Sons for the Return Home
Sons for the Return Home (Paul Maunder, 1979) NZ; novel by Albert Wendt, Samoa
I watched Sons for the Return Home (Paul Maunder, 1979) because I knew the author of the novel slightly when I was working in Fiji, at USP, where he was at that time Professor of Pacific Literature. I wanted to see what I might learn about him from the film. And I must say that the actor who plays Sione, Uelese Petaia, looked and acted remarkably like the way I remember the writer. Here's the story of an encounter with him which I thought was most characteristic. I turned 40 soon after arriving in Suva, and took up running at that time, mainly so that I could run with the Hash House Harriers on a Monday night and get pleasantly pissed afterwards. But I used to run on other days during the week to keep fit. The best run was around Queen Elizabeth Rd, which goes right around the southern end of Suva Point. There are no buildings nearby, and few cars use the road, because it's not the shortest way from anywhere to anywhere else: it's a semi-circle. There's rarely anyone on foot, for the same reason. The ocean is yards away, and then there's just the trade winds from the southeast, with the purest air on the planet. It's hard to imagine anywhere better to run. So there I am in 1984 or 1985, enjoying my lone run, when I see the Samoan Professor coming towards me. We are going to pass shoulder to shoulder. There's no-one else within half a mile. I know who he is, of course. And he prolly knows who I am, as I have a fairly senior position at the same small University. Should I greet him? And if so, how? 'Good afternoon, Professor'? 'Talofa'? Being me, I deferred to him, for two reasons: he was senior in both senses (he's four years older), and it was his region – I was the foreigner, the palagi, to use the Samoan term (the Fijian is valagi). And what did he do? Nothing. We passed like ships in the night. In the bright Pacific sunlight, he did not see me at all.
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