Culture Guides »

Ten Pacific Island Culture Shocks

Paul Theroux lets us know some of the stranger sides of humanity out in Oceania.

Rereading Paul Theroux’s excellent The Happy Isles of Oceania, I felt moved to share some of the juiciest cultural oddities. At Road Junky we’re a fan of culture shocks to illustrate just what an absurd species humans are and how relative everything is. So put your politica correctness aide and read on:

1. “Can”-nibal Food

Across the Pacific, islanders subsist largely on canned food – spam from South America (with only a vague hint that corned beef resembles human flesh and thus strikes a chord with ancient cannibalistic tastes!) and tinned fish from Japan. The seas have been so exploited by Japan in any case that it’s hardly worth going out fishing any more.

2 Seasick Islanders

While the ancient Polynesians were the most accomplished navigators in human history, crossing thousands of miles of open sea in canoes on a regular basis, the modern islanders get invariably sea sick within minutes of setting foot on a boat.

3. False teeth Girlfriends

The French Foreign Legion maintain a strong presence in Tahiti and in keeping with the time-old exotic dream of the sultry naked island girls, many of them take a mistress. As Tahitians tend to snack continually on sugary food, however, many of the girls have terrible dental problems and so a common declaration of love is to buy her a set of false teeth. When the legionaries depart for a while though they often take the teeth with them to render their girlfriends less attractive while they’re gone.

4. Cargo Cults

Cargo cults are alive on some Pacific islands, where islanders are still waiting for the planes to arrive bearing all the precious material goods that they were once promised by a white man named Jon Frum who quickly passed into local mythology. Some have even built runways to accommodate the cargo planes when they come.

5. Funeral Feasts

On some islands, a pig will be slaughtered when to feed the village when someone important to the family dies. Thus a dying person might assess everyone’s opinion of how much time they have left by when they start fattening up the pig.

6. Starlight Reading

The stars in the Pacific are so bright in places as to read by. ‘the whole dome of the sky a storm of light above my head.

7. Missionairies and Cannibals

The Pacific islands are full of missionaries, especially if there are rumors of a cannibalistic past. Theroux writes: ‘rumours of cannibalism are like catnip to missionaries who are never happier than when bringing the Bible to savages. Missionaries and cannibals make perfect couples.

8. Mormons

The Pacific is also full of Mormons who believe, rather misguidedly, that the islands were colonised by Native Americans. And as Mormons believe that Jesus managed to fit in a North American tour, that means that the Pacific Islanders are actually Mormons and just don’t know it yet.

9. Gulf War Voyeurism

Theroux is in the Pacific during the first Gulf War and hears repeated worries that the fighting will come to the Solomon Islands just like during the last big global conflict. Islanders bring back home videos of news footage of the falling bombs to watch with all the family and many speculate that the scales will tip in favour of the US forces once Rambo arrives on the scene to help.

10. Weather Chiefs

There are chiefs on the islands who are reputed to be able to control the weather. ‘It seemed wonderful that there is a place where you could actually blame someone you knew for the weather.