Sunday, March 6, 2011

Lord of the Flies for real

There have been so many books and movies about the mutiny on the Bounty that everyone knows the basics. Although Hollywood has taken its usual license, the facts are very well documented and preserved in, for example, British Admiralty records.

Less well known is what became of a group of the mutineers who, along with some Tahitians who threw in with them, settled on a very remote tropical island. Pitcairn's Island, Nordhoff & Hall, is a historical novel fleshing out what is known of their subsequent fate. The book isn't particularly well-written, but the subject matter more than makes up for it.

It's a fascinating study of small-group social dynamics, especially if you precede it by familiarizing yourself with some biographical and geographical background. Tahitian nobles and serfs, British officers and rough seamen, men and women, Christians, Heathens and atheists, alcoholics and teetotalers, a mix of races, religions, classes, sexes and perspectives all stranded for perpetuity on a tiny island.

The island itself was a paradise with a benign climate and an abundance of easily foraged food and building materials. Life was too easy, and some of the men became preoccupied with a still. Spoiler alert: an orgy of rape and murder followed, and the best men didn't last long.

There are still descendant of those settlers living on Pitcairn's Island. It's one of those places I'd love to see for myself.

Interesting factoids:

The mutineers went through an interesting religious evolution, from atheist/Christian/Pagan to a mixture of the latter two. Their children were converted to the Church of England by visiting ship's chaplains but still kept incorporated some of their mother's Tahitian beliefs. Still later, Seventh-Day Adventist missionaries converted the island population en masse and imposed a strict code of no drinking, smoking or dancing.

The average island girl bears her first baby between the ages of 12 and 14.

Most of the adult men have been charged with sex crimes by British authorities.

The island has one of the last completely healthy honeybee populations on earth.

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