Beneath the Surface
Dive into the Pacific Ocean, deep into the Polynesian soul, with the weight of the outside world resting upon the edge of blue oblivion waiting to overtake the past. Holding your breath to sustain the mystery, power, entanglement and complexity of the hybrid world of Polynesia’s past and present, venture into a fiction lathered with so much detail, there is no rush to break the surface of existence. Kiana Davenport’s Cannibal Nights: Pacific Stories Volume II engulfs the local spirit, tugging at the lost connections we once had with an undisturbed past, opening our eyes to a Polynesia that is buried under colonialism gone mad.
Unsightly images burn in the mind: a smart, beautiful Australian Aboriginal, her first time in America and a minority at her college, is gang-banged by a mob of white males who later continue their “friendly” relations with waves across the cafeteria. Embarrassment and pain resonate long after the journey of a fatherless Tahitian girl on a quest throughout France, where she seeks to find the missing piece of her family, only to discover the truth in a forbidden mistake. A foreign ship overstays its welcome in Rapa Nui, ending with heated molecules pulsing furiously throughout the bloodstream at witnessing a hatred and disgrace so disturbing, the Moai turn away from the sea–a Davenport nod to the legendary stone sculptures positioned with their backs towards the ocean.
Like the Moai, we would like to turn our backs to the horrors and devastation of colonialism as it spreads ruthlessly, engulfing the islands with reckless materialism and modernity. But the author’s honesty, boldness, and vulnerability throughout Cannibal Nights reassure us. Without forcing solutions but by modestly showing a need to embrace what is and fight for what is lost, the stories of her characters–all with local ties to the islands whether from Tahiti, Hawaii, Rapa Nui, Australia, the Marquesas and Tonga–share the inevitable change of acceptance towards Western existence. Whatever that means to each of Kiana’s characters is significant–along with, one gleans, the many other untold stories of love extinguished in the meshing of a virgin Paradise with an unrestrained hell.
In this “man eat man” world of alcohol, crack, gangs, rape, genocide, 9-11, Navy Seals, Las Vegas, President Bush, family, God, love, trust, redemption, Polynesia continues to survive. We are challenged by overconsumption, the meshing of time between strangers and friends, and growing old and bitter from the damaged spirit of the Islands. But the reader is resurrected to rise above depths of complication and negligence after a dive through the darkness of Cannibal Nights. Davenport gradually guides us back into our own realities with the comforting message that “…Heaven and Earth can still surprise us, …the Gods can change their minds and say ‘Enough. Enough.’” Perhaps we do not have all the answers, but we have stories. She leaves us with the peace of mind gained by one of her narrators: “I would never fathom why, or wherefore, of this life. All I knew was that each day we wind our clocks, each night we pray.”