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A PATTERN OF ISLANDS. Hardcover – 1954
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Personal memoir of a colonial administrator in the Gilbert Islands in the western Pacific, in the 1920s. No jacket, green cloth boards gilt-on-black titles, minor rubbing at board edges & corners, page edges dulled with light foxing, no inscriptions, binding secure, faint tobacco odour
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These true tales from the fringe of early twentieth century empire are told by an official who was highly respectful of the natives whom he found himself administering. Grimble hated muscular Christianity and jingoism, which was probably untypical in 1913 when he went for his interview in the Colonial Office, fresh from Oxford and from a shabby-genteel upbringing.
Grimble wrote these memoirs with an acute eye about the dignified and very different way of life of the people of the Gilbertine Islands (now called Kiribati) in the far Pacific. Perched on a series of atolls, the islanders lived close to nature, death and an ever-present pantheon of demons and spirits - which were in turn threatened by both Catholic and evangelical missionaries. The author's natural restraint and curiosity allowed him to befriend sorcerers and to penetrate the Gilbertine spirit world, before it was destroyed by the impact of modernity and Christianity. Paradise in part, Grimble discovers that the islands also had their fair share of savage warfare and murderous scapegoating.
There is little about Grimble himself except indirectly. His family are kept in the background until near the end of the book, when there is a powerful story about a large man who is placed in the nearby prison-hut. This man relieves the very difficult and long labour of Grimble's wife by his deep, night-long humming. Ever present in the background is the deep roar of the ocean, a dangerous place of sharks and sudden storms, and yet the only source of food for the islanders.
One also has to admire the strength of character that colonial administrators and their wives and families possessed, working far from family & friends, without benefit of medical assistance, sometimes with limited stocks of food, medicine. Grimble went to the islands with his new wife who bore him four children. The book ends with the family returning to England on leave for the first time, and the final line of the book tells us that when he returned to the islands he didn't see his family again for another seven years.
All told, a delightful read.
I broused it before giving it to her and thought it looked interesting.
It is a delightful, easy but good read, well written in good early 20th Century English but an Oxbridge educated man. Arthur Grimble was sent to the Pacific Islands in about 1914 as a British administrator. He is a lovely, generous man who writes of his experiences amongst the islanders.
This is a heart warming, sometimes very funny, but always interesting book. I found revelations of the islanders own religion thought provoking.
This is a worthwhile read, easy but satisfying.
If you are interested in Humans in a, sadly, bygone age, you will love this book.
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memories and this delightful story of the many...Read more