liz's Reviews > Breadfruit

Breadfruit by Célestine Hitiura Vaite
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's review
Apr 23, 2007

liked it
bookshelves: international
Read in February, 2007

So my longstanding personal interest in Tahiti has become supplemented by a professional interest (which somewhat diminishes my personal interest, but probably not why you'd think), and plus I've never seen a Tahitian novel before. Materena loves Pito, they've been partners for years and have two wonderful children together, but Materena is dying to make it official, and get married, already. Or is she? Follow her along the island as she visits relatives and decides. The book would be about half its length if it stuck to the plot, which I really think is mostly a framework for various anecdotes (remembered, invented, and otherwise) about what it means to be Tahitian.

"A long time ago," Loana begins, "long before the airplanes were invented and long before the television was invented, there was a princess called Hina.
"When Hina turned sixteen years old, her father told her that she was to marry the prince of Lake Vahiria. Hina looked forward to meeting the prince, but when they were finally introduced, she saw that, as well as being ugly, the prince of Lake Vahiria was an eel. She was horrified and swore to herself that she was never going to marry that repulsive eel.
"But the eel lost his heart to the beautiful princess within a second. He would not take no for an answer, so Princess Hina decided to have him killed. She appealed to God Maui for help. God Maui captured the eel, cut him into three slices, and wrapped the head of the eel in tapa cloth. He gave it to Princess Hina with strict instructions to immediately bury it in the familial marae.
"But Princess Hina forgot all about Maui's instructions and went for a swim in the river on her way home. Not long after, the earth began to tremble and a tree sprouted -- a strange-looking tree resembling an eel. On her way home, a voice cried out, 'One day, Princess Hina, you're going to look into my eyes, you're going to kiss my mouth. You're going to love me.'
"Princess Hina, she just laughed.
"Years passed and a terrible drought hit the islands of Tahiti. People everywhere were dying from thirst. Hina went back to that strange-looking tree. One of her servants picked up one of its round fruits and peeled it. Princess Hina saw the three dots and remembered the eel's words. The servant pierced a hole in the dot, and Princess Hina pressed her lips on the eel's mouth and drank the sweet water. There and then she realized how much the eel had loved her, and loved her still."
Moana wants to hold the coconut, and Loana puts it in his hand.
"This is the legend of the coconut," she says. "Tell it to your kids."

One of the quotes on the back compares the title character to Mma Ramotswe from the #1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which did increase my curiousity. I can kind of see the comparison between the books, more because of the worldview depicted and the way it's expressed than because of any strong similarities between the two characters. I think McCall Smith has more of a serious goal, whereas Vaite wrote out of homesickness, and love.

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