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10 thoughts on “A Pattern of Islands

  1. Emma Deplores books.dyndns.za.org Censorship Emma Deplores books.dyndns.za.org Censorship says:

    Some of you will be wondering how I could choose a memoir by an actual colonial officer as my world challenge book for Kiribati The answer is that the country's literary presence seems limited to white men's expat memoirs Within that category this appears to be the book based on the greatest experience of the islands and their people Arthur Grimble worked as a British colonial officer in what were then known as the Gilbert Islands for about 20 years the first six 1914 – 1920 of which are covered in this book And whatever else can be said of him he was clearly fascinated by local culture and prepared to respect the people he encountered I doubt many colonial officers were offered adoption into a local tribe much less proved themselves by memorizing lineages and submitting to painful tattooingThis is entertaining reading though a bit slower going than I expected Grimble begins the book with the story of his becoming a cadet but once he is working on remote islands we get a lot of stories about the culture mixing dramatic events and everyday life everyday life may involve fighting tiger sharks There’s also a fair bit about myth religion and magic; Grimble claims not to believe in magic but tells several stories for which it’s the only explanation It is interesting material told in a pleasant self deprecating tone and so makes for an enjoyable read on the whole There are some real gems here such as the story in which the author becomes human bait in an octopus hunt and another in which an island is upended by religious fervor that turns it into a short lived doomsday cultThat said this is a memoir by a British colonial officer published in the 1950s after the author’s retirement so yes it is extremely dated Grimble unsurprisingly supports colonialism That’s easier to overlook here than it would likely be from most former officers given that the system didn’t produce conflict in Kiribati a remote island nation with few resources and a tiny British administration that for the most part seems to have worked alongside the local government But it is evident in his writing about Ocean Island Banaba which did have a natural resource – phosphate – which the British mined to the point of rendering the island uninhabitable Grimble opines that this was the right decision because it created so much fertilizer for farms in other countries and that the British administrators were commendable because they set aside money for the resettlement of the locals on another island once their own was destroyed One doubts the Banabans’ views would be uite so rosyAlso there is this little gem following an incident in which Grimble forcibly prevents his cook from beating his wife to death with a stick “The only thing that cheers me about this story is that the thrashing Mareve got did her a lot of good It sounds all wrong but it is a fact She never resumed her nagging of Biribo she was scared stiff of him; and from that time on there was shining peace in the back premises” Happily ever after is it? OuchThat said sometimes works with problematic elements provide the most authentic picture of bygone times; that doesn’t mean we should excuse the problems but that a book can be worth reading regardless This one provides a great portrait of a culture and the stories of Grimble’s experiences on the islands show a humility that makes them – with the exceptions mentioned above – palatable for the modern reader This is not an easy book to find but it's worth the read if you do encounter it


  2. Paul Paul says:

    Arthur Grimble was fresh out of Oxford and was interviewed by the colonial office for a post overseas He got the job and was despatched to the other side of the world to work on the Gilbert Islands in the pacific This was the time of colonialism and he was starting there as a cadet officer Coming from the UK this was a form of paradise and it was going to be a place that he was to fall in love with over the next three decades You probably think Grimble that you’re here to teach these people our code of manners not to learn theirs You’re making a big mistakeHe was given the piece of advice above and he took it completely to heart He was fascinated by the islanders their history and just how they managed to eke a living in the middle of the vast ocean Not only did they survive by developing uniue ways of catching food from the ocean but they also developed a sophisticated pagan culture that was full of legends folklore rituals and spells It was a way of life that was vanishing as the Catholic and Protestant religion was being draped over the culture But if you knew where to look you could still see their earlier pagan culture shining through and as the people began to trust him they began to share their storiesI really liked this he is an elouent author and a sensitive observer of the culture of these islands He is prepared to get involved in the activities too learning to catch octopus seeing men face tiger sharks with only a spear and witnessing the initiation rituals of the clans I think if he hadn’t have taken that small piece of advice then this would have been a much poorer book A great read of a part of the world that I have never heard of


  3. Laurie Laurie says:

    Arthur Grimble clearly cherished his years spent as a colonial official in the Gilbert and Ellis Islands He started his tenure as a young man with a new wife in 1914 and remained in the islands until 1933 although this book only relates his tale up to 1919 Grimble is honest about his naivete and inexperience and gives much credit to the native islanders who were both helpful and amused by his lack of knowledge His adventures dealing with storms unusual food native customs Pacific flora and fauna and bureaucratic bosses are the tales of a life uite unlike most in the west will ever experience It is an enjoyable read because Arthur Grimble enjoyed and valued the people who made up his protectorate The islands which make up modern Kiribati are so remote that most people in the world are unaware of their existence Even most Pacific Islanders will never visit these islands since they are so hard to reach even today I had never seen an article in the news about Kiribati until a few days ago see link below All islands in the world are threatened by global warming and Kiribati is doing what it can to fight the inevitable encroachment of rising water but soon most Kiribatis may have to abandon their islands and move to the largest island Tarawa whose water supply cannot handle the influx of a much larger population The islands and their issues have changed in myriads of ways in the century since Arthur Grimble served there I wonder what he would make of those changeshttpwwwbbccomnewsworld asia 35


  4. Marina (Sonnenbarke) Marina (Sonnenbarke) says:

    This is a great book funny and very well written by a British civil servant who lived in the Gilbert Islands now Kiribati for nineteen years from 1914 to 1933 Written in 1952 it recounts events a century old so it definitely is dated but it's worth reading nonetheless If you want to understand about today's tragic situation in the Republic of Kiribati consider reading this long article by Jeffrey Goldberg a longer review in Italian please read the post on my blog


