Travel the Blue Lagoon

Posted by on Mar 7, 2009 in Kava News | 1 comment

Travel the Blue LagoonI recently read an essay by a student from Oxford University on her experiences traveling to the islands of Oceania in which she stated that “universal respect for the local vice of choice” – (my aside: there is that word again that I take such issue with; vice) – “the very alcoholic, somewhat hallucinogenic kava – is one of the many things that unites the islands of the South Pacific region. Indeed, despite their historical, social and political variations, these islands are remarkably alike.”

While the piece focused on her trip to New Caledonia and Fiji, she made the observation that a visit to any of the other islands in the South Pacific would be very similar: stereotypical ideas of the South Pacific based on images from TV shows and films like ‘Lost’ and ‘Blue Lagoon,’ the Islands actually live up to this stereotype.

She went on to discuss the portrayal in the media of the islands as areas with “beautiful white sand beaches of crystal clear water, fringed by palm trees, scattered with coconuts, dotted with brightly colored flowers, bathed in eternal sunshine,” and made note that “all this is surprisingly close to the truth.

“The South Pacific is not only unique in its tropical beauty, but also in its cultural experiences. As a department of France over 16,000 miles away from the mainland, New Caledonia is a melting pot of indigenous Melanesian, or Kanak, heritage, French colonial influences and, thanks to more recent immigration trends, South-East Asian culture. Noumea, the self-titled ‘Paris of the South Pacific,’ is frankly extraordinary in its resemblance to the mainland. I was able to re-live almost all my favourite, distinctively French experiences in this island capital; spending too long in Champion’s enormous wine section, reading Paris Match and having five course meals of classic French cuisine. Adding an abundance of French flags and Renaults to the mix, the result is truly bizarre. Imagine Paris, with real beaches.

Like Paris, Noumea is also a thriving centre of racial segregation. While there are many instances of French and Kanak culture complementing each other, even the most unobservant traveler cannot ignore the uncomfortable relationship between les MaĆ®tres from the mainland and the Kanaks. Indeed, while this is a regrettable aspect of life in New Caledonia, I must admit that it is also one of the most fascinating. France initially used New Caledonia as an oversized jail for political prisoners and then took full advantage of the island’s wealth of natural resources.

At the moment, the island’s native population are overrepresented in the all the wrong socio-economic categories. The Kanaks, for the most part, openly resent their position in society and French rule, while the French tend to take the view that New Caledonia would be worse off without European influence.

It’s the classic clash between imperialist and subject, and New Caledonia is one of the few places left in the world where you can see the colonial story still unfolding.

While most of the other islands in the South Pacific are no longer under colonial rule, almost all exhibit a mix of French or British and native Islander culture. Fiji is no exception. English is an official language and beer (Fijian Bitter, of course) comes second only to kava. Like New Caledonia, the mix of cultures often has bizarre results. Suva, Fiji’s capital and largest metropolis, has its very own hip hop scene, where rappers mix Fijian with the ghetto slang of south central LA and East London. If tropical paradise isn’t your thing, then it’s worth the trip just to hear MCs claim to be “too busy pimpin’ at Suva Bus Station to be on Fiji 1 News, blud”.

Boundless tropical beauty and a kaleidoscope of culture – it seems like the South Pacific really is a traveler’s paradise. It does however have one major drawback. As the only holiday destinations within a bearable flight away from Australia and New Zealand, the islands of the South Pacific have become reliant on tourism as their principle source of income. Both are well-orientated towards presenting foreigners with a somewhat artificial view of the islands–tropical cocktails on the beach, guided tours of nominally authentic villages, dancing in grass skirts and so on.

This manufactured tourist experience is hard to stomach. The islands are poor, those working in the tourist industry are heavily underpaid, and their political institutions are precarious. There are only so many overpriced Blue Hawaiians you can order, so many fire dances you can watch, before you start to feel sorry for those who live beyond the resorts and hotels which dominate the islands. Sorrow which soon turns to a feeling of guilt, justified or not, when you are constantly faced with reminders of the region’s colonial past. Despite the overabundance of tourists and artificial tourist experiences, the South Pacific has much to offer, especially for those who haven’t traveled to post-colonial areas or beyond Europe.”

My advice, stay away from the tourist areas, connect with a local through channels within your home community if at all possible and stay off the beaten path, with a native guide of course.

Aloha no,

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One Comment

  1. alcoholic, somewhat hallucinogenic kava!! that’s funny…she must not have tried any…you’d think she would being that she was so upset with all the ”manufactured tourist experiences” around.

    …she probably hasn’t been to Samoa, tokelau, niu’e, kiribati…

    i’ve been to Samoa and i only have good things to say about it…one of the highlights is how non-touristy it is … you get to see a lot of unbroken Polynesian traditional lifestyle. and they’re the friendliest people i’ve yet to meet.

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