find books about Tahitian Dance. I did eventually find this book online for like a $100. I am cheap so that wasn't going to happen. Then years ago we went to a musty bookstore on Oahu and I saw it behind the counter for $20. What a steal! To my knowledge there isn't really any other definitive book on the topic. The book was published in 1979 and the author started her research there in 1973 and stayed for 3 1/2 years. She wound up dancing with many of the groups and formed a touring group.

Despite owning this book for like 6 years I didn't read it until now. Kinda wish I read it when I was in my dance group. It shed a lot of light on why we were doing certain things and terminology used.

She covers the history of Tahitian Dance (which is actually called Ori Tahiti my kumu would like you to know), breaks down the dance types, instruments and costumes. By the early 1820's the Church was outlawing traditional dance. It would continue in secret (just like the Hula). But in the 1950's Madeleine Mou'a formed the first professional dance group on the islands. It took some time but it finally regained its place in the culture.

The costume chapter was interesting especially since I got to make a little of my costume when I was in my dance show. Nothing like the photo below, more just braiding leaves. These skirts are called more and are natural fibers and dyed with natural dyes.

tahitidance 2

She talks about all the rules surrounding the annual Heiva I Tahiti competition. No man made materials allowed, dancers have to dance entering and exiting the stage, the size of the group and etc.

She does seem saddened by how the dance has changed a bit to accommodate hotel shows. But overall I think the book holds it own in 2017.

She even has diagrams of the movements for men and women.

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And it has a lot of nice group shots.

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Sometimes these groups can have around 70 dancers and it is totally choreographed.

The book also helped me understand my South Pacific record collection (over on the Phonotiki) better. I also focus on music from Tahiti and now I realize I have many albums from many of the mover and shakers of the late 1960's-1970's who were keeping the dance alive (Coco!). I also learned a little more terminology of certain dance styles that are on the Lps.

Have a look at some videos here and Full Videos  here.

And if you want to find out where you can see and learn Tahitian Dance click here.

Dr. Jane Freeman Moulin is a Professor of Music at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and is currently working on a book about Tahitian music.


Thursday, June 22, 2017

Savages by Shirley Conran

Savages by Shirley Conran. 1987
It was a good day at the thrift store up north. My husband and I went on a mini vacation and while on our way home went to a Goodwill. I had walked in and commented that I hope I find a tiki mug. In the next 30 seconds my husband plucks a vintage pineapple mug that still had the top attached off the shelf. Well that was easy. I look around and see some book called Savages. I always look at books that sounds jungle-like just in case the South Pacific is hiding inside. I open it up to a map of Papua New Guinea and think that I am on the right track.

I see on the cover it says it is by the author of Lace. I recall nothing about it except it is was a mini series with Phoebe Cates and was suppose to be a bit salacious. For $2.49 I figure I can gamble on it.

This book is about a group of women who have to go on a business trip with their husbands to Australia, PNG and the fictional island off of PNG called Paui. There is a lot of backstory on these women and their family life. I kept getting them confused and no one has much of a personality.

Eventually they make it to Paui and do to some shady business dealings most of the men are killed when the women are off on a 3 hour tour. The women return in time to see their husbands killed and a military coup in action. They leave with the captain of their ship and try to survive in Paui until they can figure out how to get back to civilation.

Lucky for them their captain is a great survivalist and teaches them many lessons before of course he dies.

As one would suspect, there is some light sexual action since this is the author of Lace. The ending is a bit grim and not really the direction I thought the book was going.

Overall it wasn't a bad read and you could tell it was well researched. I might of learned a survival skill or two. I think it was suppose to be a mini series as well but I can't find any evidence that they filmed it.

In case you were wondering where Paui is.
Savages

I liked the illustrations for each part of the book.
Savages
Savages

Lastly, here is a nice article about the author who they call Queen of the Bonkbuster. 

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Tahitian-English Dictionary

Tahitian- English / English-Tahitian Dictionary published by Leonard Clairmont.

I had been looking for an Tahitian Dictionary for a few years and this one just fell into my lap. A friend who I buy many of my Polynesian records from just gave it to me, but he was unaware of my quest for it.

This is a very slim volume and by no means comprehensive. I assume it was aimed at the tourist to Tahiti in the 1960's but probably not super useful.







The table of contents covers the basics

tdintro
It does have some nice photos though

tdlady

tdtane
And does include some phrases you might need.

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And now I can say toilet in Tahitian! Fare iti






Monday, July 4, 2016

Secrets of Diamond Head by Denby Fawcett

Secrets of Diamond Head by Denby Fawcett. 2015

Diamond Head, what could be a more iconic representation of Hawaii? If you go to Oahu you fly over it, you can see it from anywhere on Waikiki Beach and cheesy books have been written about it.

