4 out of 5 stars
Arthur Grimble was fresh out of Oxford and was interviewed by the colonial office for a post overseas. He got the job and was despatched to the other side of the world to work on the Gilbert Islands in the pacific. This was the time of colonialism and he was starting there as a cadet officer. Coming from the UK this was a form of paradise and it was going to be a place that he was to fall in love with over the next three decades.
You probably think, Grimble, that you’re here to teach these people our code of manners, not to learn theirs. You’re making a big mistake.
He was given the piece of advice above and he took it completely to heart. He was fascinated by the islanders, their history and just how they managed to eke a living in the middle of the vast ocean. Not only did they survive by developing unique ways of catching food from the ocean but they also developed a sophisticated pagan culture that was full of legends, folklore, rituals and spells. It was a way of life that was vanishing as the Catholic and Protestant religion was being draped over the culture. But if you knew where to look you could still see their earlier pagan culture shining through and as the people began to trust him they began to share their stories.
I really liked this, he is an eloquent author and a sensitive observer of the culture of these islands. He is prepared to get involved in the activities too, learning to catch octopus seeing men face tiger sharks with only a spear and witnessing the initiation rituals of the clans. I think if he hadn’t have taken that small piece of advice then this would have been a much poorer book. A great read of a part of the world that I have never heard of.