Darryl Tarte is an accomplished Fijian writer whose works are concerned with providing a distinctly Pacific perspective on history; a perspective which he believes is too often overlooked in a largely Western-biased representation of history. His novel Islands of the Frigate Bird (2009), completed after two years of painstaking research, seeks to address this injustice. The novel is a fictional account of real-life historical events that have occurred in Banaba, Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Rabi, spanning over 300 years.
Told through many different perspectives, Tarte’s novel sheds light on the hardships of the inhabitants of the Central Pacific due to phosphate mines, British and German colonial powers, World War II and exploitational fishing by Western and Japanese fishermen. Finally, the novel addresses the serious threat of global warming and rising sea levels that someday may engulf these islands completely.
Tarte employs an innovative approach in constructing his novel, choosing to present these historical events through a series of different characters over 300 years, each character telling a portion of the story through their individual perspective. These characters include English soldiers, Australian beachcombers and Kiribatese sailors, and though some characters are linked to each other, most are not related in any way. The result is a richly woven tapestry of perspectives and storylines that addresses the repeated devastations experienced by the Central Pacific at the hands of outside forces.
Tarte has explained that he chose to write his novel in this format as he believed that the history would be more compelling when presented through storytelling. Tarte has also expressed the importance of illuminating the Central Pacific experience, noting the lack of historical literature from this region of the world.
Islands of the Frigate Bird is a fine example of Tarte’s masterful use of storytelling to create a compelling piece of historical fiction that presents the stories of Central Pacific inhabitants who have battled to retain their identity through generations of suffering and hardships, and who are often ignored or marginalised by the global mainstream media.
By Harriet Hu