The South Pacific in the works of Robert Dean Frisbie


  • Nataša Potočnik Maribor



American literature / literary studies


Robert Dean Frisbie (1896-1948) was one of the American writers who came to live in the South Pacific and wrote about his life among the natives. He published six books between 1929 and his death in 1948. Frisbie was horn in Cleveland, Ohio, on 16 April1896. He attended the Raja Yoga Academy at Point Loma in California. Later he enlisted in the U. S. army and was medically discharged from the army in 1918 with a monthly pension. After his work as a newspaper columnist and reporter for an army newspaper in Texas, and later for the Fresno Morning Republican, he left for Tahiti in 1920. 

In Tahiti he had ambitious writing plans but after four years of living in Tahiti, he left his plantation and sailed to the Cook Islands. He spent the rest of his life in the Cook Islands and married a local girl Ngatokorua. His new happiness gave him the inspiration to write. 29 sketches appeared in the United States in 1929, collected by The Century Company under the title of The Book of Puka-Puka. His second book My Tahiti, a book of memories, was published in 1937. After the death of Ropati 's beloved wife his goals were to bring up his children. But by this time Frisbie was seriously ill. The family left Puka-Puka and settled down on the uninhabited atoll of Suwarrow. Later on they lived on Rarotonga and Samoa where Frisbie was medically treated. Robert Dean Frisbie died of tetanus in Rarotonga on November 18, 1948. Frisbie wrote in a vivid, graceful style. His characters and particularly the atoll of Puka-Puka are memorably depicted. Gifted with a feeling for language and a sense of humor, he was able to capture on paper the charm, beauty, and serenity of life of the small islands in the South Pacific without exaggerating the stereotypical idyllic context and as such Frisbie's contribution to South Pacific literature went far deeper than that of many writers who have passed through the Pacific and wrote about their experiences. Frisbie's first book The Book of Puka-Puka was published in New York in 1929. It is the most endearing and the most original of his works. It was written during his lifetime on the atoll Puka-Puka in the Cook Islands. It is a collection of 29 short stories, episodic and expressively narrative in style. This is an account of life on Puka-Puka that criticizes European and American commercialism and aggressiveness, and presents the themes of the praise of isolation, the castigation of missionaries, and the commendation of Polynesian economic collectivism and sexual freedom. At the same time, the book presents a portrait of Frisbie himself, a journal of his day-to-day experiences and observations and avivid description of the natives on the island. Frisbie's unique knowledge of the natives and their daily lives enabled him to create in The Book of Puka-Puka an impressive gallery of vi vid, amusing, yet very real and plausible Polynesians. The second  book of Robert Dean Frisbie to appear in print was My Tahiti (1937), a book of -memoirs, published in Boston. My Tahiti is a book of 30 short stories about the author and his living among Tahitians. Again, Robert Dean Frisbie is the main hero in the book and as such the book is autobiographical in a sense as well. This book is a personal record which has charm and distinction as it has sincerity, which is in the men, women and children of Tahiti, and which brings an effortless and unpretentious humor to depict a South Seas idyll and a quiet poise to withstand the insidious romance of the tropical islands, too.


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1. 12. 2001




How to Cite

Potočnik, N. (2001). The South Pacific in the works of Robert Dean Frisbie. Acta Neophilologica, 34(1-2), 59-71.