New Internationalist

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Issue 291


The South Pacific

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FROM THIS MONTH'S EDITOR


I was supposed to be on holiday ­ en route between the NI offices in Oxford, Adelaide and Christchurch, 'island hopping' across the South Pacific. You can do this if you go the 'wrong way' round the world, via Los Angeles. Well, how could I fly over the island dreams of my childhood without landing?

Unfortunately I hate flying, especially over large expanses of water. As we hit the Pacific the video screens that locate your aircraft/coffin on a map of the world turned entirely blue, and I with them. I have few memories of Hawai'i other than a group of overweight, elderly Russians wearing what resembled surgical supports to sunbathe beneath nutless coconut palms.

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By the time I got to the Cook Islands ­ their existence was, I admit, previously unknown to me ­ I was getting restless. A compulsive form of nomadism seems to afflict anyone who reaches this extraordinary place. Even if you're a Cook Islander you can't seem to help wondering what's over the ever-present ocean horizon ­ there are more Islanders outside the islands than on them.

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I met Jason Brown and Barbara Dreaver of the Cook IslandsPress for lunch at the Bluenote Banana Café in Avrua, on the main island of Rarotonga. They told me about the people of Palmerston Island, another of the Cook Islands a mere few-hundred miles to the north. All 60 inhabitants go by the name of Masters. The young Masters are apparently in revolt against the old Masters, on whom the mantle of authority has traditionally fallen. Trying to imagine what life must be like for 60 people with the same name, living on an island hundreds of miles from anywhere else, I became intrigued. I determined to shed my own increasingly irksome mantle of 'tourist'. I would try to interest you, the reader, in a region you've probably thought no more about than I had before I landed there.

I could not have begun without the help and guidance of Stuart Wulff at the South Pacific People's Foundation in Canada, nor finished without Di Forbes, just appointed to our Christchurch office and with no shortage of other things to do. I owe a debt of gratitude to Roy, Nirmala, Séona and Kish for inviting me into their homes, and to many other islanders who took me and the NI on trust ­ it is to them that I feel accountable for the result.

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