A romantic and adventurous journey to the hidden islands and lagoons beyond Papua New Guinea and north of Australia.
East of Java and west of Tahiti a bird of dazzling plumage stalks the Pacific over the Cape York Peninsula of Australia. In her wake, she spills clusters of emeralds on the surface of the deep. These are the unknown paradise islands of the Coral, Solomon and Bismarck Seas lying off the east coast of Papua New Guinea.
Along the way Michael Moran explores the role of superstition, magic rites and the occult in the lives of the islanders, including the trading route of the Kula Ring which unites many tribal island groups in a mystical exchange of symbolically valuable objects, one set travelling clockwise around the ring, the other anti-clockwise. His narrative is interwoven with the stories of eccentric residents past and present – such as the self-styled ‘Queen Emma’ of New Britain, who was born of an American father and a Samoan mother and built up a large empire of copra plantations, as well as trading in the fabled obsidian (black volcanic glass) and entertaining on a lavish scale with imported food and French champagne. Moran describes the historic anthropological work of Malinowski in the Trobriand Islands and also catches up with some of the adventurers, mercenaries, explorers, missionaries and prospectors he has encountered on previous journeys.
The islands were the last inhabited place on earth to be explored by Europeans and even today many remain largely unspoilt, despite the former presence of German, British and even Australian colonial rulers. In addition there has been a recent resurgence of cannibalism in the remoter areas. But rather than a tale of cannibals and blood, this is a journey in the romantic and adventurous spirit of Robert Louis Stevenson and an exploration of encroaching change in remarkably diverse cultures.