The British Empire Library

Tales of the Fiji Islands: By the Wife of a District Commissioner

by Ann Gittins

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by I.A.
This fascinating book provides a rare and valuable account of the life and culture of these remote and romantic islands in the 1930s and 40s. It tells of an idyllic world of great natural beauty, where the inhabitants were not only friendly but also polite and dignified - with few possessions and still fewer needs. Serious crime was virtually unknown.

Ann Gittins sailed out to Fiji in 1930 to marry John Wansborough Gittins, a young Administrative Officer who served at five different stations in two and a half years, enabling her to "get to know Fiji", unearth some of its legends and learn about its ancient gods. Taking a keen interest in her husband's work in the villages, she was able to wander about, observing and recording by means of camera and sketchbook, often watching people at their various tasks for hours at a time. Her style is simple and effective; celebrations and ceremonies, rituals and taboos, feasts and dances are all deftly described and reveal the author's genuine empathy with her hosts. On one occasion she was able to watch an exhibition of firewalking and on another she saw that famed wonder - a "blue moon".

Life was not entirely without problems but the author never makes heavy weather of them, not even hurricanes, floods and earth tremors, nor the infestations of fleas, bed-bugs and rats which quite literally kept her on her toes from time to time. Her first home was a ramshackle affair on an island without wireless, telephone or roads, with medical and dental aid only at the end of a day's journey - and nearly all long journeys were hazardous.

War came to the Pacific and she was evacuated to New Zealand, where her lot, as a refugee with children, was not a happy one, and her return "home" was long delayed.

John Gittins's service was abruptly ended, while on leave in England, by the discovery of glaucoma in an eye that had been troublesome for some time. Their lives had perforce to take another direction, with the years in the Fiji Islands a happy, never-to-be-forgotten memory, which she now shares with her readers. Through her "Tales" we are able to learn how it was for the wife of an Administrativer Officer in those distant halcyon days before Independence, and to enjoy a most interesting and entertaining read.

British Empire Book
Ann Gittins
J. A. Gittins


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