The Stolen Island: Searching for ‘Ata
by Scott Hamilton (BWB Texts, paper $14.99; e-book $4.99)
Reviewed by Michael Horowitz
Located even further south than temperate Noumea, Tonga’s tiny island of ‘Ata might have become the jewel of the kingdom’s burgeoning tourist industry. Imagine a Tongan resort that would not only be mild in winter, but pleasant in summer.
Alas, it was not to be. As Scott Hamilton poignantly describes in his concise account, Stolen Island, an Australian whaler anchored offshore in June 1863 … tricked nearly half the island’s over 300 inhabitants to come aboard to trade … then locked the exits and delivered them to a slave ship bound for Peru. Shortly after their arrival in port, the Peruvian government enforced its abolition of slavery and ordered all captured islanders, including Tahitians and Tongans, repatriated. Yet the prisoners were again betrayed: this time by being labelled a medical threat by the captain of the returning vessel and dumped on remote Cocos island, where all but 38 perished. Finally in November, a Peruvian warship brought survivors to the seaside village of Paita, where the descendants of some ‘Atans may possibly carry on today.