Category Archives: Pacific Ocean

Did ancient Americans settle in Polynesia? The evidence doesn’t stack up



Andres Moreno-Estrada

Lisa Matisoo-Smith, University of Otago and Anna Gosling, University of Otago

How did the Polynesian peoples come to live on the far-flung islands of the Pacific? The question has intrigued researchers for centuries.

Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl brought the topic to public attention when he sailed a balsa-wood raft called the Kon-Tiki from Peru to Polynesia in 1947. His goal was to demonstrate such voyages were possible, supporting theories linking Polynesian origins to the Americas.

Decades of research in archaeology, linguistics and genetics now show that Polynesian origins lie to the west, ultimately in the islands of southeast Asia. However, the myth of migrations from America has lingered in folk science and on conspiracy websites.

Pacific migrations: red arrows show expansion from island southeast Asia, blue arrows show Polynesian expansion, yellow arrows show proposed contact with the Americas.
Anna Gosling / Wilmshurst et al. (2011), Author provided

New evidence for American interlopers?

A new study published in Nature reports genetic evidence of Native American ancestry in several Polynesian populations. The work, by Alexander Ioannidis and colleagues, is based on a genetic analysis of 807 individuals from 17 island populations and 15 indigenous communities from South and Central America.

Other researchers have previously found evidence of indigenous American DNA in the genomes of the modern inhabitants of Rapa Nui. (Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, is the part of Polynesia closest to South America.)

The estimated timing of these interactions, however, raised concerns. Analyses of DNA from ancient Rapa Nui skeletal remains found no evidence of such mingling, or admixture. This suggests the “Amerindian” genetic component was likely introduced later via Chilean colonists.

Ioannidis and colleagues found southern South American Indigenous DNA in the genomes – the genetic material – of modern Rapa Nui, but they claim it represents a second pulse of contact. They also found signs of earlier contact, coming from as far north as Colombia or even Mexico.

More novel was the fact that this earlier signal was also found in modern DNA samples collected in the 1980s from the Marquesas and the Tuamotu archipelagos. The researchers argue this likely traces to a single “contact event” around 1200 AD, and possibly as early as 1082 AD.

Both suggested dates for this first event are earlier than those generally accepted for the settlement of Rapa Nui (1200-1250 AD). The earlier date predates any archaeological evidence for human settlement of the Marquesas or any of the other islands on which it was identified.

Ioannidis and colleagues make sense of this by suggesting that perhaps “upon their arrival, Polynesian settlers encountered a small, already established, Native American population”.




Read more:
What wind, currents and geography tell us about how people first settled Oceania


Follow the kūmara

The 1200 AD date and the more northerly location of the presumed contact on the South American continent are not unreasonable. They are consistent with the presence and distribution of the sweet potato, or kūmara.

This plant from the Americas is found throughout Eastern Polynesia. It gives us the strongest and most widely accepted archaeological and linguistic evidence of contact between Polynesia and South America.

Kūmara remains about 1,000 years old have been found in the Cook Islands in central Polynesia. When Polynesian colonists settled the extremes of the Polynesian triangle – Hawai’i, Rapa Nui, and Aotearoa New Zealand – between 1200 and 1300 AD, they brought kūmara in their canoes.

So contact with the Americas by that time fits with archaeological data. The suggestion that it was Native Americans who made the voyage, however, is where we think this argument goes off the rails.

Polynesian voyagers travelled in double-hulled canoes much like the Hokule’a, a reconstruction of a traditional vessel built in the 1970s.
Phil Uhl / Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

A great feat of sailing

Polynesians are among the greatest navigators and sailors in the world. Their ancestors had been undertaking voyages on the open ocean for at least 3,000 years.

Double hulled Polynesian voyaging canoes were rapidly and systematically sailing eastwards across the Pacific. They would not have stopped until they hit the coast of the Americas. Then, they would have returned home, using their well proven skills in navigation and sailing.

While Heyerdahl showed American-made rafts could make it out to the Pacific, Indigenous Americans have no history of open ocean voyaging. Similarly, there is no archaeological evidence of pre-Polynesian occupation on any of the islands of Polynesia.




Read more:
Chickens tell tale of human migration across Pacific


The limitations of genetic analysis

Genetic analyses attempting to reconstruct historical events based on data from modern populations are fraught with potential sources of error. Addressing questions where only a few hundred years make a major difference is particularly difficult.

