The focus of this paper is on the mediated lives of two Swedish men who for different reasons and at different times ended up living in the Pacific. One was Carl-Emil Pettersson, 1875-1937, the real-life person behind the absent, geographically remote, father of Pippi Longstocking, the popular fictional character created in a number of childen’s books by Astrid Lindgren. The other was the explorer, ethnographer, author and journalist Bengt Danielsson, “Resare-Bengt” (“Traveller-Bengt”), 1921-1997. Together they shaped the notion of life in the South Seas for generations of Swedes.
The cosmopolitan literary genre of travel writing translates, mediates and circulates accounts from and of the world – from one local setting to another, and over time. Frequently it has been more influential in shaping perceptions of people and places than scholarly ethnographic publications. For 250 years, Western writers have travelled to the South Seas, found it to be ‘Paradise on Earth’ and written home about it. With this study of both a genre and a profession, I seek to understand how the discourse about this most romanticized area on earth is constructed and what makes it so resilient. In this instance, during one extended period, Pippi Longstocking’s father and Resare- Bengt as Swedish sojourners far away from a largely sedentary home milieu reached into the imagination of both children and adults, and could thereby also support each other.
American Anthropological Association Annual Meeting, Washington Dec. 2014