Cowboys and Coconuts Robert Dean Frisbie in the Colonial Pacific
Once famous in his own right, Robert Dean Frisbie is now as much remembered for fathering the first Pacific Islander to publish a book-length narrative. His teenage daughter, Florence, nicknamed 'Johnny' in tribute to her father's taste for whiskey, produced a lively travelog/autobiography, Miss Ulysses from Puka Puka, in 1948 in which she mixes tales of island life, metaphors from the Greek classics and images of herself and her siblings as 'cowboys.' This last image derives from her father's American origins and the occasional US movie that made it to the Pacific in the 1920s and 1930s. Florence records how her father's greatest success, The Book of Puka Puka, published in New York by Century (1929), contained a fantasy in which 'native cowboys ride horses down the narrow streets of Puka.' She suspects her father was homesick at the time, since according to her recollections of growing up at the outer reaches of the Cook Islands, 'there has never been an animal larger than a pig on the island' (J. Frisbie 1959, 33). This overlay of American thinking on an island operating by Polynesian codes within Protestant mission rules and British, then New Zealand, colonial administration is what I want to look at.