  5. Kelly Kelly says:

    I liked Arthur Grimble and his book He's humble and self deprecating in a way that feels true and unforced; he's appropriately respectful of the culture he's portraying; and he seems to have made every effort to assimilate into that culture as much as possible He was adopted by an elder on the island where he lived taught to recite his new family's lineage in the oral tradition of their ancestors and was permitted to be ritually tattooed as part of his initiation into I Kiribati societyGrimble has a deft touch when discussing cultural differences and traditions He often presents himself as an arrogant skeptic when confronted with traditions that he doesn't understand and his skepticism is always proven unfounded leaving him the butt of the joke and letting the readers draw their own conclusionsThe story does drag occasionally being less of a narrative than a collection of episodes and observations strung together in roughly chronological order but it is worth reading for its many memorable moments and the window it provides into a little known culture and could also provide a much needed template for how to write a respectful memoir of time spent in a foreign cultureThis is a condensed and edited version of a longer review that I published on my blog Around the World in 2000 Books


  6. Val Val says:

    My Dad told us that 'burping' after a meal was considered polite in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands It is not in the UK He was a very gentle father who did not like having to tell us off but when he did we remembered This is the book where he found that interesting little snippet of informationIn 1913 Arthur Grimble went to the Gilbert and Ellice islands as a cadet in the colonial service a junior administrative officer becoming a District Officer in 1916 based on Tawara and then Abemama and Beru He wrote about the islands and their people in an entertaining and self deprecating way He was interested in them and wanted to find out about their way of life so he learnt their language and talked to them including talking to older islanders about their traditions he fished with them befriended them and worked with them Much of this involvement was part of his necessary training to become an effective District Officer and he had to pass colonial office examinations in the language law and customs of the colony but he went further than the strict reuirements of the jobHe later returned to the islands as Resident Commissioner and issued revised laws which became the basis of the constitution when they became independent There is a seuel to this book The Gilbert Islands became Kiribati and the Ellice islands separated as Tuvalu in the 1970s


  7. Colin Whittaker Colin Whittaker says:

    I clearly remember the story of octopus fishing with human bait from my English classes in school some 30 years ago and decided the pleasant memory was not in too much danger from revisiting the autobiographyHow glad I am that I did reread itThis is an end of empire story that is in serious danger of giving colonialism a good name The protagonist Authur Grimble tells us of a lost time in the South Pacific and leaves me at least craving for a time machine and a posting with the UK colonial officeDon't read this book if you wish to preserve a belief in pitiless colonial oppression


  8. Bob Newman Bob Newman says:

    Neophyte Nabob's Narrations of Natives NatureBack in 1914 a young colonial officer went off with his wife on his first assignment to the Gilbert Islands in the central Pacific These islands and their inhabitants had been under British rule for only 22 years at the time But unlike the stereotype of a pukka sahib the aloof colonial officer Arthur Grimble developed a love of the islands and their people He writes about them with interest and sympathy telling all kinds of tales against himself and the attitudes of the colonial system Due to distance and slowness of communication he was often on his own after the first couple of years on Ocean Island Banaba where Britain ran phosphate mines and which was apart from the other islands Transferred to other atolls he lost houses in storms dealt with copra and courts He had a great sense of humor so readers of A PATTERN OF ISLANDS will laugh at how he nearly blew up his boss by using a tad too much dynamite to create a cistern and some of the court scenes over which Grimble presided He argued with dogmatic French priests ran across a few of the classic European island characters and suffered from dysentery There are even ghost stories and ghastly tales about octopus hunting Grimble was very interested in Gilbertese mythology and looks upon their religious beliefs with interest Thanks to his open mind he writes of their behavior as diplomatic and reasonable Today the nation of Kiribati is facing rising tides in the lee of global warming; it is uestionable if this interesting culture will even survive All the reason to read this very enjoyable well written humorous account of the Pacific of long ago


  9. Divad Divad says:

    Grimble was an British govt administrator in Kiribati kir ee bas Gilbert Islands before and during WW2 His work is only matched or close to H E Maude A great non US Pacific read


  10. Sportyrod Sportyrod says:

    A special book about life in the Gilbert Ellis Islands now Kiribati in the early mid 1900’s The story is told by a British Authority Arthur Grimble whilst the nation was a British Protectorate Grimble’s humour is hilarious He is constantly putting himself down for everyone else’s amusement There was one story where he was new to the language and said during his first public address how great it is to meet everyone but how much better it is to say goodbye He sounds like an inspirational leader Naturally a stickler for the rules yet open minded to certain bending if the situation had good intentions It was important to him to include the local ways than to force British ways He earns the trust of the people and is adopted as one of them There are so many beautiful stories with vivid descriptions of each islandatoll There’s shipwrecks shark attacks ghost encounters tribal feuds evil curses history mythology and funny situations I felt like I learnt so much about Kiribati and now have a fair impression of daily life of that time as well as a visual on the lay of the landI would recommend this to anyone who likes early colonialism stories or explorer adventures


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A Pattern of Islands The funny charming and self deprecating adventure story of a young man in the Pacific Living for thirty years in the Gilbert Ellis Islands Grimble was ultimately initiated and tattooed according to local tradition but not before he was severely tested as when he was used as human bait for a giant octopus Beyond the hilarious and frightening adventure stories A Pattern of Islands is also a true testament to the life of these Pacific islanders Grimble collected stories from the last generation who could remember the full glory of the old pagan ways This is anthropology with its hair down