an NFSA website

Pacifica: Tales from the South Seas – Episode 6 (1993)


Pacifica: Tales from the South Seas is a 13-part series that tells 35 stories. The compilation covers such diverse subject matter as ships lost at sea, exotic customs, mystery and adventure, historical and contemporary characters, rare animals and more.

Episode six contains two short dramatised legends. 'Riding the Waves of Heaven’, from Tahiti, is about the Tahitian gods bestowing surfing ability on the men and women of Tahiti from the beginning of time. 'Journey to the Unknown’, from Western Samoa, is a complex mystery about the disappearance of a ship called Joyita.

Curator’s notes

The first story in this episode, 'Riding the Waves of Heaven’, tells of all the gods and goddesses of Tahiti gathering to give the gift of ‘flying on the waves’ to the islanders. According to this legend, the Tahitians were the very first people to ever surf.

The surfboard has to be made of a special tree and at a particular phase of the moon and the Tahitian king would be the very first person to ‘surf’. Whether the Tahitians were the first surfers is unknown. In his writings in the late 1700s, Captain James Cook described how a Tahitian was using his outrigger canoe to ride many of the waves to the beach. There are also claims that surfing started in Hawaii.

When the Christian missionaries came to Tahiti in the 1800s, however, they forbade the sport. The Tahitian women and men surfed naked on their boards and this was deemed a sensual pleasure, abhorrent to the missionaries’ austere sensibilities (see clip one). As a consequence surfing waned for a while, but it wasn’t too long before it made a comeback in Tahiti.

The second story, 'Journey to the Unknown’, tells ‘one of the most spine-chilling modern mysteries of the Pacific’ – the disappearance of the crew and cargo from the ship Joyita in 1955. In the re-enactment, a policeman plays detective to tease out all the possibilities while the narrator fills in the details and adds to the conspiratorial theories. The re-enactment of the finding of the Joyita 37 days after her disappearance is, in fact, chilling (see clip two). Fifty-five years on, there is still much interest in this mystery with thousands of references on the internet, suggesting a cover-up and proposing conspiracy theories.

The Pacifica series was a finalist in the Film Script Award category of the NSW Literary Awards in 1994. A large-format book based on the series was published when the series was released. Juniper Films also created an ‘edutainment’ interactive CD-Rom titled Pacifica – A Cultural Voyage, which includes curriculum support materials.

Pacifica: Tales from the South Seas screened on SBS TV from September 1993.