Leaves of the Banyan tree by Albert Wendt

leaves of the banyan tree

Leaves of the Banyan tree by Albert Wendt

Samoan fiction

Source – personnel copy

When Lisa  of anzlitlovers announced Indigenous writers week AI wanted to find something unusual ,I search and searched and eventually found Albert Wendt a Samoan writer of German heritage ,Leaves of the Banyan tree is considered his best book ,it won the New Zealand book of the year in 198o .He has taught at various universities around Fiji and Hawaii ,has now settled in New Zealand .He was made a companion of New Zealand order of Merit in the queens Honours in 2013  .

Although the arrival of the papalagi had brought changes to the bush they too had been slow .Even when men used more efficient Papalagi tools the bush sooner or later crept back over their feeble clearings ,The tempo of change had quickened in Tauilopepe’s own lifetime ,But out of the recent attempts to conquer the bush only Malo ,the first Sapepean to realise the rich profits to be made by using Papalagi implements and knowledge ,seemed to be succeeding .

Tauilopepe sees how he could make the leaves of banyan work


So leaves of the Banyan tree ,is the name of the book but also a plantation  started by the main character in the book Tauilopepe  ,that during the book is started in Samoa’s sapepe island  .The book is a family saga that of Tauilopepe and his family  ,we meet him as a youngster now time frame isn’t mention a lot til later in the book when we find out about Samoan independence which was in 1962 so the book starts in the 1920’s it far to say .We are on the island of Sapepe we see Tauilopepe grow into a man and take a wife then have a son the second part of the story follows the sons story ,we see how Samoa copes with its new-found freedom .A lot of the story revolves around family  Tauilopepe has a desire to break the shackles of being Samoan ,he wants to rise and be equal  by the Papalagi (the people of white European origins that still tend to hold the power in Tauilopepe time ).But in doing so over time his family falls apart and he maybe loses who he is as a person .

I am a product of my own imagination .I am also as another writer has put it ” a product of our times” .A product of history and whole movement propelling our country towards an unknown future ,or shall I say ,I am the future .If I am evil then our whole history has been drifting toward evil .I cannot feel what other-worlders feel because I am free of that world ,I won our little game because of that and because of the time and place .

Tauilopepe nearing the end looking back on what his life has been .

Now to me Samoa meant the rugby team ,I knew very little else about this small pacific island and its people ,so Wendt’s  book opened a door into a new world .Wendt beauty is the fact he has kept the book, real with  the use of a lot of Samoan words like Papalagi ,Lavalava (the traditional dress in samoa ),tatau (a type of tatoo ),siva (a dance ) and so on the is a welcome index of these words at the end to check the context of them .What he has is a classic view of a world in Flux Samoa is struggling to catch up with the outside modern world ,this is mainly viewed as New Zealand ,Tauilopepe is an example of how some could tackle this new world ,but his is also a cautionary tale of how to tackle this word ,as he lose his sons .The Samoa painted is a world of traditional values trying to cope in a modern world ,will these families so close for so long survive ,will the age-old traditions survive  ,even will Samoan ,with the outsiders using English ,Samoans going to New Zealand to study .I’m surprised this book isn’t better known as Wendt is a talented writer ,I for one will be downloading his other books over time .

Have you a favourite Indigenous novel or book from the pacific ?#


11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Reviews from Indigenous Literature Week at ANZ Litlovers 2013 | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
  2. Lisa Hill
    Jul 14, 2013 @ 12:35:05

    Thanks for joining in ILW Stu, I really appreciate your support. This sounds like a very interesting book, Stu, I’ve never read anything from Samoa.


  3. biblioglobal
    Jul 14, 2013 @ 16:20:47

    Sounds fascinating! I’ve added it as a planned read to represent Samoa.

    The only indigenous Pacific book I’ve read so far is The Bone People by Keri Hulme who is of mixed European and indigenous New Zealand ancestry. It was both amazing at times and completely infuriating at other times.


  4. Nana Fredua-Agyeman
    Jul 14, 2013 @ 17:30:56

    I have read a few (1 or 2) Australian authors and that’s how far it goes. I like such stories of changes and gradual changes. I enjoyed reading your review. You introduce me to such writers as I will never find here in bookshops.


  5. Claire 'Word by Word'
    Jul 14, 2013 @ 19:11:41

    Fascinating and such an apt recommendation, my father is currently in Samoa celebrating his 73rd birthday while his wife and her family are celebrating her 60th birthday – she used to live in Samoa in the 80’s and has a special connection to it. Now I know what I shall send them as a commemorating gift! I’ve already sent them a birthday message in Samoan 🙂

    Yes Keri Hulme’s The Bone People is outstanding, Witi Ihimaera’s Pounamu Pounamu is an excellent collection of stories and he’s written many novels as well. I really enjoyed Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones, who is a New Zealand writer. But my favourite work by a New Zealand writer is Hummingbird by James George, I heard him read a few years ago here in France and loved the book.


    • Lisa Hill
      Jul 15, 2013 @ 08:35:00

      Hi Claire, I’m interested in that book you recommend, Hummingbird. I went to your blog to see if I could find a review but I couldn’t find it. Can you tell me more about it please?


  6. Caroline
    Jul 15, 2013 @ 08:06:58

    I’d really like to read this. I’ve read about Samaoa when I studied cultural anthropology but I have never read a Samoan writer. Thanks for the review.


  7. Lisa Hill
    Jul 20, 2013 @ 03:02:37

    Just tried to order this today, but it’s $33 from a local supplier and once I add postage to 2nd hand from AbeBooks, it’s about the same. I wonder why it’s so much more expensive than other comparable books?? I’m going to scout around the libraries before I shell out for it….


  8. Lisa Hill
    Oct 18, 2018 @ 21:20:21

    Hey (five years later) I finally found an affordable copy. It’s a Kindle edition, but for $5 I can put up with that:)


  9. Lisa Hill
    Oct 18, 2018 @ 21:59:53

    It’s because I found this list of Pasifica writers: http://www.laniwendtyoung.com/our-stories-tala-mai-le-moana/


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July 2013


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