The South Pacific

Americans often learned about Bora Bora and other places in the region, such as Hawaii and Fiji, from popular culture, including the 1950s smash hit South Pacific.  The play, and film, were about American troops’ occupation of the islands. They romanticized the relations between the locals and the GIs, and it portrayed the South Pacific people and place as enchanting, exotic, and naive. As with many colonial outposts around the world, this problematic image of the Polynesian people as less-developed helped justify the West’s occupation.  After the war, big hotel chains, such as Marriott, moved in and began to market Bora Bora as a paradise on Earth. They turned it into a prime vacation spot. The very posh hotels provide some economic stability to the Bora Borans, but nothing compared to the profits of the western enterprises there. 


Americans often learned about Bora Bora and other places in the region, such as Hawaii and Fiji, from popular culture, including the 1950s smash hit South Pacific.  The play, and film, were about American troops’ occupation of the islands. They romanticized the relations between the locals and the GIs, and it portrayed the South Pacific people and place as enchanting, exotic, and naive.  After the war, big hotel chains, such as Marriott, moved in and began to market Bora Bora as a paradise on Earth. They turned it into a prime vacation spot, which provided some economic stability to the Bora Borans.

These Bora Boran children’s facial expressions suggest they engaged with the American soldier who took their picture. Credit: Black and white photograph, photographer unknown, 1942-43. Delaware Military Museum Archives.

This grass skirt was one of many that the Bora Borans’ made for the tourist market.  They sold them to the men of the 198th who brought the grass skirts home as souvenirs. Objects like this one came to symbolize the South Pacific for many Americans. Credit: Black and white photograph, photographer unknown, 1942-43. Delaware Military Museum Archives.

The people of Bora Bora performed dances for the men of the 198th. These sorts of staged events expressed regional culture and earned locals money, but they also can leave the impression that the community doesn’t change over time. Credit: Black and white photograph, photographer unknown, 1942-43. Delaware Military Museum Archives.