Though the Secrets of Diamond Head by no means is a cheesy book. It is actually pretty wonderful if you want to know the history and see some really great historical images of Diamond Head through advertising and photos.

In addition, it contains a trail guide that is annotated, how the crater was created and history of Hawaiian and the military presence on Diamond Head. The chapter I found most interesting was about saving Diamond Head. It is a miracle that there isn't a luxury hotel or a condo on the slopes of Diamond Head but that is due to the energy many have fought to make sure that doesn't happen.

If you have never hiked Diamond Head here are a few tips:

  • Get there early! Like 7am early or else it is too crowded and too hot
  • Bring water
  • Wear comfy shoes and clothes
  • If you go on a Saturday, visit the nearby KCC farmers market. So much good food and drink there.

You can pick up this book thru the University Of Hawaii Press site.

July 2015, sitting on the balcony of my hotel, getting ready to read this classic.

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View from Diamond Head
View from diamond head

Friday, August 21, 2015

White Savages in the South Seas by Mel Kernahan

White Savages in the South Seas by Mel Kernahan. 1995

In my readings over the last few years about the South Pacific, I kept seeing references to this book. Some were dismissive of it and after reading it I can only surmise they don't like their idyllic view of islanders busted.

I greatly enjoyed this book. And since I like to focus on woman writes of South Pacific literature I found Mel to be quite the character. The first paragraph on the back of this book pretty much sums it up: 
White Savages in the South Seas is a book about Polynesia after the cruise ship has sailed, the jet has flown off into the sunset and the maitai curtain has dropped on a dream that was more performance than reality.
She has been visiting Polynesia since her first trip in 1959 and the book covers to 1992, which is a pivotal time period of change in that region due to the impact from the west. Before you had easier air travel, the amount of visitors wasn't so great. But then it all changed...

She starts off in Tahiti, going to the very first strip show in 1966. Apparently it was not a success.  You might think the book will just be a laugh but she quickly moves on to politics and nuclear testing that the French did in the islands. She does then lighten it up a bit with a story about Susy No Pants and dancing at the infamous Quinn's bar in Tahiti. I am always curious to hear about Quinn's since it is mentioned in many books and I have some LP's that were recorded there. It sounds like a total dive and kinda wonderful.

The middle of the book contains a depressing story of when Mel is back in California and stumbles upon a local spot visited by Tahitians who have moved here. Including one young girl whose island was pretty much destroyed by the nuclear testing by the French and her misery of having no home.

I was enjoying the book and then it really gripped me once she got the Cook Islands. I went to the Cook Islands on my honeymoon many years ago and always have an interested in them. Even though she was writing about the Cooks about 10 years before I went there, it brought back a lot of memories of what the islands were like especially with her part about staying on Aitutaki.

She has a chapter where she takes her dream boat ride on a cargo ship to another island. And then is sick as a dog due to a massive storm and seasickness. It is called "Damn you Robert Dean Frisbie". RDF is a legend in Polynesian literature which includes the infamous story of him tying his children to a coconut tree in a hurricane on an island in the Cooks. I too have a dream of taking a cargo ship to around to the island but now realize I would probably wind up like her, heaving over the side of the boat.

I will leave you with a quote from the book that really rang true for me and also would for those who love the "paradise" version of the South Pacific but know it isn't real. 

'Damn you, Robert Dean Frisbie', I say aloud, ' and all the rest of your motley crew of misfit dream spinners, including you, James Norman Hall and Charles Nordhoff; Beatrice Grimshaw and Frederick O'Brien; damn you Robert Louis Stevenson and W. Somerset Maugham - I wish I loved you less'...
 'Damn you for making such a glory out of unrequited love. Damn your  loneliness, damn your pain. Damn your longing, damn your books, your words, your sirens' words - which can be the only mates of people like us who yearn to belong to an image of the South Seas...'

Friday, January 9, 2015

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick

In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick. 2000

On Christmas Eve, we were out seeing a movie (Big Eyes) and I noticed a movie poster for In the Heart of the Sea. I thought, "hey, I have that book in the Bibliotiki, maybe now is a good time to read it." I had bought this book years ago because I had read it was a true story that Melville based Moby Dick on. I do love non-fiction books based on adventure so this seemed right up my alley.

I should say my 2 top true adventure books are the Kon Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl and Men Against the Sea by Nordoff and Hall. Men Against the Sea is a gripping story about how Captain Bligh got forced off his ship and into a boat with others left to die. They didn't die and their tale of navigation and survival is a page turner. So I did have high expectations for In the Heart of the Sea going into it.

