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If the Pacific ocean and its islands were to be some kind of a state, than this song: “My Island Home”, would be perfect as its national anthem. Written by an Australian, it was then adapted in Tahitian by a Hawaiian to become an instant classic in French Polynesia!
“My Island Home” was written by an Australian, Neil Murray, while he was performing in the Warumpi Band, a country and aboriginal rock band. It was back in the 80’s. He describes on his website how he got the inspiration to compose it and write it down :
“Living like kings on bush tucker and sea food”
“My island home” came to me on a bus one night in June 1985 while traveling from Melbourne to Sydney. (…) I had been living in the deserts of Central Australia for some six years. (…) The Warumpi Band had just completed a national tour and at the conclusion of it I had spent a week with our singer George Rrurrambu, at his home at Galiwinku ( Elcho Island) in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory. We were camped on a remote part of the island with his family and had been living like kings on bush tucker and sea food caught by ourselves. It seemed like paradise at the time.”
“An exceptional longing to be back in a boat”
“I had to leave and make trips to Melbourne and Sydney in mid winter to promote the band. On the overnight bus trip to Sydney I suffered an exceptional longing to be back in a boat on a tropical sea. The words came to me, I was singing it in my head. I had no notebook with me. I held onto the tune till I got to Sydney and pulled my guitar out of the luggage to find the chords. I completed the verses with a view to George Rrurrambu singing it, which he did.
The Warumpi Band recorded “My Island Home” in 1986, released in 1987. Christine Anu released her version a decade later. The Tiddas recorded a lovely version for the film “Radiance”. George Rrurrambu has included a Gumatj language version of the song on his debut solo album “Nerbu Message” I know that the song has also been recorded and released by a group in Tahiti.”
My name is Taema, I am a native of Tahiti, French Polynesia. I was born in 1978 from an adventurous European father and a South Polynesian mother, descendant of an ancient lineage of expert seafarers. I have always lived here, except one year, when I was a boy. My parents went to live in Sydney, Australia. So did I. It was in in 1985. Coincidentally, it was exactly at the same time the song was written. I could have crossed the way of the author in these days, without noticing it. Who knows?
I went to school in Sydney and had the chance to be immersed in an daily enriching multicultural life. One of my brothers, Arthur, was even born there. We all came back to the good old Tahitian life one year later, in 1986. Not long after, I began hearing “My Island Home” on the local radio.
The song had actually been adapted and sung by two very famous local artists : Bobby and Angelo. The first was a Hawaiian. He was a wandering artist (he sung and also did some very original and symbolic paintings which are now quite prized on the International Art Market) who had fallen in love with Polynesia. He had finally settled down in a humble fare, a local sea hut, in the magnificent, “feminine” and mystical island of Huahine. The second was, at the time, a much young singer, half European and half Tahitian native. The kind of engaged artist cherishing his islands and some kind of herald of a Polynesian Cultural Renewal which had begun in the 60’s.
I can totally understand why they must have fell in love with the song written by Neil Murray, and why they decided to adapt it here, in Tahiti. I, myself, cannot hear or sing it without identifying totally with the lyrics. I always immediately feel a pleasant physical chill.
However, they did more than just adapt the song. They sort of “upgraded” it with the inclusion of Tahitian Lyrics. The two artists sang together the song and recorded it with each one singing one langage, and the two of them completing a perfect harmonious duo.
This Tahitian version of “My Island Home” made a big hit at home. It was three decades ago, and the song has taken its place, over time, in the local cultural legacy. Every native, or anyone who has lived for some time in French Polynesia knows and loves it. Here is one of the rare videos left of one of their performance.
This song is actually one of the very few originating from the Pacific with such resonance, crossing political borders and being adapted by so many cross-cultural artists. Polynesians, Europeans, Aborigines have sung it, most of the time together, united by the same spirit. The spirit of a Pacifican. The one that recalls us to the magnificence of our motherly Ocean homeland, which has nurtured and grown us on its cherished waters.
See also a local modern adaptation from Pepena, a very successful contemporary Tahitian band.