Moses Maladina’s Novel – Tabu

Legacy of an Affair in Papua New GuineaHow many of you have read Moses Maladina’s 2003 novel, Tabu?

The book itself is one of only a handful of books written by a Papua New Guinean which has been published overseas, in this case, New Zealand.

After buying the book and reading it myself, I searched the internet looking for comments other readers may have made about the book. No matter how hard I looked, I could not find a single book review or comment concerning Tabu anywhere online. So, the following is my book review concerning Maladina’s first novel.

Tabu’s plot is quite straightforward. It will not take the reader too long to make the connection and have a good punt at what the outcome of the story will be. But don’t let that dismay you as it did me, because the further you read into Tabu, the more you begin to realise that underneath the simple story-line there lies a series of complicated events that aptly reflect the changing environment Tabu is set in.

I quite liked the method Maladina chose to unravel his story by jumping in between two main settings: 1933 and 1997. It not only breathes life into the plot, but it also ensures that the reader is constantly reminded of how radically times have changed since 1933.

One thing that Maladina must be complimented on is the amount of historical detail he includes in Tabu. The book could have been written without these valuable little pockets of information, but without them Tabu would have been much the poorer. This also reflects the amount of research the author must have completed before joining together the threads of his story. I quite enjoyed reading a bit about Sir Hubert Murray and even if the novel is fiction, Maladina can’t be that far away from accurately describing Murray’s character.

In hindsight, there are two main points that really bugged me about Tabu. Firstly, Maladina managed to roughly include the Sandline Affair into the novel. I really do think that he could have made a smoother approach to the inclusion of this dramatic event as part of his storyline. His inclusion of the Sandline Affair seemed a little “rushed” and I thought it just didn’t seem to fit properly – but maybe that’s what Maladina intended.

Secondly, the reader is only given a brief glimpse into the reunification of the family (the English side and the PNG side). I would have appreciated it if Tabu had allowed a real reunification of the two families. Yes, I suppose answers were found and peace was made, but Tabu would have been a lot more powerful if reunification had occurred and a proper connection established; a new legacy would have been established between Sitiveni and Elizabeth’s descendants.

Ultimately, Tabu is a comfortable read and opens the mind to how challenging it must have been for our fore-fathers and their families to adopt and adapt to a changing world – a change they did not ask for but were forced to accept. What makes Tabu more intriguing is that the basis for the novel, the actual facts, occurred less than 100 years ago in the history of our country.

This is just one PNG story that has been told – there are millions more to be told and Maladina must be congratulated for putting pen to paper and sharing Tabu. I for one do appreciate it.

~ by Tavurvur on January 10, 2009.

16 Responses to “Moses Maladina’s Novel – Tabu”

  1. Thanks T for the book review. Certainly well written. Tabu is one of those books that you promise yourself to read but never get around to doing. Will have to suss it out.

    • Having read my personally signed copy of the book by Moses himself, it is great to read a review and comments posted here. As a Fijian friend, I certainly identified with the themes and issues in the story especially the challenge in marrying two cultures. I particularly liked the approach of jumping in and out of two different time periods bringing to life real time contrasts in the plot. I enjoyed the book and it has a proud place on my bookshelf at home in New Zealand.

  2. […] Novels by PNG authors are as rare as hens teeth, so am glad that Tavurvur has taken the time to do a book review of Moses Maldina’s ‘Tabu’. Have a read here. […]

  3. Interesting review. There are many stories as significant as the events portrayed in ‘Tabu’ that can and should come out of PNG. We have competent PNG writers who should be encouraged to tell these stories, and of course these stories need to be told. Congratulations to Maladina for ‘Tabu’.

  4. Thanks Hilda for your comment. Yes, we do have many a competent writer but I do wish that our Government could step forward with some sort of support to help stimulate this important cultural aspect of our nation. Both Australia and NZ provide government grants that help authors to at least get their stories on manuscript – PNG should be doing the same. If our Government could just offer some sort of support to get PNG authors on their feet, I’m sure our writers will not disappoint.

  5. I accidently came across this review today whilst surfing the net.
    After having read ‘Tabu’ I’m begining to understand some of the issues of our colonial past that continues to affect our psyche and the decisions we make on all levels of society, more particularly by our politicians, senior bureaucrats and village leaders, most of whom had lived through the colonial era and who continue to make important decisions today that affect our lives.

