There are islands that lie outside the boundaries of the Polynesian Triangle, especially those ranging along the coast of the Asian mainland. They were once remote and mysterious but many of these isles today are recognizable as scenes of intense fighting during World War II. Among them are: Guadalcanal, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and the Philippines. These battlegrounds have entered the annals of Western history but not much attention goes to the displacement suffered by those who had called these islands home.
James Michener contributed to some wider awareness with this area. He was stationed as a naval officer in the vicinity of the Solomon Islands. When in 1946 he published his first book of stories, Tales of the South Pacific, it won a Pulitzer Prize and inspired Rodgers and Hammerstein to write their classic Broadway musical South Pacific. The movie premiered in 1958 and was remade for TV in 2001. The important undercurrent in this film dealt with the mixing of the races, an inevitable outcome of a huge military presence in this part of the Pacific. The backdrop for Michener’s stories focused on preparations for the Allied assault on Japan. Movies associated with the sea battles and island invasions in this time will be found in a later addition of MovieJourneys.
Further to the south of this island group is the area called Melanesia. These isles are adjacent to Papua New Guinea, which even today inspires fear and curiosity about wild men, strange rites, “stone age tribes,” and cannibalism. Instances of the most disturbing of these practices have been documented well into the 20th century. Even so, this is only the most lurid and infrequent aspect of a people who, like so many others around the globe, struggle to adapt to the realities of change. It seems that what movies do best in our times is bring the remotest of times and places into the light. The best and worst of our proclivities for cruelty and kindness are on view for all to see.
Because New Guinea and neighboring isles, along with certain locales in Polynesia such as New Zealand and the Marquesas, have been given sensational reputations for cannibalism in the days of the sailing ships, I have here included my blog called “Hannibalism: Men Behaving like Animals.” It is meant to demonstrate that there are no families or societies among us that can deny a few well-gnawed skeletons lying at the roots of their family trees.