- The Bounty from the Beach: Cross-Cultural and Cross-Disciplinary Essays ed. by Sylvie Largeaud-Ortega
The Bounty from the Beach explores a European historical moment in the Pacific—the 1789 mutiny on the British sailing ship, the hms Bounty, which had been commanded by Captain William Bligh and whose mission was supported by botanist Sir Joseph Banks, a founding member of the Royal Society who had traveled to Tahiti with Captain Cook. The ship had sailed to Tahiti with the purpose of collecting and distributing breadfruit throughout other tropical British territories, such as the West Indies. Breadfruit was particularly valued by British plantation owners who saw it as a potentially cheap food source for their enslaved workers.
In April of 1789, twenty-five sailors, led by Fletcher Christian, took hold of the Bounty while near the islands of Tonga. Seeking to hide from the British Royal Navy, the mutineers sailed to Tubua'i in the Austral Island archipelago and then on to Tahiti, where they partnered with Tahitians and collected livestock. While some mutineers chose to stay in Tahiti, others eventually sailed to and settled on the then-uninhabited island of Pitcairn. Shortly after their settlement, the newly founded community faced considerable issues, including alcoholism, illness, murder, suicide, and heavy-handed control of Polynesian women by the European men. After the often violent deaths of all but one of the men on the island, Pitcairn settled into a state of relative social order. Descendants of the original settlers living on Pitcairn today number about fifty people, and many more live on Norfolk Island.
Historically, writers, filmmakers, and historians have been especially interested in portraying the story of this mutiny. European perspectives have traditionally dominated the [End Page 287] narratives, focusing the storytelling on Banks, Christian, and Bligh, among other sailors on the ship. These stories have centered on either the dynamics on the ship that caused the mutiny or those of encountering unfamiliar islands, cultures, and peoples of Oceania. Meanwhile, Islanders positioned within these histories—Tahitian, Pitcairn, Mangarevan, and Austral—have voices and experiences that are usually left out of such stories.
Edited by Sylvie Largeaud-Ortega, a specialist in literature and societies of the anglophone Pacific at the University of French Polynesia in Puna'auia, Tahiti, this book is a compilation of cross-disciplinary perspectives. The introduction explains that the work attempts to add fresh perspectives to past writings on the mutiny on the Bounty, to be critical of past Western colonial perspectives, and to uplift "Pacific Islander views, tales and writings" in the telling of this history (13). After a thorough read, however, it is evident that most chapters have trouble completing all of these goals. While I applaud most of the chapters for being thoroughly critical of past perspectives, in terms of uplifting Pacific voices, overall the book privileges the established Bounty narratives that continue to silence Pacific Islander voices and views.
For example, chapter four examines Charles Nordhoff and James Nor-man Hall's Mutiny on the Bounty, written in 1932, and it pinpoints the purpose of the historical fiction as a commercial venture, with stereotypical depictions of Tahiti as a paradise used as a way to increase book sales. Here, Largeaud-Ortega continues to offer a critical review of the book, picking apart the main characters, their actions, the scenarios presented, and the colonial discourses exemplified through written portrayals and descriptions. She states, "their narrative of Mutiny further contributed to the stereotypically colonial representation of Tahiti as a carefree island where natives lived in 'a timeless, myth-ridden, ahistorical haze'" (151). Chapter six examines the famous 1962 Marlon Brando film, Mutiny on the Bounty, in the same manner—critical of the characters' portrayal and how the main characters, the Bounty sailors, interacted with their Pacific surroundings and the people they met. But in these two chapters, as with most others...