THE STORY ISLANDS of the oceans – with their hedonism and supposed romance – have captured the imagination of armchair travellers and wide-eyed visitors for more than a century. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island of 1883 remains the ultimate youthful adventure story. James Michener’s first book Tales of the South Pacific (with a spin-off Rodgers and Hammerstein musical)...
ISLANDS of the oceans – with their hedonism and supposed romance – have captured the
imagination of armchair travellers and wide-eyed visitors for more than a century. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island of 1883 remains the ultimate youthful adventure story. James Michener’s first book Tales of the South Pacific (with a spin-off Rodgers and Hammerstein musical) won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948. Theirs was an innocent islands world.
Kenneth Bain has been writing, lecturing and broadcasting about islands and island
people for 50 years. He was born in one – New Zealand. He has worked or spent time in many of them – the South Pacific, South Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the West Indies. In the present day global village of worldwide instant communications and mass tourism, the nature and quality of island life have changed forever. We may be about to hear the dying voices of adulterated island cultures and societies; as the quest for survival assumes a new significance in an all-commercialised world and offshore finance centres proliferate. The spectre of money laundering, drug trafficking, poverty and corruption in public life seem inescapable as island King Canutes attempt to hold back the inexorable tide of progression, if not progress, in the new millennium.
In this book, Kenneth Bain turns, as did Michener, to the Caribbean. He writes about its
islands, not least Puerto Rico, which he first encountered in 1958; and again in the 1980s and the 1990s. His main theme is the British Virgin Islands, its people the kernel of his story. The BVI today is a resounding financial and commercial success, not typical of the contemporary Caribbean. Bain tells us why. He is once again a listener, a catalyst, an interpreter and at times a bewildered victim in a complex society. His approach is: let the people speak. Their thoughts and words are from all walks of life, old and young, leaders and the led. The result is an eclectic portrait of a Caribbean society with a distinct thread of rollicking fun throughout as serious
themes gradually emerge. Not least is the future constitutional status of the BVI and seven other British overseas territories currently under discussion between the British and dependency governments and people.
For the TREASURED ISLANDS of the title are not just the British Virgins and others of
the Caribbean region. Kenneth Bain sees them in the context of the varied island worlds in which he has lived and worked and of his own past writings. The threads of similarity and difference come together in response to the question of islandness: is there such a thing and, if so, what is it today? Illusion or elusion. A Caribbean island-hopping seven-day cruise or yacht charter will not tell you. But it will be a start – not least when you sail past Norman Island in the British Virgins and compare its appearance with Robert Louis Stevenson’s map of his Treasure Island. BVIslanders claim it was his model. Good. If they don’t, somewhere else will do so.
There are three ways of tackling a book like this – if you hope to go on living among and remain welcome by those about whom you are writing. The first is to do so under a pseudonym, which may initially help but will in the end fool nobody. The second is to dress the whole thing up as a novel, place it in a fictitious if recognisable setting, give all the characters different names, change events a little so that nothing gratuitously libellous can be pinned on you, like Herman Wouk in his rumbustious Don’t Stop The Carnival…
The third course is the one I have chosen: to pin my flag to the mast and chart a passage through the BVI reefs and – as one BVIslander put it to me – through the minefield of BVI society. The risk element is high; but hopefully, I shall reach a safe anchorage without too much self-inflicted damage: a listener, catalyst and scribe for selected, often at random, BVI and other Treasured Island voices. Every now and then, I have changed course or mood with a ‘doggerel ditty,’ so as not to be too earnest.
Much of it is luck, of course, or coincidence. There will be a lead here, a comment there, a newspaper piece, an unexpected meeting, a perceptive observation overheard or a casual conversation that causes a writer to look further or to remember better or to go off in some unexpected direction. Inevitably there will be omissions; and, in choice, an element of the subjective where you are attempting an eclectic rather than a comprehensive account of the life and times of living people.
The pitfalls are clear and tricky. If you write about close-knit small island societies and think you can satisfy everyone, think again. You will undoubtedly fail an obstacle race you cannot win. You will undoubtedly fail an obstacle race you cannot win.......
A superb piece of writing. Of great historical value, it should be in every college library in the United States and elsewhere.
A tremendous read … Perceptive and hilarious comparisons of island life in the Caribbean
and across the oceanic globe.
A primer on small island living. In the rich tapestry that Kenneth Bain has painted, the
good, the bad and the not so good are superbly crafted into a work of beauty. It moves
impressively and with great ease from the Caribbean to the Polynesian islands of the South Pacific, to New Zealand, the South Atlantic and elsewhere.
A frank, lucid and entertaining account of life in the British Virgin Islands, with
enlightening global comparisons and perspective. Thoroughly enjoyable. An artist in words is at work here.
Verna Penn Moll
Telling the story with poise, grace and humour, Bain skilfully uses the words and voices of Virgin Islanders. With his clever impish wit, he has spun a story that is as entertaining as it is informative. The work is a worthy entry in the bibliography of the Virgin Islands and makes a delightful gift.
Kenneth Bain was born in New Zealand in 1923, and educated at Auckland Grammar School, Auckland University College and Corpus Christi College, Oxford. He was appointed to the Colonial Administrative Service in 1946 and assigned to Palestine as an Assistant District Commissioner in Gaza. After transfer to Fiji in 1949, he began his long association with the island peoples of the South Pacific, the Caribbean, and South Atlantic; and has travelled widely throughout all three regions.
He was Secretary to the Government of Tonga 1953-56; Commissioner, British South Pacific Office in Fiji, including responsibility for Pitcairn, 1965-70; Deputy High Commissioner for Fiji in London 1970-75; a Director at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London 1975-80; then for five years, Financial Secretary and , for a period, Deputy Governor in the British Virgin Islands. He has also been Director of Studies in Financial Management at the Royal Institute of Public Administration in London.
In close to 60 years, Kenneth Bain has written eleven well-received books. They include seven with worldwide island themes, including three on the South Pacific Kingdom of Tonga and its people. There is one each on Fiji military coups, St Helena, British Virgin Islands, and Pitcairn, together with books on schizophrenia, Doggerel Ditties in the style of Ogden Nash, obituaries he wrote for the London newspaper The Independent, and Gaza, his Palestine mandate diary 1946-48.
He now lives on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, where he and his wife were made Honorary Belongers in 1985. His wife Margaret Anga’aefonu is part-Tongan; their three children were born in Tonga and Fiji.
He was awarded the OBE in 1976, and appointed by King George Tupou V of Tonga to be Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Queen Salote Tupou III in 2010.