Modelling population history needs to consider demographic impacts such as the massive depopulation caused by disease and other factors associated with European colonisation.

Ioannidis and colleagues took this into account for Rapa Nui, but not for the Marquesas. Estimates of population decline in the Marquesas from 20,000 in 1840 to around 3,600 by 1902 indicate a significant bottleneck.

The choice of comparative populations was also interesting. The only non-East Polynesian Pacific population used in analyses was from Vanuatu. Taiwanese Aboriginal populations were used as representatives of the “pure” Austronesian ancestral population for Polynesians.

This is wrong and overly simplistic. Polynesian genomes themselves are inherently admixed. They result from intermarriages between people probably from a homeland in island southeast Asia (not necessarily Taiwan) and other populations encountered en route through the Pacific.

Polynesian Y chromosomes and other markers show clear evidence of admixture with western Pacific populations. Excluding other Oceanic and Asian populations from the analyses may have skewed the results. Interestingly, the amount of Native American admixture identified in the Polynesian samples correlates with the amount of European admixture found in those populations.

Finally, like many recent population genetic studies, Ioannidis and colleagues did not look at sequences of the whole genome. Instead, they used what are called single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) arrays.

SNP arrays are designed based on genetic variation identified through studies of primarily Asian, African and European genomes. Very few Pacific or other indigenous genomes were included in the databases used to design SNP arrays. This means variation in these populations may be misinterpreted or underestimated.

Summing up

While the results presented by Ioannidis and colleagues are very interesting, to fully understand them will require a level of scholarly engagement that may take some time.

Did contact between Polynesians and indigenous Americans happen? Significant evidence indicates that it did. Do these new data prove this? Perhaps, though there are a number of factors that need further investigation. Ideally, we would like to see evidence in ancient genetic samples. Engagement with the Pacific communities involved is also critical.

However, if the data and analyses are correct, did the process likely occur via the arrival of indigenous Americans, on their own, on an island in eastern Polynesia? This, we argue, is highly questionable.The Conversation

Lisa Matisoo-Smith, Professor of Biological Anthropology, University of Otago and Anna Gosling, Research Fellow, University of Otago

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Cook commemorations are mute on intimate encounters and their profound impact on Indigenous women



Artist: John Pickles, Author provided

Katie Pickles, University of Canterbury

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.


History is always selective, particularly when it is tied up with national identity. Certain stories are recovered, while others remain silent.

Intimate encounters are often muted, even though we know they played a central part in first encounters during the colonial era.

Tuia 250, a government-sponsored series of events to commemorate 250 years since Captain James Cook arrived in New Zealand, focused on Pacific voyaging and first onshore encounters between Māori and Pākehā (non-Māori) during 1769–70, at the expense of reconsidering private history.




Read more:
My ancestors met Cook in Aotearoa 250 years ago. For us, it’s time to reinterpret a painful history


Colonial comfort

The laborious maps and longhand entries in explorers’ journals, their sketches of specimens gathered during their long journeys – these can all be seen as skillful antiques of a bygone era. But they also represent potent past tools of imperialism.

Tuia 250 was about both voyaging and encounter histories, but it seems that re-enacting traditional sailing was easier than restaging the intimate encounters that were central to the colonial enterprise.

Captain Cook charted New Zealand during his voyage in 1769.
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-ND

Commemorations of voyages across the open oceans sailed clear of the awkward topic of intimacy. The history of intimate encounters remained consigned to a private space, perceived as outside of the making of history and national identity.

But as historian Anne Salmond has written, bodily contact involved Cook’s sailors exchanging items such as nails for sex with women.

In her book The Trial of the Cannibal Dog, Salmond describes the Endeavour’s arrival at Anaura Bay, where Cook’s party went ashore, and the expedition’s official botanist Joseph Banks commented about Māori women being less accessible than Tahitian women.

Banks remarked ruefully that they ‘were as great coquettes as any Europeans could be and the young ones as skittish as unbroke fillies’. If the local women were reluctant to make love with the strangers, however, they were wise, because by Cook’s own reckoning several of his men had stubborn venereal infections, and at least half of the rest had contracted venereal diseases in Tahiti.

