Imaginative play, “Shipwreck’d on the Body Beautiful” based on Tattooed Irishman

Review by Jasmine Mendiola

April 5, 2018—It’s been a rather long time since I heard good storytelling. I can recall when I was a small child, my grandmother would tell me old Pohnpeian stories/folktales.  Usually each family at that time had someone who did that very well. Many of us children were very fond of that, and still are. Today I had a chance to relive a similar experience when I attended the storytelling of “Shipwreck’d on the Body Beautiful” by Daniel A. Kelin, II, author and actor of this play loosely based on the life of James F. O’Connell, The Tattooed Irish Sailor.

He read and performed his play so well it got my imagination running. The descriptions of what O’Connell saw, tasted, felt—from the canoes in the Nahs, the mwaramwars, the festivities, the sakau—if you knew Pohnpei you would think to yourself, “Yep, that’s Pohnpei alright!”. It was all so beautifully written and wonderfully performed. Like our elders did while storytelling, Kelin went into character and played each role so well. With distinctive dialogue, singing and a bit of dancing, he brought the story to life. It was phenomenal and it made me realize just how much I missed our good ole storytelling by our elders. It made me wonder if there are Pohnpeians still carrying on that tradition, because we should. It’s been a form of art and history all together and if done well, storytelling is something everyone can enjoy regardless of our ages.

The plot of the story was indeed the best part of this piece for me. From the scene where it all started, to the usual rejection of foreigners, the struggles of adapting to a new culture, and finally a love dilemma—it seemed almost fully fictional like a good Hollywood movie. Perhaps some of it was, or maybe just exaggerated a bit but all in the name of entertainment. Still, it holds enough truth to conclude that maybe James F. O’Connell really was here in Pohnpei and not only witnessed its exotic beauty in every aspect, but perhaps he even loved it.

One truth that I personally agreed with in the piece was the most repeated line that read, “Those civilized might take a lesson from the humanity of these people to the shipwrecked.” If you’ve been in Pohnpei long enough, you know exactly what that means.