Friday, December 02, 2016

Watch out, JK!

The Stolen Island is number nine on the latest New Zealand bestsellers chart. My book is nipping at the heels of JK Rowling's Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and ahead of several Enid Blyton reprints. I think my mother must have ordered a few hundred copies.

Radio New Zealand's Hamish Cardwell has turned my interview with Wallace Chapman into an article on the national broadcaster's website. I've done further interviews with The Listener, the online journal E Tangata, Radio Australia's Pacific Beat programme, and the Otago Daily Times. I'm flattered by all this interest, and hopeful that palangi New Zealanders are waking up to the extraordinary and tragic history of 'Ata Island.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Thursday, December 01, 2016

The loneliness of the monolingual palangi

Malo aupito to Neputino Tonga Online News, which has published an article about my tohi fo'ou The Stolen Island

Neputino is a Tongan-language site, and I am cracking out my Tongan dictionary to try to decode both its article and the comments that readers have left underneath! Oh how I wish I'd concentrated harder at my 'api 'ako faka Tonga!

Neputino's journalists attended the launch of The Stolen Island - my thanks to Dr 'Okusitino Mahina for inviting them - and they have done a fine job of captioning the photographs that 'Atan descendant Kenneth - or Keneti - Tuai took there.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Looking for Isilei Latu

I'm grateful to New Zealand Kaniva Pacific for this review of my tohi fo'ou The Stolen Island. Kaniva Pacific's reviewer focuses on the mystery of Isilei Latu. 

We know about Isilei Latu thanks to Frederick Goedicke, a wealthy German businessman who divided his time between Tonga and Nu'u Sila. In a letter written in 1945, near the end of his life, Geodicke remembered attending some horse races* held on a beach near Auckland on Christmas day in 1894, and meeting a man who introduced himself as Isilei Latu.** 

The man told Goedicke that he had been stolen in the 1863 slave raid on 'Ata island, and then put to work as a slave in South America. A Catholic priest had helped him escape on a ship that went to Auckland, and he had married a local Maori woman and started a family. Latu said he was very happy in Auckland, and was content to remain there.

Kaniva Pacific also notes that descendants of a Tongan who escaped slavery may inhabit Rapa Iti, a very isolated island in the extreme south of French Polynesia. There's strong but circumstantial evidence that a Niuafo'ouan was dumped on the island by a ship returning from South America, and that this man settled and had a family in his new home. An expedition to Rapa Iti is needed to confirm the island's Tongan connection.

Is Frederick Goedicke's letter accurate, given that it was written fifty-one years after the event it describes? Are there New Zealanders with 'Atan blood flowing through their veins who are unaware of their ancestors' remarkable and tragic history? Can we identify Isilei Latu's descendants today? Do some of the people of Rapa Iti have Tongan ancestors? I hope all these questions eventually will be answered.

*Christine Liava'a and I have been trying to factcheck Goedicke's letter, and we think he attended one of the racing meets held every Christmas for years on the beach at Orakei by local Maori. See the advert at the top of this post. 

**Frederick Theodore Goedicke was an interesting chap in his own right. He was a friend of both Kaiser Wilhelm II and Tonga's Tupou II, and he is one of the very few recipients of the little-known Order of the Crown of Tonga

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Sunday, November 27, 2016

'Ata on Radio New Zealand

This morning I discussed the Pacific slave trade, the fateful raid by slavers on 'Ata, and my book The Stolen Island with Radio New Zealand's Wallace Chapman. I'm grateful to Wallace for his enthusiasm, and for the half hour he gave me. You can listen to our talanoa here.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Launching The Stolen Island

Much 'ofa to everyone who came to the launch of The Stolen Island on Thursday night. Kenneth Tuai, a direct descendant of Paula Vehi, the last Tupouata, or leader, of the island, took these fine photographs. The fifth image includes a photograph of 'Ata's traditional reservoir that Alavaro Cerezo took in 2015. The penultimate images show Visesio Siasau talking about the visit he made to 'Ata with the Tongan navy in the early '90s, and Sione Tu'imani speaking on behalf of his cousin and fellow 'Atan descendant Masalu Halahala.

I'll be talking about 'Ata and the Pacific slave trade tomorrow morning on Radio New Zealand, starting just after eleven.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Stepping ashore

It is quite possible that, over the last fifty years, more human beings have flown in space than have stepped onto the island of 'Ata. 

Since Tasmanian and New Zealand slavers stole its people in 1863, 'Ata has had no permanent inhabitants. A few sailors have been wrecked on 'Ata, and and the occasional archaeologist or ornithologist has come to examine its ancient ruins or count its storm petrels, but the island's wild surf and high, almost impassable cliffs have made their visits dangerous.

Visesio Siasau is not only one of Tonga's most famous artists but one of the small club of people to have landed on 'Ata. 

In the 1990s, before he began his career as a sculptor and painter, Sio was a member of the Tongan navy, and during one patrol of the southern borders of his country he was ordered to leave the safety of his gunboat and land a small craft on 'Ata's tiny, boulder-strewn beach. 

Sio recently returned to Nu'u Sila from a six month residency in New York, and I'm honoured that he will be sharing a few memories of his a'ahi to 'Ata tonight at the launch of my book The Stolen Island

I'll be complementing Sio's talanoa by showing a set of photographs that the Spanish adventurer Alvaro Cerezo sent me after his nearly disastrous visit to 'Ata last year.

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Masalu's coming south

I am very grateful to Craig Small, the director of the Tongan division of New Zealand Immigration, for speeding up the visa application of Masalu Halahala, so that Masalu can fly south to Nu'u Sila and attend the launch on Thursday night of my book The Stolen Island: searching for 'Ata.
Masalu's ancestors thrived as farmers and traders for hundreds of years on the tiny and rugged island of 'Ata, at the southern edge of Tonga. In 1863, though, a ship crewed by New Zealand and Tasmanian slavers raided 'Ata, and took half of the island's people away. The king of Tonga moved the survivors of the slave raid to the larger island of 'Eua, where they founded a community they called Kolomaile, after the village they had left behind on 'Ata. Masalu Halahala is a leader of Kolomaile village and a guardian of many stories and traditions of his 'Atan ancestors. 
When I travelled to 'Eua in 2015 Masalu and his wife Pisaina made me and my family welcome in Kolomaile, feeding us puaka and kava and sharing tales. Now I am delighted to be able to make Masalu welcome in Auckland. He will be the guest of honour on Thursday night at Auckland public library. The librarians will be making a podcast to commemorate the launch of The Stolen Island, and they are looking forward to recording a few words from Masalu. I am sure many other Aucklanders are looking forward to some talanoa with the elder of Kolomaile. 

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]