Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Noa Noa: The Tahitian Journal [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Paul Gauguin.
Although based on his journals, Noa Noa is really a crafted memoir of Gaugin’s time in Tahiti. At the outset, it seems as if it is going to be a tragic tale of the European seeking to escape alienation by immersing himself in a traditional culture of the colonial sphere, only to find that his condition is inescapable, and that he himself perpetuates it no matter where he goes. And that reading could be sustained–but it’s not Gaugin’s assertion. Instead, he claims to have succeeded in “going native” sufficiently to be spiritually rehabilitated and creatively inspired.
A considerable section toward the end of the book is given over to an attempt to describe indigenous Tahitian religion, with special attention to cosmogonic myths and the rituals involved with the secret society of Areois which is supposed to have ruled the island in the pre-colonial period. Most spectacularly, Gaugin relates his understanding of the Matumua ceremonies transacted with the enthronement of a new king. This rite allegedly culminated in a royal gang-bang: as Gaugin suggests (in more circumspect phrasing), it was a formalized opportunity for the people to screw the king before he’d screw them.
Gaugin’s language emphasizes the sensuous throughout, although he refrains from being too explicit regarding the conspicuous erotic contents of his own experiences. His relationship to his eventual native bride offers the unselfconscious intimation that the way he exploits the island paradise may not be so far removed from the other agents of that prudish and dirty Christian civilization he professes to deplore.