Inside the Capitol

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

5-12 Tahiti

MON, 5-12-08

NORTH FROM TAHITI - We've now completed our tour of the South Pacific island paradises. Three years ago, some will remember, my wife and I toured the World War II battlefields of the South Pacific.
Conditions were still primitive in places like Guadalcanal and New Guinea. We expected they would be very different in Fiji, Samoa, Rarotonga, Bora Bora and Tahiti. But we were surprised to find everything much the same.
The natives were friendly everywhere. The World War II islands down here were Micronesian, meaning the people were darker and had thicker hair than the Polynesians of the islands we have been visiting. But the biggest difference was that the people of the islands where the war was fought were even happier to see us because they have so few visitors and because we were their liberators from the Japanese, who enslaved them and worked them to death. They remember even though the war ended 60 years ago.
The tour transportation in the war islands was in old family vans. The transportation in the paradise islands was on converted trucks with plywood seats and a roof. And it wasn't any cooler in paradise.
But there were resort hotels. They increased as we moved east from Fiji, near Australia, to Tahiti, in French Polynesia. War didn't reach the eastern South Pacific but we did have bases on all the major islands for refueling, repairs and defense, in case the Japanese got that far.
It was a comparatively nice life for our servicemen stationed in those islands but it didn't last. When we turned the war around at Guadalcanal, and began heading toward the Japanese homeland, those troops found themselves redeployed to battles in Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Bora Bora is where much of the movie South Pacific was filmed. It was the famed Bali Hai, with its monolithic Mt. Otemanu. And its portrayal of the war in that part of the Pacific wasn't too far off. Some servicemen who survived the war, including author James Michener, returned to Bora Bora.
You may recall that Bloody Mary was a major character in South Pacific. Michener convinced the owners of his favorite barefoot bar on Bora Bora to rename itself after Bloody Mary and feature the drink. It is now listed on maps of the island and is a mandatory tour bus stop. Outside are wooden plaques featuring the names of 250 of its most famous customers.
The U.S. military built much of the infrastructure on these islands even though the American portion of Samoa was our only possession. The other islands were territories of England or New Zealand, which were busy defending themselves, or France, which was otherwise occupied.
Fiji, gained its independence from Great Britain in 1970, but hasn't done much of a job taking care of itself. It has a lush landscape but it is trashy, poorly maintained and old, with derelict vehicles and heavy machinery cluttering the countryside.
American Samoa is much better maintained, with tidy countrysides. Little Rarotonga, in the Cook Islands, may be doing the best of all. Its islanders have maintained the roads, airports and docks built by the U.S. military. It has hustled for industry and trade and takes advantage of everything it can.
All these islands are still dominated in most ways by the native Polynesians. Most of them require native ownership of land, with only leases allowed. Religion and family are the backbone of their lives. They take care of each other from cradle to grave. The land also takes good care of them. No one is hungry or homeless even though there are many poor.
Basically, little has changed in their lives over the centuries. Missionaries have brought them Christianity, but they haven't given up their native culture. They have adopted Western dress but haven't given up native garb.
It appears the policy of the colonial powers down here has been basically the same as that practiced in New Mexico for over 300 years.

Windows Live SkyDrive lets you share files with faraway friends. Start sharing.


Post a Comment

<< Home