Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book 120, Wallis and Futuna: "Futuna: Mo Ona Puleaga Sau", eds. Elise Huffer and Petelo Leleivai

I need to be frank about the folly of this project. You know how much I spent on this book? US$36, which is S$45, thank you very much. Shipped here all the way from the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, which, come to think of it, is probably closer to my part of the world than New York.

It's not even a great read, though it's purportedly the first book ever to be written by Futunans: 12 authors (though though I'm counting 11, plus the female editor maybe), and each of them are writing about different aspects of the island's history and culture: the mythology, the 18th century civil wars, the traditional architecture, the kava-drinking ceremony.

Pretty dry and disconnnected, though it does admittedly read much more beautifully in French than English. (Although this book's title is in Futunan, the contents were written in French, and are accompanied by an English translation. The sub-subtitle is "Les deux royaumes/the two kingdoms", since the island's divided into the kingdoms of Alo and Sigavé, both of which are administered from Wallis Island way in the northeast, which itself is administered by France. Why didn't I read the whole thing in French? Because life is short, I'm afraid.)

There is interesting stuff in here, though. Look at the legendary origins of the monarchy: a visit by the handsome fisherman Faniutasi to the world of the gods, where he weds a heavenly princess and comes back Futuna to rule as the island's first divinely ordained king, only he sleeps around with another gal and the princess leaves him, leaving the two mortals to sire the Saufekai, aka the Cannibal King, whose dynasty wreaks havoc on the valley.

And did the king have any kids with the princess, you may ask? Yeah, sure, he was abandoned and adopted and named Ufigaki. And then this happens:

"When he became an adult, he began to work wonders but everybody hated him instead of loving him. He eventually disappeared, sinking voluntarily into the earth."

You could base an entire soap opera on this tale. But no, we've gotta move on to another essay on emigration to New Caledonia, or monarchic hierarchy, or the transition from being a protectorate to an overseas territory. Yawn.

Another complaint: in the cultural sections, there's way too much Futunan jargon for readers to keep up with. I can only remember than ago means saffron; how am I supposed to digest a sentence that follows, describing the process of the Lautilo evaluating how many workers, tama and kumete he'll need?

But of course, this is a book that's created for the sake of academia, not for pleasure-seeking fools like myself. The lives and cultures of other people do not exist for my amusement.

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Representative quote: Tous ces produits artisanaux sont vendus sure place par les du pays. Les clients les achètent pour les offrir à leurs amis. Ils se vendent bien à Wallis, car seul Futuna possède les matières premières. On les exporte également à Tahiti pour les expositions artisanales. C'est une source de revenus pour la plupart des personnes qui essaient d'en exporter le plus possible en métropole ou à l'étranger. Ces produits font la plus grande richesse du pays. Cependant, beaucoup envisagent de ne plus vendre les siapo, tapa et produits artisanaux à l'extérieur afin d'attirer clients et touristes étrangers qui viendraient découvrir nos richesses. Ce serait une occasion de faire connaître notre île au monde entier.

All these handicrafts are sold locally. Customers buy them as gifts for their friends. Handicrafts also sell well in Wallis because the raw materials are only found in Futuna. They are often exported to Tahiti for handicraft fairs. They are a source of income for many people who try to export as many as possible to France and overseas and are the country's greatest treasures. However, many people are contemplating not selling siapo, tapa and other handicrafts overseas so that they can attract customers and tourists to Futuna. The latter would then discover our treasures. For us, it would be an opportunity to make our island known to the world.

Next book: Ingjerd Hoem's A Way with Words, from Tokelau.

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