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Frenchman Andre Laurence takes a vacation to accompany his college friend Tenga, a Polynesian who has tired of life in the "civilized" world, back home. During their boat journey, the friends meet a racist trader, who informs Andre that Tenga's grandfather was a wealthy, white sailor who was briefly stranded on the Pacific island and left his fortune to Tenga after his rescue. Andre is amazed by the joyous welcome given to Tenga by his people and is delighted by Tenga's beautiful sister Kalua, although Tenga explains that it is taboo for a single man to talk to the unmarried Kalua. The homecoming is interrupted by the appearance of the glowering Kahuna, the village's sacred medicine man, who reports seeing signs that a white man would arrive bringing disaster with him. Andre bestows lavish gifts on Tenga's father, the chief, however, and wins his approval with his declaration of friendship. Although the Kahuna continues to insist that Andre must leave, the chief states that he is welcome. As time passes, Andre and Kalua fall in love, and Kalua breaks the taboo against speaking to Andre in order to profess her feelings. Wary of Andre's involvement with Kalua, Tenga sends him to meet an embittered, white beachcomber who used to reside in the village but was banned to a nearby island because of his cruel behavior. The beachcomber warns Andre that the island paradise becomes unbearable to "civilized" men, and reveals that he beats his native wife and children in order to teach them fear. Andre is not daunted by the beachcomber's ramblings, and upon his return, assures the worried Tenga that he wants to marry Kalua and live an honorable life with the natives. Tenga warns Andre about the problems he will encounter while trying to accept customs so different from his own, but Andre is certain that his love for Kalua will help him overcome any obstacles. Tenga and the chief pray for a sign that Andre should be permitted to stay, and after they see a double rainbow, Andre is allowed to join the circle of young men when Kalua does her ritual dance to choose her spouse. Kalua chooses Andre, and the happy couple move into the common house, where all of the betrothed couples live while adjusting to their new status. That night, the Kahuna steals a hair from Andre's head in order to put a curse on him, and when Tenga later asks him to lift the curse, the Kahuna asserts that he will believe in the goodness of Andre and Kalua's union only if Kalua survives a ritual purification by fire. Andre is outraged by the custom, during which Kalua must walk on a bed of fiery coals, but Tenga promises him that if he and Kalua have enough faith in their love, Kalua will emerge unscathed. Kalua survives the ritual without being burned, but Andre's happiness is shortlived, as the beachcomber is killed when he breaks the taboo against returning to the island so that he can talk to Andre. Soon after, Andre is allowed to "buy" Kalua from her father, then must pretend to kidnap her from her family. The newlyweds settle into their home, and a contented Andre enjoys life until three months later, when Kalua, distraught because she has not yet become pregnant, brings Andre a second wife. Andre assures Kalua that he wants only her, regardless of whether they have children, and the couple enjoy their simple life. Trouble arrives, however, when the island's huge volcano begins to erupt. As the terrified natives run from the pouring lava, the Kahuna warns Tenga that the gods are still angered by Andre's presence. Telling Andre to wait in his hut, Tenga accompanies Kalua and the others to the mouth of the volcano, where it is determined that Kalua, as the chief's eldest daughter, must sacrifice herself to the volcano to appease the gods. Kalua runs back to the village to embrace Andre one last time, and then, strengthened by the knowledge that she has loved and been loved, walks to the volcano. Andre arrives just as Kalua throws herself into the volcano, and later, as he sails home, comforts himself with memories of his beloved.