The initial reason Monique Layton became interested in French Polynesia was escapism. Having spent about 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 cliche 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."

She went twice (2012 and 2014) and even practiced speaking French with a Tahitian accent once she heard it spoken on the islands. Due to limited mobility, she can't see as much of the archipelago as she'd like, but she intends to return.

"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.

For instance, the Taputapuatea marae (on the island of Raitea) was one of the most sacred places in Polynesia. "Tapu" means taboo, sacred. Thus the Taputapu at the beginning of the word means twice sacred. Taputautea marae is still visited today as one of the vestiges of a once-thriving, pre-contact, culture.

"Unfortunately, Polynesians were not builders," says Layton, "and a few black stones only attest to the sanctity of these marae, most of which have been restored by the French. They were used for all religious and social occasions. At the back, the platform shows some carved panels, the unus."

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."

Also as a cultural anthropologist, Monique Layton produced Street Women and the Art of Bullshitting (Webzines of Vancouver) based on 1970s research that led to a 1975 B.C. Police Commission report called 'Prostitution in Vancouver (1973-1975): Formal and Informal Reports', as well as a doctoral dissertation.

Monique Layton's wide-ranging first book, Notes From Elsewhere: Travel and Other Matters (iUniverse 2011) recalls her childhood in Morocco, the pitfalls of language, her sense of isolation working in mental hospitals and prisons, the difficulties of having the semblance of a normal life while living abroad and as an immigrant, and the many countries and places she has visited as a cultural anthropologist.

In her book, In Life at Sea (2017), anthropologist Monique Layton draws on her experiences on modern cruise ships to examine the evolution of sailing from the Age of Exploration to the Age of Tourism. Using historical records and the reports of people who once went to sea through necessity, curiosity, or adventure, she shows the common events that have shaped their voyages and the ingenuity, courage, and determination that characterize mankind's connection with the all-surrounding sea.

Voices from the Lower Deck (2019) examines the role of folklore as the instrument of integration and bonding for the ordinary seafarer during the Age of Sail. Mainly based on contemporary sailors narratives and historical and folkloric texts, the book evokes common themes: the harsh environment, the cruel discipline, the brutal way of life, and the release of onshore carousing and whoring, but also the coordinated work and effort of daily tasks and the tremendous pride of seeing themselves as unique men against a background of landlubbers. The psychological and physical survival of these disparate men from many origins depended on their rapid integration into the common culture - the folklore and the folkways - of what historians have called 'the wooden world.'


Street Women and the Art of Bullshitting (Webzines of Vancouver) 978-1-926820-20-0

Translator of: Structural Anthropology II (New York: Basic Books, 1976. Republished by the University of Chicago Press, 1983) by Claude Levi-Strauss.

Notes from Elsewhere. Travel and Other Matters (iUniverse 2011).
ISBN: 978-1-4620-3649 (sc) $21.95
ISBN: 978-1-4620-3651 (hc)
ISBN: 978-1-4620 - 3650 (e)

The New Arcadia. Tahiti's Cursed Myth (FriesenPress, 2015). 978-1-4602-6859-9 (hardcover)
978-1-4602-6860- (paperback)
978-1-4602-6861-2 (eBook)

Life at Sea: From Caravels to Cruise Ships (FriesenPress, 2017)
978-1-5255-0092-3 (hardcover)
978-1-5255-0093-0 (paperback)
978-1-1-5255-0094-7 (e-Book)

Everyday Evil:Why Our World is the Way It Is (Tidewater Press, 2019)
978-1-7751659-6-5 (paperback)

Voices from the Lower Deck: Folklore and Folkways of the Sea (FriesenPress, 2019)

[BCBW 2019]