Monday, October 30, 2017

Papua New Guinea: Tabu, by Moses Maladina

A search of our library's online catalogue revealed several novels set in Papua New Guinea - but as one was written by a New Zealander, and one by an Australian, that left me with Moses Maladina's Tabu. Moses Maladina is (or was in 2003) a senior government minister in Papua New Guinea, with a background in agriculture, law and business. He served as Papua New Guinea's High Commissioner to New Zealand from 1998 - 2002.

Like my choice for Benin, the book deals with the exploitation of the resources of third world countries, and with an inter-racial love affair. However, I found this one a lot easier to read. It is set both in 1933 and in 1997, and alternates between the two to tell the story of Elizabeth Castleton, the young wife of an Australian newly arrived in Port Moresby to work in the Australian administration there, and of her lover, the Papuan Sitiveni (Stephen). At that time such relationships were forbidden, and the White Women's Protection Act rendered any native who had relationships with a white woman liable to harsh punishment. Elizabeth falls pregnant, and leaves for Australia and thence England where she makes a career for herself and brings up her daughter alone.

In 1997 after Elizabeth's death, her grandson Edward travels to Port Moresby both to find out the truth about his grandfather, and to investigate a business deal - which turns out to be a rather shady deal involving mercenaries and the recapture of a gold mine on the island of Bougainville from rebel forces. This story is apparently based on real events.

In "As She Was Discovering Tigony", my choice for Benin, the Frenchwoman Dorcas rushed so precipitately into an affair with an African man that it made no sense to me (the actual relationship later on appeared to be sound, but I couldn't see how it started, especially since she was an older, professional woman). In this book on the other hand, the story arc in which the lonely young woman with little to do falls for the native policeman who has been tasked with showing her around the island proceeds on a much more understandable basis. Although sometimes I felt like shaking Elizabeth for her incredible naivety and selfishness in exposing Sitiveni to the huge risk of discovery.

In 1997 although the country is independent, and the harsher laws no longer exist, many of the locals are still impoverished, and the country appears to still be run for the benefit of wealthier nations and their exploitation of its rich resources of gold, oil and fish. I did feel that the book was written more to raise these issues than to tell a good story - but it was well done and the storyline was quite strong despite the issues being clearly expressed.

Tabu was published by Steele Roberts Limited (Wellington, New Zealand) in 2003.

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