Welcome to the website and blog of author Monique Layton.
Monique Layton and Bill Arnott, author and moderator of SFU Philosophers' Café, at the launch of Monique’s book, Everyday Evil (Tidewater Press, 2019) at the Book Warehouse in Vancouver, October 15, 2019.
Sept. 1, 2015: The New Arcadia is featured in the Autumn 2015 issue of BC Bookworld.
There is more to Tahiti than Paul Gauguin The initial reason Monique Layton became interested in French Polynesia was escapism. Having spent almost five months in hospital and nine months in rehab following a serious accident, she had started to research and write an ethnography of hospital life–a tad depressing but within her wheelhouse as an anthropologist. “Then one day, straight out of the antipodal part of my brain,” she says “came up the word Tahiti…” All she knew about it was the cliché of palm trees, beaches, dancing vahines. “I started reading,” says, “and soon fell in love, totally in love, like a teenager. I was in pretty weakened condition, it’s true, but it was definitely love.” Monique Layton went twice (2012 and 2014) and plans on returning next year. Seduced, she even practised speaking French with the charming Tahitian accent once she heard it spoken on the islands. “The Tahitian reality is often grim,” she says, “but the mirage somehow endures." As an anthropologist, she wanted to show how and why eighteenth-century Otaheite became twenty-first-century Tahiti. Consequently Layton has self-published The New Arcadia: Tahiti’s Cursed Myth (FriesenPress, 2015). Based on historical records, sailors’ journals, Ma’ohi epic poetry, European paintings, folkloric events, the film industry, and novels by modern Tahitian writers, The New Arcadia follows the passage from Otaheite’s paradisal way of life through the disastrous encounters with European civilization, ending with French Polynesia’s modern prospects. Most remarkable of all is the enduring Ma’ohi culture’s survival into the twenty-first century. Evidence of its former potency still remains, notably in the marae, once used for all religious and social occasions, often dominated by carved panels, the unus. “Unfortunately, Polynesians were not builders,” says Layton, “and only a few black stones attest to the sanctity of these marae, most of which have been restored by the French." Notably, the Taputapuatea marae on the island of Raitea (see below) was one of the most sacred places in the whole of Polynesia.”Tapu” means taboo, sacred. Thus the Taputapu at the beginning of the word means twice sacred, and the Taputapuatea marae is one of the most venerated vestiges of a once-thriving, pre-contact, culture.
French artist Paul Gauguin exoticized Tahiti and the Tahitian way of life in his paintings. According to Layton, since being “discovered” in 1767, Tahiti has been branded with “the irresistible dual myth of the Noble Savage’s harmonious Arcadian life and of the vahine’s amorous favours freely granted. People (navigators, missionaries, whalers, slavers) and events (deadly epidemics, atomic testing, and now tourism), all have contributed over time to creating the modern Tahitian quandary: trying to recover an idealized past and losing the benefits of modern life, or continuing as a cog in the French administrative system and losing her soul.”