In historian James Belich’s view, described in his book Making Peoples, sexual contact became the initial intercultural trade in New Zealand.

The sex industry began at first contact in 1769, and from the 1810s it became large and important – very probably preceding wool, gold and dairy products as New Zealand’s leading earner of overseas exchange.

But Hazel Petrie has argued that intimate encounters have to be considered within the context of cultural practices that emphasised hospitality.

Contemporary Western attitudes sometimes led to characterisations of more casual sexual activity between Māori women and visiting Pākehā men as ‘prostitution’, and in our own time such liaisons have been deemed to represent a ‘sex industry’. But these perceptions may be in large part the result of the different moral codes of the narrators and seeing sexual relationships through different lenses. Māori society may have more typically viewed short- to medium-term relationships with sailors or other visitors in terms of manaakitanga or the normal extension of hospitality with expectations of a courteous material response.




Read more:
An honest reckoning with Captain Cook’s legacy won’t heal things overnight. But it’s a start


Women as agents of history

According to historians, Cook disapproved of the sexual behaviour of his officers and men, but was unable to stop it. In his journal, Cook wrote:

A connection with Women I allow because I cannot prevent it, but never encourage tho many Men are of opinion it is one of the greatest securities amongst Indians, and it may hold good when you intend to settle amongst them; but with travelers and strangers, it is generally otherwise and more men are betrayed than saved by having connection with their women, and how can it be otherwise since all their Views are selfish without the least mixture of regard or attachment whatever; at least my observations which have been pretty general, have not pointed out to me one instance to the contrary.

Sailors embodied the complex, disease-ridden, sexual shipboard culture of the 18th century, combined with western unequal attitudes towards women and the perception of Polynesian women as exotic.

As indigenous and cultural studies scholar Alice Te Punga Somerville puts it:

Gender is so central to the story of Cook. And how Cook, and everything that came after, has done so much to gender in this region.

Māori women were entangled in the encounters as two worlds met. First contact marked the beginning of changes to customary processes (tikanga Māori), ended pre-colonial balance and had profound effects on Māori women’s lives, as the work of indigenous scholar Ani Mikaere has shown.

Mikaere has argued that:

It is often assumed that, according to tikanga Māori, leadership was primarily the domain of men and that men in Māori society exercised power over women. However, evidence abounds which refutes the notion that traditional Māori society attached greater significance to male roles than to female roles.

It came to pass that Māori women, white women missionaries and settlers were all integral to history. As feminist scholar Anne McClintock pointed out of women in imperialism, they were not “hapless onlookers”. They were variously colonisers and colonised.

Just as women were a central part of those first encounters in 1769-70, they continued to be agents of history. Some women, as the helpmeets of Empire, taught generations of schoolchildren about Cook the hero as part of an imperial curriculum.

Navigating a shared future needs to recognise women’s part in colonial encounters. It needs to consider that in the present, as with the past, public and private spaces are interconnected.The Conversation

Katie Pickles, Professor of History at the University of Canterbury and current Royal Society of New Zealand Te Apārangi James Cook Research Fellow, University of Canterbury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Terra nullius interruptus: Captain James Cook and absent presence in First Nations art



Vincent Namatjira, Western Arrernte people, Northern Territory, born 1983, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Close Contact, 2018, Indulkana, South Australia, synthetic polymer paint on plywood; Gift of the James & Diana Ramsay Foundation for the Ramsay Art Prize 2019.
Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, photo: Grant Hancock

Bruce Buchan, Griffith University and Eddie Synot, UNSW

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains names and images of deceased people.


In Vincent Namatjira’s Ramsay Award winning Close Contact (2018), the artist construes Captain James Cook as the reverse image of his own self-portrait. The colonising presence of Cook looking toward a colonial future is satirised by making another present: Vincent Namatjira’s self-portrait looks out in a diametrically different direction.

Towards what, exactly?

Australia’s link to Cook has always been mediated by iconography. Cook was a promise recollected in pigment, bronze and stone to a nation at war with its first inhabitants and possessors.

Cook, and the violence of colonisation in his wake, embodied a claim to a vast inheritance: of Enlightenment and modernity at the expense of peoples already here.

Since his foundational ritual of possession, First Nations people have called for a reckoning with Cook’s legacies, and in recent years First Nations artists have reinvigorated this call.

