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Bounty Chords. Music, Dance and Cultural Heritage on Norfolk and Pitcairn Islands. By Philip Hayward. (London: John Libby Publishing, 2006. Pp. viii +248, ISBN 0-86196-678-3.)

  • Nicholas Hartmann

…more information

  • Nicholas Hartmann
    Memorial University of Newfoundland

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In this text’s introduction, Hayward states that “While heritage and tradition are often invoked as something fixed and essential, they are conversely — fluid and contentious, subject to various changes and interpretations, disputes and affirmations.” In the cultural heritage and history of Norfolk and Pitcairn Islands, such a statement rings quite true; the two colonies, both originally British dependencies (Norfolk Island is now a colony of New Zealand), have a history in which one island culture has made a significant impact on the other.

A mix of history, ethnomusicology and culture studies, Hayward’s book provides a chronological examination of the role of music in the identity of Norfolk and Pitcairn Island communities. Hayward states that “In particular, I offer analyses of the manner in which the culture of Norfolk and Pitcairn Island have been created and re-created through processes of adoption and synthesis.” Such synthesis is evident in the smooth transition between Hayward’s examination of these island cultures connected by a single event: the Bounty mutiny. The famous mutiny, however, is only the beginning of Hayward’s text.

Apart from establishing a discussion of the expressive culture of Norfolk and Pitcairn Islands, Hayward also tells of how both islands were settled. While discussing the islands’ settlement, he does an excellent job of intertwining the role of music and dance in a society compounded by British Protestants and Polynesians. Letters, journals, and personal experience narratives of early settlers are put to good use in describing the emotions of settlement, and song lyrics also provide an example of the ideals held by the colonists. Such lyrics sometimes stand in sharp contrast to the ideals held by the Polynesians, and Hayward discusses this as being important in the developments of these islands’ identity.

Movement is also a core part of Hayward’s examination of the island cultures, whether through migration, transition or presentation. The movement of Pitcairn Islanders away from and back to their homelands resulted in outside sponsorship, a conversion to Seventh-Day Adventism, and a sway between the British past and the American orientation of the Adventist church. The latter prevailed on the island, providing a narrowing of cultural influences and a diffusion of cultural change patterns.

In Norfolk Island, where a revival of Polynesianism was taking place following the decline of the Melanesian Mission, we learn, in a straightforward manner, of the conservative yet pleasure-loving sensibilities of the islanders. A lot of journal and diary entries are utilized to display the outside reactions, and are presented in a way that is accessible to readers while being informative to scholars.

The revival discussed in the previous paragraph was also parallel to the rise of outside musical genres in Norfolk Island, and Hayward provides many examples of the influences coming from the United States, Australia and New Zealand. From a focus on parlor music and community singings to the incorporation of jazz, hillbilly and minstrel music into the Norfolk repertoire, it is possible to see the divide between “Culture” and “culture” that began to take shape in the island’s culture.

In addition to looking at music on Norfolk Island that is influenced by outside music, Hayward also speaks of how the island’s language and heritage is found in song; it is done through a context of musicians identifying with being a descendant of settlers of Pitcairn Island. Hayward not only includes songs from the last century, but also provides readers with the stories of people who only recently began to compose music on the island, such as George “Toofie” Christian and Kath King. It is here that we learn of their repertoire, personal histories and songwriting processes.

These artists’ personal history and musicianship is not only brought to the attention of ethnomusicologists, but also provides room for Hayward’s personal involvement with the musicians to be discussed. This section of the book is where his involvement begins to serve as a segway into a discussion of collaboration and applied sector work; it does not do so, however, without first discussing the history of Pitcairn Island from 1945 to 2005. An era of major outside influence and liberalization of Adventist ideology, this period of Pitcairn history is dramatically marked by the sexual abuse crises during the first decade of the 21st century.

Hayward, in his evaluation of these recent events and the local response to the crises, is informative without passing judgment. The Pitcairn musician Meralda Warren, whose repertoire was aided by Hayward, is not only examined for her important contributions to local society, but also of her defense of the men involved with (and eventually convicted of) sexual abuse. Her claims “that Pitcairn sexual customs and traditions were distinct from Britain” demonstrate how the events have shaped recent history, and possibly, the future of the island; Hayward concludes with that, letting Warren and the others speak for themselves.

Warren’s defense of Pitcairn sexual practices, however, takes a backseat, emphasis-wise, to her efforts to make local culture available for the future islanders. This is also an interest of Hayward, who utilizes the conclusion and afterword Bounty Chords to promote suggestions for cultural heritage promotion. His work with both Norfolk and Pitcairn islanders is easily (both for himself and the reader) summarized into the ideas that a) preserving and maintaining tradition is vital, b) cultural hybridity does not threaten local tradition, and c) developing new traditions can ensure cultural longevity. These points provoked various responses, further strengthening Hayward’s point that not all members of a culture have to embrace a certain item of heritage. This is, in fact, one of his strongest points.

One of the most vital portions of this text, to go with the above, is the discussion of academic politics in relation to Hayward’s collaborative efforts with both island cultures. Hayward’s digital archiving, recording and promotional efforts, when discussed with scholars, were met with criticism out of the idea that “it did not so much encourage and facilitate distinct, autonomous cultural expression as replicate a series of cultural practices…in different localities.” Hayward defends his actions, stating that all indvidual or group activities are going to have some form of agenda. His work as a scholar is a small speck in comparison to the history, culture and practices of creating, shaping and passing on the musical and dance traditions of Norfolk and Pitcairn Islands. This discussion is exactly that, creating a conclusion that is relevant to scholars while keeping the people of the islands themselves as the ones to receive focus.