Robert M. Chute
All that has been lost in America
may be gained in Australis del
Espiritu Santo. It seems as if
God kept the better and the richer
lands to the last…
Petro Quirós (1506)
Between the Solomon's, New Caledonia, and Fiji lies the cluster
of islands, reefs, shoals, and live volcanoes which Captain Cook,
with singular inappropriateness, named the New Hebrides. To the
confusion of topography, vegetation, and native peoples white man
has added his destructive genius,so that the archipelago now stands
unchallenged as one of the unhealthiest, wildest, most mistreated,
and the most mismanaged spots on earth.
Oliver: The Pacific Islands (1961)
Well I might as well give you the first page…
About thirty-five years ago I read Thomas Harrison's book, Savage Civilization, for me a compelling account of his experience in the Pacific islands known as The New Hebrides. As a consequence I spent hours of reading and research, fitted between preparation for teaching and research in Biology, and wrote a series of poems dealing with the people of those islands.
In an optimistic trial for publication I received encouragement but the suggestion, twice, that some uniformity in the form of the poems would fit the general uniformity of the content. Other interests intervened, some, dealing with the civil-rights movement, indirectly related to the poems since a better term to identify the islands would be Melanesia. How much trouble that pigment has generated in pale minded pale people.
In any case here are the poems approximately 450 years after those island's first recorded european contact. About a year ago they surfaced in my disordered files and I decided to revise them. The form of the originals had no uniformity. These revisions are based on a ten syllable line with the even numbered lines rhymed: the end of each major section a couplet, triplet or even quartet. I offer no defense for this decision since I have none, nor for the omission of punctuation —unless I wanted the reader to have to stop and think from time to time.
Polynesia, Micronesia, Melanesia: many islands, tiny islands, black islands.Melanesia, as a geographic, cultural entity, stretches southeasterly from New Guinea and the Solomon's to Fiji. The southern foundry includes New Caledonia but not New Zealand. It is the Polynesians and Micronesians who are the "noble savages" of South Pacific romance. They are taller, more european in appearance, and, significantly, lighter in color with straight hair. Shades of South Africa and Old Black Joe.