By invoking the presence of Cook, they ask their audience to recognise how colonisation and empire rendered them all but absent – and his celebration today continues to do so.

Taking possession

In Samuel Calvert’s 1865 print, Cook Taking Possession of the Australian Continent on Behalf of the British Crown, the noisy presence of the newcomers’ industry and weapons drives two huddled Aboriginal men into the bush.

Captain Cook taking possession of the Australian continent on behalf of the British Crown A.D. 1770 (c. 1853-1864), colour process engraving.
National Gallery Victoria

Wathaurung Elder Aunty Marlene Gilson re-worked Calvert’s image in The Landing (2018): widening the lens to show peoples living in the landscape.

Gilson imaginatively runs together Calvert’s imagery with accounts of Governor Phillip’s later landing. As the flag is hoisted ships hover in the bay. Colonisation was a process of denying who was already there, the First Nations families and figures Gilson captures in lively habitation on land and water.

The landing, 2018, Marlene Gilson, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2019.
© Marlene Gilson

Gilson challenges the mythology of empire: that empty territory needed no treaty.

Gilson’s image is also a homage to Gordon Bennett’s earlier reworking of Calvert in Possession Island (1991). Bennett deliberately obscured Cook and his companions, with the exception of one dark-skinned servant. The presumptuous act of possession is only glimpsed behind a Jackson Pollock-like forest of lines. Visual static intervenes. Terra nullius interruptus.

This obscurity stands in marked contrast to Christian Thompson’s Othering the Explorer, James Cook (2015). Part of his Museum of Others series, his images invite us to consider the effacement of First Nations people by colonial authority and knowledge.

Dr Christian Thompson AO, Museum of Others (Othering the Explorer, James Cook), 2016. c-type on metallic paper, 120 x 120 cm, from the Museum of Others series.
Courtesy of the artist & Michael Reid Sydney + Berlin

Thompson superimposes Cook’s head and shoulders on the artist’s own. His choice of images is deliberate, the 1775 Nathaniel Dance portrait of Cook in full naval regalia glowering over his Pacific “discoveries”.

Official portrait of Captain James Cook, c 1776, by Nathaniel Dance.
National Maritime Museum, United Kingdom

Since European colonisation, the assertion of the discoverer’s right to possess has erased the rich tapestry of prior ownership and belonging. In Thompson’s wry self-effacement, Cook’s superimposition is a reminder of someone already there. This was always the coloniser’s ploy. Presence as absence is a conceit of colonisation.

The presence of absence informs Daniel Boyd’s re-imagination of Cook’s landing in We Call Them Pirates Out Here (2006), a re-working of E. Phillips Fox’s Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay (1902).

E. Phillips Fox, Landing of Captain Cook at Botany Bay, 1770, c1902.
National Gallery of Victoria

Phillips Fox portrayed Cook restraining his men from shooting the distantly pictured “natives”. This was empire as it wished to be seen: peaceful, British, white and triumphant.

Boyd plays on the flattery of imperial self-imagining by exposing the wilful piracy of colonial possession. Boyd’s Cook cuts the same imperial dash, but with an eye patch and skull and crossbones on the Union Jack behind him empire is revealed as the pirate’s resort.

Daniel Boyd, We Call them Pirates Out Here, 2006, oil on canvas, Museum of Contemporary Art, purchased with funds provided by the Coe and Mordant families, 2006.
© Daniel Boyd

Challenging mythologies

The growing First Nations challenge to Cook’s iconography highlights his continued presence in our nation’s colonial mythology.

It is a challenge to Cook’s elevation as hero of the modern Australia built on Indigenous erasure. Jason Wing’s bronze bust of a balaclava-wearing Captain James Crook (2013) symbolises that challenge.

Jason Wing, Captain James Crook, 2013, bronze, 60 x 60 x 30cm, edition of 5. Photograph by Garrie Maguire.
Image courtesy of the Artist and Artereal Gallery.

Wing’s addition of the balaclava forces us to confront Cook’s legacy not as the projected shining icon of Enlightenment, but as a mythic presence built on deliberate theft, dispossession and violence.

These are only a small collection of artists reconsidering the place of Cook in our collective memory. Provocative, challenging, arresting, often satirical and sometimes funny, First Nations artists powerfully challenge us to reconsider Cook and our nation’s iconography.

