This is a fantastic book by a remarkable writer. We will return to recommend other books by O'Brien, because he wrote three excellent books about his time in Tahiti and her islands. This one is about the Marquesas where O'Brien spent a year having adventures and writing beautifully about them. His writing is of course constrained by the knowledge and attitudes of that time (he recites a painfully wrong scenario of island formation and Polynesian pre-history for instance), but once you stop worrying about that, and get used to his calling the Marquesans by silly literal translations of their names, his remarkable descriptions and insights of that period take over. It was in fact an amazing time to be in the Marquesas. The native population here, as on all Pacific islands, had been decimated by introduced European diseases. By the time O'Brien showed up at the turn of the century, the populations were as low as they would ever get and you can really get a sense of the effect that this kind of devastation has on a people. Fortunately, although the population had reached a bottleneck, there were still elders around that lived or at least remembered the traditional ways. He has a great time recounting his meetings with ancient cannibals, and does a wonderful job describing various customs, religious beliefs, superstitions, etc. He spends most of his time on Hiva Oa in the village of Atuona, but also sails south to Nuku Hiva, Tahoata, and Fatu Hiva and has amazing adventures all along the way. I re-read this book just before Hinano and I went as guest lecturers on the Aranui Cruise last January, and it was wonderful to see the changes over a century in some places like Atuona, and remarkably, the lack of changes in others like Fatu Hiva.
This is a must read for anyone interested in the Marquesas and a very pleasant read for anyone who appreciates a wonderful first-hand account of a unique time and place in the South Seas. You can find this book on AMAZON or if you don't mind reading in on your computer you can download it here.
There was also a movie made from the book (1928, directed by W.S. Van Dyke). It was the first movie done by MGM with sound and therefore the first time the lion roared in the opening credits. You can see that here. If anyone knows where you can get a copy of this film please let me know, I'd love to see it.