There are few viable museums in French Polynesia. Famous artist Paul Gauguin lived in Tahiti and did his most famous paintings there, but a museum devoted to his work could not survive on the southern coast of Tahiti Nui and closed. Perhaps the fact that they did not have a single painting or sculpture of his on display contributed to its demise. Another famous temporary Tahitian who was born in Iowa, James Norman Hall, still has a museum devoted to him in Arue, a suburb of Pape’ete, thanks to his daughter Nancy.
James Norman Hall was a Renaissance Man. In his lifetime he was a soldier who earned a Croix de Guerre with 5 palms and other citations, a pilot, a poet, a family man, but mostly he was a successful writer. He collaborated on 3 books with Charles Nordhoff. One of them became a blockbuster called Mutiny on the Bounty. This story has been made into 3 major movies. His other book that got filmed was The Hurricane. Published for the first time in 1932, the first Mutiny on the Bounty film starred Clark Gable and won the Best Picture Academy Award in 1936. It had 7 other nominations. James Norman Hall moved into this house in Arue after his marriage and lived there until his death in 1951. His grave overlooks Matavai Bay where William Bligh, the subject of the mutiny, first dropped anchor in Tahiti. Mutiny on the Bounty was written in the house that is now a museum.
Hall’s daughter Nancy and her husband Nick were responsible for turning his house into this museum. Nancy lived in it for 13 years and has devoted a lot of time over many years to greeting visitors and keeping the memory of her beloved father alive. His other child became the noted cinematographer Conrad Hall. Conrad Lafcadio Hearn Hall, whose impressive middle names derive from writers, also won an Academy Award for his cinematography. Ruth & I are lucky enough to consider Nancy, who would like to live full time in Tahiti again, a friend. She now divides her time between Denver and her beautiful mountaintop home in Arue. If you want to learn more about James Norman Hall, there is a complete and reliable timeline about his life on the museum’s website and an introduction by Nancy.
I, of course, cannot be neutral and find this museum and all the memorabilia displayed within it fascinating. All that’s out–family photos, many family treasures, lots of books–was once James Norman Hall’s property. The garden, where I took the photo below, contains his original outdoor furniture. Part of the home has been turned into Mama Lala’s Tearoom, which serves a full lunch. We dined there. If you get this opportunity, call the day before to make a reservation. The government of French Polynesia has an agreement with Nancy to keep the museum opened indefinitely. It’s worth seeing and there’s a parking lot across the street from it.