Five books from across the Pacific Islands – Part two: Polynesia

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 Polynesia. If you’re interested, you can check out the post here about authors from Melanesia and Micronesia.

As you can see from the map, Polynesia is a huge area with many different nations, from Hawai’i to New Zealand. Each island and area is distinct, with their own rich cultural and historical understanding of the world.

In this list of book recommendations, I’ve tried to include some diversity, both regional and historical. But five books can only show so many perspectives. Consider this a jumping off point to learn about the region.

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 Braden Jarvis on Unsplash

Five books from Polynesia (Pacific Islands)

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

  1. Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen – Hawai’i (1898)
  2. Island of Shattered Dreams / l’Île des rêves écrasés – Tahiti (1991)
  3. Where We Once Belonged – Samoa (1997)
  4. Frangipani – Tahiti (2004)
  5. Black Marks on the White Page – Regional (2017)

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

Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen – Hawai’i (1898)

by Queen Lili’uokalani
Note: the local spelling of Hawai’i has an okina (an apostrophe is used here) between the two i’s to reflect the proper pronounciation, but when searching for details on this book you may need to use the anglicized spelling (Hawaii).

  • Year Published: 1898
  • Author’s Country:
    Hawai’i
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, autobiography, history, emotional, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • The Queen’s account of her time as the reigning monarch, how pro-American forces overthrew her government, and the aftermath of the American intervention.

Hawai’i’s Story by Hawai’i’s Queen is an account of those difficult years at the end of the nineteenth century, when native Hawaiian historian David Malo’s 1837 prophecy concerning “the small ones” being “gobbled up” came true for the Hawaiian Islands.

When this book was first published in 1898, it was an international plea for justice. Just as Admiral Thomas had restored Hawaiian sovereignty in 1843 following an illegal action by Lord Paulet, Queen Lili’uokalani prayed that the American nation would similarly reestablish the Hawaiian throne. Queen Lili’uokalani died on November 11, 1917, her poignant plea for justice unanswered.

Links:

Island of Shattered Dreams / l’Île des rêves écrasés – Tahiti (1991)

by Chantal T. Spitz, translated from the French by Jean Anderson

  • Year Published: 1991
  • Author’s Country:
    Tahiti
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, historical, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • First novel by an indigenous French Polynesian writer

Finally in English, Island of Shattered Dreams is the first ever novel by an indigenous Tahitian writer. In a lyrical and immensely moving style, this book combines a family saga and a doomed love story, set against the background of French Polynesia in the period leading up to the first nuclear tests. The text is highly critical of the French government, and as a result its publication in Tahiti was polarising.

Links:

Where We Once Belonged – Samoa (1997)

by Sia Figiel

  • Year Published: 1997
  • Author’s Country:
    Samoa
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, poetry, informative, slow-paced
  • First novel published by a Samoan woman in the USA
  • Won the 1997 Best First Book award in the South East Asia/South Pacific Region of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize

A bestseller in New Zealand and winner of the prestigious Commonwealth Prize, Sia Figiel’s debut marks the first time a novel by a Samoan woman has been published in the United States.

Figiel uses the traditional Samoan storytelling form of su’ifefiloi to talk back to Western anthropological studies on Samoan women and culture. Told in a series of linked episodes, this powerful and highly original narrative follows thirteen-year-old Alofa Filiga as she navigates the mores and restrictions of her village and comes to terms with her own search for identity.

Links:

Frangipani – Tahiti (2004)

by Célestine Hitiura Vaite

  • Year Published: 2004
  • Author’s Country:
    Tahiti
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, contemporary, emotional, reflective, slow-paced

In Tahiti, it’s a well-known fact that women are wisest, mothers know best, and Materena Mahi knows best of all — or so everyone except for her own daughter thinks. Soon enough, mother and daughter are engaged in a tug-of-war that tests the bonds of their love.

Links:

Black Marks on the White Page – Regional (2017)

Edited by Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti

  • Year Published: 2017
  • Author’s Country:
    Across the Oceanic region, editors are both from New Zealand
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, short stories, challenging, reflective, medium-paced

A stunning collection of Oceanic stories for the 21st century.

Stones move, whale bones rise out of the ground like cities, a man figures out how to raise seven daughters alone. Sometimes gods speak or we find ourselves in a not-too-distant future. Here are the glorious, painful, sharp and funny 21st century stories of Maori and Pasifika writers from all over the world. Vibrant, provocative and aesthetically exciting, these stories expand our sense of what is possible in Indigenous Oceanic writing.

Witi Ihimaera and Tina Makereti present the very best new and uncollected stories and novel excerpts, creating a talanoa, a conversation, where the stories do the talking. And because our commonalities are more stimulating than our differences, the anthology also includes guest work from an Aboriginal Australian writer, and several visual artists whose work speaks to similar kaupapa.

Join us as we deconstruct old theoretical maps and allow these fresh Black Marks on the White Page to expand our perception of the Pacific world.

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.

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.