Within the art lies an open invitation to reflect on who we have become and where we are headed.

This invitation is highlighted in Fiona Foley’s most recent retrospective, named for a song by Joe Gala and Teila Watson performed in Badtjala and English: Who are these strangers and where are they going?




Read more:
Tall ship tales: oral accounts illuminate past encounters and objects, but we need to get our story straight


The song weaves together the narratives of the First Nations people who first saw the Endeavour make its way along the coast. Together with the photographs and installations drawn from across Foley’s long career, the retrospective is a powerful affirmation of continuing presence: in 1770, in 1788, and today.

As we confront the Cook commemorations, Foley’s and the Badtjalas’ question, like Namatjira’s double-sided self-portrait, is a nudge to our nation’s future. Who are these strangers and where are they going?

By reminding us that the question was asked of Cook’s sudden presence in 1770, we must ask it again of ourselves to confront the absence his possession still makes present for us 250 years on.The Conversation

Bruce Buchan, Associate Professor, Griffith University and Eddie Synot, Centre Manager, Indigenous Law Centre, UNSW

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Explorer, navigator, coloniser: revisit Captain Cook’s legacy with the click of a mouse


Justin Bergman, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, The Conversation

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today.

Click through below to explore Cook’s journey through the Pacific, his interactions with Indigenous peoples and how that journey led to Australia becoming a penal colony 18 years later.

You can see other stories in the series here.


Click through to explore the interactive.The Conversation

Justin Bergman, Deputy Editor: Politics + Society, The Conversation; Sunanda Creagh, Head of Digital Storytelling, The Conversation, and Wes Mountain, Multimedia Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


The stories of Tupaia and Omai and their vital role as Captain Cook’s unsung shipmates



Portrait of Mai, also known as Omai or Omai of the Friendly Isles.
Wikimedia Commons

Kate Fullagar, Macquarie University

Captain James Cook arrived in the Pacific 250 years ago, triggering British colonisation of the region. We’re asking researchers to reflect on what happened and how it shapes us today. You can see other stories in the series here and an interactive here.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this article contains names and images of deceased people.


Several recent exhibitions on James Cook have sought to include discussions of the Indigenous people who journeyed with him on his Pacific voyages.

In exhibitions marking the 250th anniversary of the Endeavour’s departure from Britain in 2018, for example, both the British Library and the National Library of Australia focused in part on the priest Tupaia, who travelled with Cook from Tahiti to Batavia (present-day Jakarta) in 1769.

These exhibitions emphasised Tupaia’s navigational prowess, but didn’t provide extensive detail on the role he played in the British enterprises.

Likewise, little to no attention has been paid to the islander who journeyed with Cook the longest, Mai, who joined the captain’s second and third voyages.

A new series from The Conversation.

Shining a light on the islanders who travelled with Cook is necessary to put his achievements in proper context. Cook was more reliant on their assistance for his empire-expanding project than is often acknowledged. And these islanders had more agency during the so-called Age of Discovery than is typically believed.

The stories of Tupaia and Mai highlight the central role Indigenous people played during this period, which for too long has been described as one of only European exploration. And they also question the way Cook has been portrayed throughout history – as a lone genius, connecting the world more closely through his unique abilities.

It turns out many different people contributed to globalisation in the 18th century.

Tupaia’s motivations for joining the Endeavour

Mai, or Omai as he was mostly known by the British, shared many characteristics with Tupaia. Both were motivated to journey with Cook because of intense dramas playing out on their home island of Ra‘iatea in what is now French Polynesia. And both became useful to the British voyagers by brokering introductions with other islanders in the Pacific.

But in other ways, the two men differed. They were from separate social ranks and they experienced very different fates.

Tupaia’s chart of the islands surrounding Tahiti.
Wikimedia Commons

Tupaia was of the exalted ari’i rank, a leading priest of the ‘Oro sect that ruled most of the Tahitian archipelago during this era.

Because of his high status, he was directly involved in a tumultuous war between Ra‘iatea and neighboring Bora Bora in the 1760s, which eventually ended in defeat for the Ra‘iateans. After the war, he became a refugee in Tahiti, where he came into contact with the Endeavour and befriended the naturalist, Joseph Banks.




