28 June 2010

Thor Heyerdahl’s first Pacific adventure

Fatu-Hiva: Back to Nature

This is the story of Thor Heyerdahl’s first Pacific adventure long ago, before World War II. The young Heyerdahl and his equally young bride, Liv, sailed by Tahitian schooner for the lonely jungle island of Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas, French Polynesia. Living off the land they hoped to find the answer to the questions that had been troubling them: is man better or worse off in office and factory than primitive man gathering fruits and fishing in the wilderness?; is man’s flight from nature really ‘progress’?
Their struggle against the climate, mosquitoes and venomous insects, rain, skin disease, local hostility – their hazardous ocean voyages in an open boat, and an idyllic month spent with the last Polynesian cannibal – make a rich and compelling story, and provide an answer to questions which are even more relevant today than they were when the author raised them over 70 years ago.
The period spent by Heyerdahl in Fatu Hiva is also significant because it was there that the ideas were formed, which eventually led to the author’s famous Kon Tiki expedition.
The library has 2 copies of this book (illustrated throughout with numerous b& w photos).
We are posting this blog from Tahiti and about to embark, though on a cruise/cargo ship rather than a schooner, for the Marquesas. If there is internet access on board we’ll post a picture of Fatu Hiva as it is now. If not the next post will be in about fortnight’s time.

17 June 2010

In the wake of Kon Tiki

Eric de Bisschop’s unlucky voyage on the Tahiti-Nui

The story of the French navigator and explorer, Eric de Bisschop, as told by himself in his autobiography Tahiti Nui: by raft from Tahiti to Chile (published in 1958) and the completion of the tale of his life (including his tragic death on the reef at Rakahanga in the Cook Islands in November, 1958) is told by Bengt Danielsson in his book From Raft to Raft (published 1962). Both books are available in our library.
De Bisschop, an old man by this point, died from injuries received when the raft hit the reef one stormy night. A respectful Protestant funeral was organised by the Rakahangans for the Catholic de Bisschop, with the whole population turning out in their best Sunday whites. The next day a French navy frigate came to retrieve the four surviving crewmembers and to exhume de Bisschop’s body, which was to be returned to France for a hero’s burial.
Interestingly, there is a further Cook Islands connection to this story: Francis Cowan, one of the raft crew and famous Tahitian mariner, was part-Rarotongan; his sister, Patricia Metzker, who lives at Matavera, volunteers every Wednesday at the Cook Islands Library and Museum.

Crew of the Tahiti-Nui (from left): Francis Cowan, Michel Brun, Eric de Bisschop, Alain Brun.

There is a recollection of the raft arriving at Rakahanga one night in November 1958, in a story published by Cook Islands News some years ago, although the authors of that article, Tau Greig & Wayne Meyer, thought that the raft was in fact the Kon Tiki (of Thor Heyerdahl fame).
Eric de Bischop had set out to prove that Heyerdahl’s theory of Polynesian settlement of the Pacific from east to west was incorrect.
De Bisschop, it seems, had also attempted other voyages, which ended in disaster - first in a sampan, which was wrecked on Formosa (Taiwan); he also had a boat wreck on Molokai in Hawaii; he built a twin-hulled canoe, named Kamiloa, which he took to Cannes, through the Cape of Good Hope. Marshall Petain himself welcomed him, upon arrival in 1939. He went to Tahiti on a junk in 1948; after it sunk in the harbour, he got the idea to take a raft to Chile and back. The story of that voyage is told with humour and sadness in the book From Raft to Raft.
Both of these books were of interest to old sea salts like Peter Nelson, a member of the library since its founding in 1964. Nelson was a supercargo on the veteran schooners that plied their trade in French Polynesia and the Cooks in the 1950s and 1960s. Nelson passed away two years ago but not before publishing two novels about life on the sea (which we also have in the library, to be reviewed later).

10 June 2010

Religious “wars” in the Cooks in the 1950s

Bernard Thorogood was a London Missionary Society minister who served in the Cook Islands during 1950s and 60s.
His book, Not Quite Paradise, published in 1960 by London Missionary Society, UK, is an honest and often humorous look at Cook Islands life in the 1950s.
Here is one example of friction between religions.
Manihiki has a larger Roman Catholic population than most of our islands, so it is not surprising to find friction arising between the groups. Little annoyances swell into serious quarrels. Perhaps one Sunday the Catholics have finished their service while ours is still going on, so the Catholic children start playing in the street outside our church. Our deacons call this a deliberate insult (which it almost certainly is not) and plan some way of revenge. Our church supports the Boys’ Brigade; the Catholics have the Boy Scouts, so the two groups, both dedicated to good citizenship, tend to work against each other. Our side blame the others for starting all the disputes, but I have never known a matter of this kind where the fault is all on one side. A lot depends on the good sense of our pastors and the Catholic priests. Occasionally some outside activity is big enough to draw both sides together.
We have a couple of copies at the library.
Former LMS missionary to the Cooks Bernard Thorogood is second from the right with Matilda Miria-Tairea, Ron Crocombe, Sally Voss, Jean Mason and president Gordon Sawtell. This CI News photograph was taken in July 2008.

03 June 2010

Milan Brych: the Cancer Man

We have two copies of the book Milan Brych: the cancer man (published 1980) by Australian journalist Frank Quill (who tends to be supportive of Brych) and one CD-ROM from the anti-Brych Underground Website http://mbuw.org/ in the library; both are available for lending.
Vlastimil Milan Brych, a Czechoslovakian pharmacist, claimed to have a cure for cancer and established a clinic in Rarotonga in 1977 with the support of the Cook Islands Party (CIP) government of the time. Brych had practiced as a cancer clinician in Australia and New Zealand, before being kicked out of both countries. Here he was allowed to practice his secret immunotherapy techniques on cancer patients who travelled from all over the world to his cancer clinic in the Cook Islands.
Next to the RSA at Nikao on Rarotonga is a cemetery locals refer to as the “Brychyard”, where his unsuccessful patients ended up.
After leaving the Cook Islands he moved to Los Angeles in the USA but in 1980 he was convicted of practicing medicine without a licence and jailed. He served three years of a 6-year sentence and was then deported to Switzerland.
Brych may have many detractors still but he also has many supporters, particularly in the patients who believe he cured them.

The "Brych Yard" at Nikao, Rarotonga