Te Radar finds goldfish, but misses the nukes and the strip mine
The Kiwi entertainer had tramped into the forested mountains behind the Samoan capital of Apia with a local guide. When the two men emerged from the forest and stood on the shore of a small green lake called Lanoto'o, Te Radar's companion began to talk about the history of this beautiful spot. He explained that, during Samoa's struggle for independence from New Zealand, groups of nationalists had taken refuge from Kiwi military forces in the area around the lake.
After New Zealand police opened fire on a peaceful pro-independence march and killed eleven Samoans at the end of 1929, Wellington sent hundreds of marines to its restive colony. Soon the troops had marched out of Apia into the mountains of 'Upolu, where they burnt down villages associated with the anti-colonial Mau movement and arrested known nationalists. Samoans responded by fleeing through the forest to remote spots like Lanolo'o, where they raised rough huts and waited for fatigue and malaria to send their pursuers back to the barracks and bars of the colonial capital. Despite its tranquility, then, Lake Lanoto'o had played a role in one of the most tragic periods of Samoan history.
As he sat beside the little green lake, though, Te Radar didn't want to take the hint offered by his guide, and turn his attention toward New Zealand's disastrous colonial rule of Samoa. Instead, Te Radar wanted to talk about goldfish. He began to quizz his bemused companion about a colony of goldfish the Germans had established at Lanoto'o during the couple of decades that they ruled Samoa, and he became excited when he was told that the fish were still living in the lake. An important if awkward subject had been rejected in favour of a piece of trivia.
Te Radar had dealt with December the 29th, 1929 in a very cursory manner early in his Samoa episode. After describing the events of the date Samoans still call 'Black Saturday', he had noted that no monument sat on the spot where protesters were gunned down. This lack of a memorial stone meant, Te Radar decided, that Samoans wanted to 'move on' from the tragedy of 1929. Instead of discussing the causes and consequences of Black Saturday, then, he was happy to shift his attention to matters like the goldfish of Lake Lanoto'o.
Te Radar's inadequate treatment of the colonial history of Samoa was not surprising. In episode after episode of his television series, he has shown little or no interest in the colonial history of the Pacific, and in the continuing economic and political domination of the region by Western powers. As a result, he has struggled to understand the societies he has visited.
Micronesian nation of Kiribati, Te Radar visited the overcrowded atoll of Tarawa, where shantytowns have taken the place of coconut groves, and raw sewage poisons a lagoon that once seethed with fish. Near the end of this week's episode, Te Radar visited Apia's downtown foodmarket, where he found fried chicken, mutton flaps, and some alarmingly big bellies.
Unlike the goldfish of Lake Lanoto'o, the squalor of Tarawa and the poor health of Samoans are important subjects. Unfortunately, Te Radar's refusal to acknowledge the impact of colonialism on the Pacific made his discussions of these subjects misleading and patronising.
During his visit to Kiribati, Te Radar observed that Tarawa has become overcrowded because of mass emigration from other, more remote atolls. Young I-Kiribati buy one-way tickets to their nation's political and commercial capital, despite the fact that four out of every five of the people already living there are unemployed. All too often, emigrants end up living in shacks beside Tarawa's fetid lagoon.
Te Radar clearly considered the movement of I-Kiribati to Tarawa to be both foolish and environmentally irresponsible. What he didn't mention, and quite possibly didn't know, is that the distribution of Kiribati's population was affected disastrously by the detonation of more than twenty nuclear bombs over its largest atoll in the 1950s and '60s.
Kiribati was a British colony until 1979, and in 1957 and 1958 the British tested nuclear bombs in the skies over the eastern Kiribati island of Kiritimati. New Zealand was an enthusiastic supporter of Britain's tests, and sent the frigates Pukaki and Rotoiti to observe them. In 1962, at the invitation of the British, the United States detonated twenty or so of its own nuclear weapons over the island.
Kiritimati's three hundred and twenty square kilometres make it larger than Kiribati's other thirty-three islands combined. The island has a vast lagoon, and much arable land. Kiritimati should have made an ideal place for emigrants from small and overcrowded atolls to settle, but after 1957 I-Kiribati were understandably reluctant to make it their home.
During last week's episode of his series Te Radar profiled a New Zealand aid project which provided water tanks and purifiers for the inhabitants of the slums of Tarawa. Admiring some of the new tanks, Te Radar paid tribute to the generosity of Kiwis.
It can be argued, though, that New Zealand has taken far more from Kiribati than it will ever give to the country.
At the end of the nineteenth century a New Zealander named Albert Ellis discovered phosphate on Banaba, the westernmost island in Kiribati. After persuading the locals to cede their sovereignty to the British Empire, Ellis began to mine phosphate by the tonne and send it to New Zealand, where dairy farmers valued it as a fertiliser. Like Nauru, another Micronesian island which had the misfortune to possess phosphate, Banaba was mined unmercifully, and came to look like the surface of the moon. When the Banabans protested about the loss of their gardens to the mine, British administrators moved them thousands of kilometres to Fiji. Ellis' mine finally closed in 1979, but little has been done to regenerate the Banaban landscape or bring the Banabans home.
New Zealand's ten billion dollar dairy industry was established on the back of the strip mining of Banaba, but this country has never offered the island's people any compensation for their travails. If Te Radar were aware of the history of Banaba he might not be so convinced of the munificence of his countrymen.
Te Radar's discussion of the shortcomings of Samoan diets seemed as bereft of context as his laments about the squalor of Tarawa and his celebrations of Kiwi generosity towards Kiribati. The entertainer bemoaned modern Samoans' penchant for fired chooks, mutton flaps, and corned beef, and lamented the loss of their traditional, healthy diet of lean meat and vegetables. He introduced viewers to a palangi nutritionist from New Zealand, and lauded the attempts of this latter-day missionary to warn Samoans away from sinful foods.
But Te Radar didn't mention the way that New Zealanders have fostered Samoans' taste for unhealthy food.
For decades now Kiwi companies have been exporting their fattiest portions of meat to Samoa and other Pacific nations. Mutton, corned beef, and chicken that is judged unfit for New Zealand consumption is bagged or canned and sent to the islands, where it is sold cheaply to locals who can afford nothing better.
ran an article describing the 'causative relationship' between exports of cheap meat from New Zealand and 'endemic obesity' in places like Samoa. Dr Nick Watson, one of the authors of the article, has condemned New Zealand for 'giving development assistance' to the Pacific with one hand, only to spread 'heart disease epidemics' with the other.
Te Radar might want to 'move on' from the days when New Zealand and other Western nations had formal colonies in the Pacific, but many economic and ideological threads connect the colonial era with the twenty-first century. Britian exploded nuclear bombs over Kiritimati, and now refuses to help restore the island's connections with the outside world. New Zealand dumps second-rate and hazardous products in Samoa in the same nonchalant way it used to send dangerously incompetent administrators and soldiers there. Because he doesn't recognise the impact of colonialism and neo-colonialism on the Pacific, Te Radar ends up blaming people like the I-Kiribati and the Samoans for problems created by others.
[Posted by Maps/Scott]