At the age of 16, Celestine Hitiura Vaite married an Aussie surfer named Michael and eventually followed him from Faa’a, Tahiti, to New South Wales, Australia. Thirteen years later, while pregnant with their third child, Celestine wrote a short story based on her memories of Tahiti which has since grown into a trilogy of novels. Her heroine in the books is Materena Mahi, a cleaner who raises three children without much help from Pito Tehana, the husband who didn’t deserve his wife.
The first in the series, Breadfruit, published in 2000, is also titled The Marriage Proposal in some editions. In a moment of alcohol-induced weakness, Pito proposes to Materena after living with her for 14 years and fathering her three children. Materena doesn’t take him seriously but begins dreaming of her wedding, Meanwhile, Pito has forgotten about his proposal and Materena begins to wonder if she wants to marry him at all. Frangipani (2004) features Materena’s daughter Leilani and her struggle to reconcile the modern and traditional worlds. In Tiare (2006), Materena becomes a radio talk show personality and Pito discovers his role by caring for their baby granddaughter Tiare.
Originally written in English (not French or Tahitian), the trilogy outlines the role of extended families in Tahitian life through the antics of the Mahis and Tehanas. In this society, the indomitable Polynesian women raise the children without much help from the fickle island men. Yet despite the many humorous situations in these books, serious readers may find Celestine Hitiura Vaite’s characters rather naïve.