Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Black Pearls



image by phyllis galembo


Black Pearls

“Tahiti is insular, full of peace & joy, but fully encompassed
by the horrors of life beyond its beaches. Push not off from
that isle, for thou canst never return.”--Herman Melville.


There is a wide wonderful archipelago
of 118 islands in the South Pacific--
referred to as French Polynesia.

Tahiti
is the largest island,
populated by Polynesians before Christ,
called it Otaherte.

In 1606 the Spanish called it Sagitaria.
In 1767 the English named it King George Island.
In 1772 the French called it New Cythera.
By the 1800’s it became known as Tahiti.

In 1788 the island was visited by the HMS Bounty.
In the 1820’s the English converted the natives
to Protestantism, introducing alcohol, firearms,
prostitution, venereal disease, & illness to them,
decimating the population, killing 60% of it. 

The French moved in with their Catholic missionaries
in tow, & for a bloody decade the new Catholics waged war
against the Protestants.

The French won, of course, proclaiming Tahiti
as an official colony of France. 
Gauguin resided there in the 1890’s. 

In 2007, I visited Tahiti for my firm,
on a quest to buy up some black pearls,
indigenous only to the Tuomota Islands
in French Polynesia.

I flew into the Capitol at Papeete,
& stayed in a hotel there, having to deal
with Chinese pearl dealers, finding out
that the Chinese were called
the “Jews of Tahiti”, being the
majority merchant class. 

French was the primary language there,
but plenty of English was spoken too. 
I loved hearing smatterings of the old Tahitian
language, the Reo Maohi, in the cafes,
bistros, & marketplaces.

They say that the island of Hawaii
in just 10 days gets more tourists
than Tahiti in a year, & that even
an average Las Vegas hotel has more rooms
available than in all 118 islands.

My last day there, my purchases concluded,
I wandered into the central park, & was
confronted with Gaston Temara, who stood
on a steamer trunk & gave political speeches.

He wore fake chains on his wrists,
& a ceremonial bag-mask on his face;
fierce & fascinating, he had led 
an unsuccessful bid for independence
the year before, but

his hardy black band of freedom fighters
was quickly put down by French troops
sent by President Jacques Chirac,
who claimed, after freeing the dissidents, 
that France did not believe that the majority
of Tahitians wanted independence.

Flying home to California, my company satchels
crammed with precious black pearl jewelry,
I could not get Temara out of my head.

Would something akin to liberty find a way
to flourish one day in Tahiti?
Something deeply American in me
truly hoped so. 


Glenn Buttkus

Posted over on dVerse Poets Poetics

Would you like to hear the author read this poem to you?


20 comments:

Brian Miller said...

wow. true story?
interesting too you taking the treasures back, while i imagine he felt the treasure of his land stolen...people do not want independence....hmmm...wonder if that is just the powerful talking, you know...cant imagine them not....interesting take on this g....

Mary said...

Interesting information about Tahiti, Glenn. I think it would be a fascinating place to visit. I too wonder if you really visited Tahiti. I don't have any idea about Tahitian politics...so I can't comment on Gaston Temara or Jacques Chirau as they are both 'Greek to me.'

annotating60 said...

Wonderful lesson as per Glenn. Herman was the man to know, he was there. >KB

Glenn Buttkus said...

No, I have never actually been to Tahiti, just used the first person protagonist as a poetic tool. Nice that it seems to have a ring of authenticity though.

Gabriella said...

Interestingly you and I chose the same photo, Glenn.
Your poem reminded me of a TV series I watched as a child that took place on Tahiti. It all seemed very paradisiac to me, at the time.
I remember learning later that France wished to keep this small island because of the rights this gives it on a large expanse of water in the Southern hemisphere.

ayala said...

An epic tale :) Nicely done.

Claudia said...

i love how you weave so much history into this... putting yourself in their shoes... great piece glenn...and good to be back...smiles

Anthony Desmond said...

I, too, wondered if you had ever been to Tahiti. Your use of 1st person protagonist was indeed effortlessly beautiful. A true artist you are, Glenn.

freyawrites.com said...

I totally believed you had been to Tahiti, Glenn! well done for weaving such a tale so well! :)

Grace said...

I thought you really were there Glenn ~ Interesting on the history of the country & seeing dissident Temara ~ I think each country has that yearning for freedom ~ Enjoyed this one Glenn ~

Laurie Kolp said...

I find this so interesting... what souvenirs!

kkkkaty said...

I can't help wonder how far behind are third world countries in terms of years....wouldn't it be great if all could have the same opportunities and freedom, but change is hard for some and others have no control..very keen tale.

Abhra said...

Oh I love the touch of History - tale of humanity here. Very well carved piece.

bwfiction said...

a beautiful way to say what Asimov via Hari Seldon said about societies always assimilating the less technically advanced - perhaps the old gods lose their power.

lynndiane said...

This historical poem of Tahiti is a real pearl! (can tell you did your homework, Glenn)

Marina Sofia said...

Yep, it sounded very realistic and as if you'd been there... You are a master of storytelling!
Just one small thing: it's Jacques Chirac, not Chirau, who was president of France.

Beachanny said...

What a great explication resulting from this prompt. Every trip changes us, every images stirs something within us - very cool how you tied these together and let us see that through your eyes.

quest4peas said...

Great historical whirlwind. I wonder how the "majority of Tahitians" actually feel about independence...

Victoria said...

Great expose of facts about beautiful Tahiti. My mom took us there for her 70th birthday. I now have the black pearl pendant that SHE bought. Beautiful country and it seems a perfect setting for the likes of Gaughin.(sig)

Linda Rogers said...

Ha-I chose this photo as well. So many things we can take from this photo. Thanks for the history lesson in your poem.