Zay Harding concludes his grand Pacific adventure heading further West across the South Sea Islands into Tonga, Fiji and New Caledonia - islands whose histories have been shaped by brutal tribal conflicts and British and French colonisation.
Zay kicks off where we left him, aboard the Claymore II ship as it leaves Pitcairn Island. A stopover in Mangareva in the Gambier archipelago of French Polynesia sees him visit its cathedral which was built by two French Priests whose forced labour methods killed many Polynesian natives and saw the Fathers promptly kicked out of the island in 1834.
Zay then flies to the Kingdom of Tonga, a constitutional monarchy based on the British model and an island nation still in mourning of its last King George Tupou V. He has tea with the King’s Niece the Honourable Frederica and learns something peculiar about her ladies in waiting. For they are two effete gentlemen called fakaleitis who have been brought up in the feminine way by families bereft of practical, housekeeping girls. Zay then visits the Stonehenge of Polynesia – the Ha’amonga and then flies off in a tiny six-seater propeller plane to the Tongan island of Eua where he joins a septuagenarian couple, Tupou and Viliami Mackenzie in their small plantation farm where they make a modest living creating tapa – a Polynesian paper battered out of the bark of the mulberry tree and used for wallpapers and tablecloths.
Leaving Tonga, Zay scoots off to Fiji, and its main island Viti Levu, prime Pacific holiday destination with a gruesome history in tribal cannibalism. He pops into the kava market in Nadi, where he buys a kava plant for a village chief, he enjoys some Indian snacks at the market’s bus station stall and interviews an Elder from the local Mormon Church. Struck by Fiji’s sizeable Indian population, Zay tours the breathtaking Sri Siva Subramaniya Hindu temple before heading south to the coastal town of Sigatoka.
In Sigatoka Zay visits Big Josh and his cousin Siki where he marvels at their traditional Fijian hairstyles, groomed to perfection with a Fijian comb and lashings of coconut oil. It was by rudely removing the comb from the chief’s hair that the missionary Thomas Baker came to a grisly end at the hands of a cannibal tribe and his tragic story drives Zay into the heart of the Nandrau plateau on a bamboo raft, inching cautiously to the village of Nabutautau where the Reverend Baker was axed and consumed. Armed with his gift of kava which he bequeaths to Nabutautau’s chief Viliami, Zay gains permission to pay his respects at Thomas Baker’s grave but he has to indulge in a kava ceremony first, and this sacred ceremony duly leaves him a little numbed. Zay’s final destination is the French dependency of New Caledonia – prime nickel reserve with a Riviera feel – and a former penal colony which did much to alienate the indigenous Kanak population as it did to alieve French prisons during the industrial revolution.
The French copied the British model of New South Wales and equally, were rotten to the task of treating their convicts with dignity. This story, which Zay tells on the man made island of Nouville, harboured outside the capital Noumea, parallels another which we recount briefly, on Norfolk Island, New Caledonian neighbour and former British colony. Norfolk was turned into a penal settlement by its governors in 1788 but after its failure to produce raw materials for the Navy’s ship building industry it became a second refuge to the Bounty descendants in 1853, after a lack of food resources on Pitcairn Island forced settlers to find a more practical home. After a historical interlude on Norfolk Island we return to Zay’s peregrinations in New Caledonia. He heads north to explore the island’s colonial and indigenous cultures.
Zay travels to Hienghene and the village of Tiedonit on the North East coast where he meets Emanuel Tjibaou the son of Kanak separatist, the late Jean Marie Tjibaou. To breach Tjibaou’s village however, Zay undergoes a ‘coutume’ ritual involving the exchange of material. He visits Jean Marie Tjibaou’s grave and after another costume ceremony, obtains consent from an old Kanak called Ernest, to trek the Tao waterfall. In conclusion to his epic adventure, Zay returns to Noumea and visits the architect’s Renzo Piano’s Cultural Centre - an arts centre dedicated to Emanuel Tjiabou and a symbol of national unity. He reflects upon his fantastic Pacific Journey and leaves us with the indelible memories of his unforgettable trip.