Read more:
A failure to say hello: how Captain Cook blundered his first impression with Indigenous people


For Tupaia, the motivation to join the Endeavour voyage was complex and political. He saw in the British tallships an opportunity to gain arms, knowledge and possibly even men for a restorative offensive against the Bora Borans at Ra‘iatea.

Some descendants today also suggest he joined the crew as a way of continuing a long-established practice of voyaging – returning to islands he had previously visited in his own waka (canoe) and by his own navigational techniques.

And Banks saw in Tupaia’s adventurousness a chance to fulfill a dream to study man in a so-called “state of nature” back home in Britain.

Tupaia’s assistance during the voyage

Tupaia joined the Endeavour in July 1769. Cook, until now skeptical of including islanders in his crew, acquiesced partly because he saw it appeased Banks and partly because he judged Tupaia

a Shrewd, Sensible, and Ingenious Man.

The captain learned a great deal from Tupaia. Not only did Cook listen to and attempt to document all of Tupaia’s recitations on the scores of islands around Tahiti, he also gained rare insight into Pacific voyaging.

Most of all, he had Tupaia’s help when he met wary islanders in other archipelagos. With Tupaia mediating, these encounters went smoothly.

A drawing by Tupaia depicting trade between a Maori man and Joseph Banks.
Wikimedia Commons

Tupaia was ill through much of the Endeavour’s stay at Botany Bay. Unfortunately, his health only worsened and he died during the ship’s layover in Batavia, thwarting Banks’ long-term aim of bringing him to Britain.

Perhaps, though, Tupaia fulfilled at least part of his own dream to travel the Pacific once more.

Mai’s fierce determination to join Cook

Banks was not on Cook’s second voyage, but the captain carried with him the memory of the naturalist’s hopes to study a Pacific islander.

As I recount in my latest book, The Warrior, the Voyager, and the Artist: Three Lives in an Age of Empire, Cook found that man when he encountered Mai in 1773.

Like Tupaia, Mai was also displaced by the Bora Boran invasion of Ra‘iatea. A generation younger than Tupaia, Mai had been a child at the time and also lost his father in the conflict. In Tahiti, his lower social rank meant he had fewer concessions as a refugee.




Read more:
My ancestors met Cook in Aotearoa 250 years ago. For us, it’s time to reinterpret a painful history


Arguably these conditions made Mai even more determined to join Cook’s expedition when the chance came.

Mai travelled to Britain on Cook’s second ship, captained by Tobias Furneaux. The Englishman admired Mai and remarked several times on his maritime and culinary skills. Mai also helped translate and mediate with other islanders they encountered. This wasn’t because he sympathised with the British; rather, he was eager to speed up their return to Britain.

Mai’s mission in London and return home

Arriving in London in 1774, Mai met with Banks, who assumed responsibility for his accommodation. Due to his high-profile patron, Mai encountered and bedazzled much of the glamorous set in London, including King George III.

Omai, 1777 engraved by James Caldwall after William Hodges.
Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Australia

Mai seemed to enjoy himself well enough, but his mind was always focused on his larger mission. Everyone who met him recorded that his aim in Britain was not to impress or assimilate but to gain support for his mission of retaking his home island of Ra‘iatea from the Bora Borans.

Mai found himself aboard Cook’s third voyage to the Pacific in mid-1776, with promises from Banks and the Admiralty to take him home and provide him with British goods to help him achieve his goals.




Read more:
Terra nullius interruptus: Captain James Cook and absent presence in First Nations art


Once again, he provided critical assistance to the captain during negotiations with other Pacific islanders, as well as with Indigenous people in Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). Only when the expedition neared the Tahitian archipelago did Mai start to doubt Cook’s good faith.

He saw Cook give away much of the livestock that had been promised to him and watched as he held long meetings with assorted elders. Mai realised Cook planned to dump him on another island rather than fulfill the Admiralty pledges to land him on Ra‘iatea.

Mai was devastated. After four long years away, his life project had collapsed.

Grand ambitions only partly realised

Historians like to recount the emotional farewell between Cook and Mai in late 1777, noting Mai’s desperate wailing and Cook’s misty eyes. It’s usually depicted as a touching example of how Mai had grown to love the British and, equally, of how Cook had a softer heart than most believed.

From Mai’s perspective, though, the moment likely had a far different meaning.

Neither Tupaia nor Mai had achieved their ultimate goals in joining the Cook voyages, but this does not discount the grandness of their ambitions.