Philbrick did a great job with the research of this book. 40 pages of this book are notes and bibliography. It mainly weaves the two books that survivors wrote as the narrative, which I will be interested to see how the movie handles that.

It starts off with a pretty amazing opening chapter, survivors of the Essex are found by another ship and this is what they saw:
First they saw bones-human bones-littering the thwarts and floorboards, as if the whaleboat where the seagoing lair of a ferocious man-eating beast. Then they saw the two men. They were curled up in opposite ends of the boat, their skin covered with sores, their eyes bulging from the hollows of their skulls, their beards caked with salt and blood. They were sucking the marrow from the bones of their dead shipmates.

Let me say, if the movie doesn't open with that scene, it is a missed opportunity.

With that as the preface, you pretty much know what your in for. But it isn't all horror and gore, you get a lot of information about Nantucket and the whaling industry. It was just such a different time then our own.

The story in a nutshell is an inexperienced crew leave Nantucket to catch some whales, a whale then attacks their ship. The crew then escapes into 3 smaller whaleboats that are in various state of disrepair. They should head for Tahiti which is not that far but are afraid of cannibals (cue the foreshadowing) and decide to take the longest, most desolate route possible to South America.

Overall, it is a pretty amazing story.

Here is a link to the Nantucket Whaling Museum which has some artifacts from the crew on display. Including a skeleton of a 46 foot sperm whale. I have never been to Nantucket but now I kinda want to go.

And of course a link to the trailer for the new movie. Hopefully I won't sit thru it and go "it didn't happen like that in the book!" to my husband 400 times.

*Update, I watched the movie in June 2016. it is kinda of stinker. Looks nice but just read the book, it is 1000xs better.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Tahiti Holiday by Sydney Gorham Babson

tahitiholiday1Tahiti Holiday by Sydney Gorham Babson. 1943

I picked this up at the wonderful Powell's City of Books in Portland a few years ago on my first trip to Portland. I recall being overwhelmed by the breathe of titles they had in the Polynesian literature section. I guess my judgement must of been clouded that I choose this book. I know I also bought a book about headhunting as well, hopefully that title will prove a little more interesting.

My main problem with this book is, only about 1/3rd of it is about Tahiti. The rest of the book is about Bali and then a random collection of the author poems.

Poems.

Poems, despite having a best friend who is a poetess I have never been very keen on poetry. I blame too many Voodoo donuts on this choice.

It was signed so maybe that swayed my purchasing decision as well.

tahitiholiday2

The part of the book that does deal with Tahiti was fine, if I bit emotionless. The author went to Tahiti in 1938, the first part is written a diary style format so we get a day by day account. He leaves from Pago Pago then to Fiji. Gets stuck in Fiji for awhile waiting for his next boat. Then goes to Tonga which he enjoyed more then Fiji. Next up is Samoa and then he finally makes it to Tahiti.

Now the book goes from diary format to just travelogue. He seems to have your usual visit to Tahiti in the 1930's, goes to Quinns, gets the hots for a local girl, swims in Loti's pool, briefly meets Zane Grey but misses meeting James Norman Hall.

He does make it to Moorea but the excitement of Papeete calls him back to Tahiti. He did get to meeting Charles Nordhoff but had nothing to say about it except they shared a lemonade.

The few decorations by Dorothy Goodwin Blodgett are nice.

tahitiholiday4

Then it goes into his poetry inspired by his trip. He has a little more emotion over the local lady he had the hots for but that was about it.

Then the book goes into Bali and Java where there is much written about topless ladies. I did enjoy the illustration of the man with a huge leaf on his back as a rain coat.

tahitiholiday3

And then we get about 50 pages of poetry that has nothing to do with Polynesia, Bali or Java.

Can't say this is my favorite idem in the Bibliotiki. Since space is getting tight, it might be going away.

I did look up the author and did find some interesting tidbits. Copied from this site. 

Sydney Gorham Babson born 1882 at Brooklyn, NY; died 11 Jan 1975 at Hood River, OR at age 92.
He was graduated After graduating from Princeton in 1902 he worked for a time in New York City with Sinclair & Babson, wholesalers of Portland Cement, and then with the Vulcanite Portland Cement Company. Sydney and his brother Rea then moved to Oregon where they cleared the forest in the newly-settled Upper Hood River Valley. They planted one of the first commercial apple and pear orchards in the area. Sydney devoted his life with single-minded purpose to these orchards for over 60 years. In 1960 he was named "Orchardist of the Year."
 Sydney was also a writer. Among the books he authored were Tahiti HolidayGreen Wave of Mexico, and Complete Poems. His poem Verdun was published in the New York Times of 29 March 1917.

Well, next time I have an apple in Portland I will think of him.