    For the younger generation we need to learn and understand our historical past, which may explain as who we are and how we respond to certain issues. And unlike our current crop of elderly leaders, hopefully we, the younger generation, should be able to break from any emotional attachments of our colonial past, think laterally and confront the dramatic challenges facing us today on issues concerning exploitation, corruption, our rich natural resources and the future of our Nation. I appeciate Maladina’s ‘Tabu’ in which in his own subtle way portrays the issues and challenges confronting us today.

  6. I have just finished Tabu and agree with the review that if you dig abit deeper into the book you will find that the story is not merely about romance, politics and merceneries, but also an attempt by Maladina to highlight some of the issues and challenges we Papua New Guineans face today. No doubt Maladina has also set the bar for writing novels at a new level for Papua New Guineans.

  7. Thanks Tess and Chris for your comments! I’m impressed that a number of you have read TABU and have shared your thoughts about the novel here…and here I was thinking that I was the only one that had a copy of the book?!

    Chris makes a good point about learning about our past so we understand how we got to where we are today as a nation. Examining what caused the ailment is often the way to treat it. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the political arena after we lose our “colonial” leaders – Somare and Chan left.

    And I like how Tess describes Maladina’s efforts at highlighting modern issues facing PNG in TABU. Good point too.



  8. Greetings from Copenhagen. My name is Ingrid Petrova. I had the opportunity to visit your lovely country late last year for the ACP-EU meeting. The locals were very kind and friendly which made our stay pleasant. PNG a country diverse in cultures, languages the colors so beautiful. I look forward to visiting again and perhaps seeing other parts of this amazing country.

    I was fortunate to have picked up a copy of Tabu by Moses Maladina and enjoyed reading the tragic but beautiful love affair in paradise. The review and the comments posted have now given me a different perspective of the story from the local point of veiw. I would like to know if the author is a native of Papua New Guinea and if he has written other books which I can purchase?

    Kind regards


  9. Hello Ingrid :). I enjoy people commenting on my posts so thank you for your comment!

    Yes, Moses Maladina is from Papua New Guinea. His father’s family is from Molima, on Ferguson Island – Milne Bay Province (on the south-east coast of PNG); and his mother is from Baiyer River in the Western Highlands (interior PNG).

    Currently, Mr. Maladina is a politician and is the Member of Parliament for the Esa’ala Open in the Milne Bay Province. He is also a former CEO of Air Niugini and former Deputy Prime Minister. He is married to a New Zealander.

    As far as I know, Tabu was Maladina’s first and only book. You will find that there aren’t too many books about PNG written by Papua New Guineans – we are still developing as a country in the modern world.

    Even though Tabu was published in 2003, it is probably still the newest book about PNG written by a Papua New Guinean (If anybody out there knows of a newer book which will prove me wrong – please correct me).



  10. Hello again from Auckland.

    I find it interesting to note that Maladina is a product of a cross-cultural marriage, his mother from the highlands and father a papuan. This is a reflextion of the changing or rather the evolving nature of our society in PNG be it cultural, social and even in terms of our physical characteristics. Quite a contrast from less than a century ago when we all congregated in our own enclaves, perhaps for hundreds if not thousands of years, speaking our own unique languages and adhereing to our own cultural norms.
    The challenge for us as a nation seems to be that, as we evolve will we develope an underlying cultural identity of which we can all embrace as a people, or perhaps embrace our diversity as our commonality. I think whichever path we take will determine the progress and future of our country.



  11. Hello again Chris,

    National identity in PNG is a very interesting topic. I believe that our diversity is a strength even if it does make building national identity a difficult task – but, as you said, maybe that is our national identity?

    If you have not read it already, you should have a read of one of my previous posts and tell me what you think about it. Here’s the link:


  12. I have finished reading Tabu, I must say that it provides remarkable insight to how things were like in the colonial days. It also shows how far we’ve come and the progress yet to be made in this country. great read! thanks maladina


  13. Was fortunate to be given a copy of the book by Mr Maladina himself. enjoyed the read. Read it twice though and thought that parts of it like the Sandline crisis was an important event in PNG history that needed to be told as a story behind the story about the events that unfolded. Cheers

  14. Wow!! great read, emotional in parts. Has the potential for a feature film in the pacific, and having the colonial romance and the Sandline events run side by side. Also think the Sandline story should be told separately as it had a significant impact in PNG at the time. In any case I think Maladina did a fantastic job creatively linking the two stories.

    Meri Madang (Berkeley college, Manhattan, NY)

  15. This was a very great read and arguably the best fictional novel written by a PNGean so far.

    Maladina shows that with a little appreciation of our history, the greater world and the ever changing socio economic landscape that Papua New Guinea now is, we are indeed among the many wonderful backdrops a fiction could ever hope for……

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