Five books from across the Pacific Islands – Part one: Melanesia and Micronesia

May is Asian and Pacific Islander heritage month! So for this month I’m going to share reading recommendations from across Asia and the Pacific Islands.

I love this part of the world and I’m excited to be sharing books from here. I think books are a great way to gain insight into peoples’ lives and their culture. You may not be able to travel or live everywhere you’re interested in, but you can definitely read books from anywhere in the world.


The Pacific Islands is a huge umbrella term for all the island nations that exist within the Pacific Ocean. Technically, this also includes the larger nations with islands in the pacific like New Zealand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Japan.

For the sake of this post, I’m focusing more on the smaller island nations. These nations (and modern day colonies) are typically separated into three groups; Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia (you can see the areas outlined below).

Map of Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia

Despite these groupings, the individual nations, and even the individual islands within nations, are very distinct. Most have their own culture, identity and often times their own language/dialect too.

These areas are rich in culture and most have a strong history of oral storytelling. However, there seems to be a limited amount of published work from these areas. Usually, the works are published independently or locally, rather than getting access to the international markets.

However, there are some books that have been published internationally and that are available in English for the rest of the world to enjoy.

For this post, I will be focusing more on authors from Melanesia and Micronesia. Come back next week for another set of book recommendations with authors from Polynesia!

Micronesia has a special place in my heart because I was lucky enough to spend a semester abroad in Fiji. It was probably one of the best experiences of my life, and opened my eyes to a whole new part of the world.

Being from the East coast of Canada, I hadn’t met many Pacific Islanders. But being able to live in Fiji, on a university campus that serves 12 member countries, I felt that I got learn about the region and not just Fiji. I’m so thankful for that experience.

While you may never get a chance to visit all the islands across the Pacific Ocean, you can try reading across the region. Here are a few books recommendations to get you started.

Photo by Alex Bunday on Unsplash

Five books from Melanesia and Micronesia (Pacific Islands)

Here’s a list of five books with authors from Melanesia and Micronesia (Pacific Islands).

  1. Tales of the Tikongs – Tonga* & Fiji (1988)
  2. Kava in the Blood – Fiji (1999)
  3. My Urohs – Pohnpei (2008)
  4. Black Ice Matter – Fiji (2016)
  5. Iep Jaltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter – Marshall Islands (2017)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them simply in order of when they were published.

*Note, Tonga is actually apart of Polynesia, but I thought it would be best to keep all the books from Fiji together in one list.

Tales of the Tikongs – Tonga & Fiji (1988)

by Epeli Hau’ofa

  • Year Published: 1988
  • Author’s Country:
    Tongan heritage and Fijian citizenship
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, short stories, adventurous, funny, slow-paced

Tiko, a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean, faces a tidal wave of D-E-V-E-L-O-P-M-E-N-T, which threatens to demolish ancestral ways and the human spirit. From Sione, who prefers to play cards with his secretary during work hours, to Ole Pasifikiwei, who masters the twists and turns of international funding games, all of the characters in these pages are seasoned surfers, capable of riding the biggest wave to shore. These are not stories of fatal impact so much as upbeat tales of indigenous responses to cultural and economic imperialism. Epeli Hauofa uses devices derived from oral storytelling to create a South Pacific voice that is lucid, hilarious, and compassionate in a work that has long been regarded as a milestone in Pacific literature.

Links:

Kava in the Blood – Fiji (1999)

by Peter Thomson (a fifth generation Fijian)

  • Year Published: 1999
  • Author’s Country:
    Fiji
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, memoir, travel, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Winner of the EH McCormick Prize
  • About the 1987 coup in Fiji

“The literary device of juxtaposing the story of the Fiji coup against autobiographical reminiscences of a Fiji background works very well. This is an excellent story, beautifully written and skilfully mixing the personal with the political .. The EH McCormick Award for the Best First Book of Non Fiction, sponsored by the New Zealand Society of Authors (PEN Inc) and Creative New Zealand, goes to Kava in the Blood by Peter Thomson.”
– Judges Report, Montana New Zealand Book Awards, 2000.

Entwined through the author’s reportage of the 1987 coups is an evocative picture of life in the islands. Thus, Kava in the Blood is also an intriguing story of hurricanes, haunted houses and copious kava consumption, set within the dramatic landscapes and vibrant cultures of the Fiji Islands.

Links:

My Urohs – Pohnpei (2008)

by Emelihter Kihleng

  • Year Published: 2008
  • Author’s Country:
    Pohnpei (Part of Micronesia)
  • Storygraph Categories:
    poetry, challenging, reflective, slow-paced
  • First published collection of poetry by a Pohnpeian poet

The first collection of poetry by a Pohnpeian poet, Emelihter Kihleng’s My Urohs is described by distinguished Samoan writer and artist Albert Wendt as “refreshingly innovative and compelling, a new way of seeing ourselves in our islands, an important and influential addition to our [Pacific] literature.”

Samoan writer Sia Figiel described her poetry as “disturbing and haunting, illuminating and tender”, “woven from the violent threads of postcolonialism, laced with patches of Island humour”, “a powerful addition to Pacific Literature”.

Links:

Black Ice Matter – Fiji (2016)

by Gina Cole

  • Year Published: 2016
  • Author’s Country:
    Fiji
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, short stories, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Won the 2017 award for best first book of fiction from Ockham New Zealand Book Awards

This collection of short stories explores connections between extremes of heat and cold. Sometimes this is spatial or geographical; sometimes it is metaphorical. Sometimes it involves juxtapositions of time; sometimes heat appears where only ice is expected.

In the stories, a woman is caught between traditional Fijian ways and the brutality of the military dictatorship; a glaciology researcher falls into a crevasse and confronts the unexpected; two women lose children in freak shooting accidents; a young child in a Barbie Doll sweatshop dreams of a different life; secondary school girls struggle with secrets about an addicted janitor; and two women take a deathly trip through a glacier melt stream. These are some of the unpredictable stories in this collection that follow themes of ice and glaciers in the heat of the South Pacific and take us into unusual lives and explorations.

Links:

Iep Jaltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter – Marshall Islands (2017)

by Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner

  • Year Published: 2017
  • Author’s Country:
    Marshall Islands heritage and raised in Hawaii
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, poetry, challenging, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • First poetry book published by a Marshallese author

As the seas rise, the fight intensifies to save the Pacific Ocean’s Marshall Islands from being devoured by the waters around them. At the same time, activists are raising their poetic voices against decades of colonialism, environmental destruction, and social injustice.

Marshallese poet and activist Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s writing highlights the traumas of colonialism, racism, forced migration, the legacy of American nuclear testing, and the impending threats of climate change. Bearing witness at the front lines of various activist movements inspires her work and has propelled her poetry onto international stages, where she has performed in front of audiences ranging from elementary school students to more than a hundred world leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit.

The poet connects us to Marshallese daily life and tradition, likening her poetry to a basket and its essential materials. Her cultural roots and her family provides the thick fiber, the structure of the basket. Her diasporic upbringing is the material which wraps around the fiber, an essential layer to the structure of her experiences. And her passion for justice and change, the passion which brings her to the front lines of activist movements—is the stitching that binds these two experiences together.

Iep Jaltok will make history as the first published book of poetry written by a Marshallese author, and it ushers in an important new voice for justice.

Links:

Final thoughts

I hope you found something of interest in this list of books.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. I’d love to know which books you love or that you would recommend. Let me know in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of it?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.