Bliss is in the eye of the beholder


Early Pacific missionaries may have regarded the dangerous work necessary to earn a place in paradise as more hell than heaven, often getting eaten for their trouble, but later followers had it easier.  Mangareva under Father Laval may have come closest to a priestly paradise, though not for his parishioners. 

Had the devil wished to tempt Jesus from a Pacific hilltop rather than Palestine, he could have done no better than Hessessai in the Louisiades.  St Francis of Assisi mght have believed an outer Galápagos island to be close to his vision of paradise.  A divine person calling himself the Holy Mama actually lives in Paradise, for he has named his village in New Georgia thus.

For ultimate materialism, the Jon Frum cult of Tanna can’t be beaten; their paradise is defined as heaps of western goods.  Nauru glimpsed paradise with its phosphate riches, which briefly put its few citizens among the world’s richest.

Gauguin found his paradise in Hiva Oa, and de Bougainville was sure it was Tahiti.  John Adams, the last survivor of the Bounty mutiny, created his in Pitcairn, as did Rudolf Wahlen a hundred years later in Maron, and Robert Louis Stevenson at Apia in the meantime. 

Yachtsmen may think themselves in paradise in Vava’u, the Astrolabe or central Vanuatu, for the world’s warm waters can offer no more delightful cruising. For anthropologists, Kiriwina would be a lifetime passion.

The senses are endlessly spoilt.  The smell of paradise is copra and frangipani while everywhere music and singing delight the ears.  For dazzling beauty Bora Bora, Ureparapara, Fatu Hiva and the Rock Islands are jewels studded into the ocean.  Maybe the greatest loveliness lies under the surface of the ocean, the kingdom of the coral reef. The Western Province of Papua New Guinea and New Georgia stand out among many contenders for divers’ watery paradise.

Yet there are plenty of those who get it wrong like Margaret Mead in Samoa or beachcombers who fail to see the downside. And some are fooled by paradise salesmen, most infamously the Marquis de Ray in New Ireland.

My leading contenders for the perfect island as seen through hungry western eyes? Perhaps Palmerston, Maupiti, Niue, Hermit or Simbo. But caution is needed: I fantasized my paradise on Foeta; a few weeks later a cyclone destroyed everything on the island.