Both undertook epic feats of exploration. And their missions were just as political as Cook’s had been. Instead of imperial expansion, however, these men had sought a continuation of their Indigenous ways of life.

And it’s worth pointing out that Cook failed in his ultimate goal in the third voyage, too. He had been tasked with finding a northwest passage for imperial trade and to deliver Mai home according to his wishes. Instead, he ended up assassinated in Hawai’i.The Conversation

Cleveley, James, active 1776-1780. Cleveley, James fl 1776-1780 :[View of Huaheine, one of the Society Islands in the South Seas. Drawn on the spot by James Cleveley, painted by John Cleveley, London, F. Jukes aquatt. London, Thomas Martyn, 1787]. Ref: C-036-020. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/22325887.
National Library of New Zealand

Kate Fullagar, Associate Professor in Modern History, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Forgotten citadels: Fiji’s ancient hill forts and what we can learn from them



While most Fijian settlement is coastal, new research into mountain settlements can teach us about this country pre-colonisation. Pictured is the Seseleka hill fort, 420 metres above sea level.
Patrick Nunn

Patrick D. Nunn, University of the Sunshine Coast

Far away from Fiji’s golden beaches and turquoise seas lies what might appear to many people – visitors and Fijian alike – another reality. One that is hidden, almost forgotten, yet one that recent research is helping bring out from the shadows.

Fiji is not known for its hill forts, but it was not so long ago that they were almost ubiquitous. Consider the comment of colonial official Basil Thomson in 1908 who noted that “almost every important hilltop in western Viti Levu [the largest island in Fiji] is crowned with an entrenchment of some kind”.

The evidence for people having once occupied mountain tops in Fiji is plentiful yet today barely known and hardly studied. This evidence hits you the first time you see it. You are on a perspiring, muscle-aching uphill walk along one of the steep-sided volcanic ridge lines when suddenly the ground in front of you unexpectedly drops away.

There is a deep ditch artificially cut across the ridge, an impediment to your progress today but doubly so 400 years ago when its base would have been lined with sharpened sticks to impale unwanted visitors. On the upslope side of the ditch you find a stone platform – on which a guard house would have been built – and above, a series of cross-ridge stone walls.

In the case of the hill fort of Vatutaqiri on the Vatia Peninsula (northern Viti Levu), we mapped a series of five concentric stone walls built from hundreds of rocks that must have been rolled uphill from the base of the mountain. Like many such hill forts, the Vatutaqiri summit comprises an artificial mound, in this case some 12 metres high, with a flat top, likely to have been a symbolic refuge and/or a lookout post.

One of the five concentric stone walls on the flanks of Vatutaqiri hill fort, Vatia Peninsula, Fiji.
Patrick Nunn

Researching and dating the hill forts

A three-year research project, just concluded, in collaboration with the Fiji Museum sought to understand the hill forts of Bua (northern Fiji). At the outset, we knew only that such places existed here because written accounts described them.

These include that of Commodore Wilkes of the US Navy who described in 1845 “a high and insulated peak […] which has a town perched on its very top.” We identified this peak as Seseleka, 420 metres above sea level, and mapped and excavated it as part of this project.

Maps of Seseleka hill fort, Bua, Fiji. Map A shows the approach to the summit of Seseleka along steep-sided ridge lines cut by artificial ditches and stone walls. Map B shows the summit of Seseleka with the main residential area to the west (with yavu or stone house platforms) and lookout mounds along its axis.
Patrick Nunn

As shown in our map, the flat-topped summit of Seseleka comprises an ocean-facing terrace with the remains of residence platforms (yavu) slightly below a series of three artificial mounds used as lookouts.

Pot shards and edible shellfish remains are scattered around, the latter well suited to radiocarbon dating. There is also an artificial pool (toevu) on top of Seseleka from the mud in the bottom of which we extracted carbon samples for dating.

The results show that people were living on top of Seseleka as early as AD 1670, probably earlier, utilising earthenware for cooking and storage, periodically going down to the coast to collect shellfish that were brought back for less-mobile inhabitants to consume.

In total, we re-discovered 16 hill forts in Bua and, through a range of techniques from radiocarbon dating to the collection and analysis of oral traditions, have helped fill in some details of this poorly-known period of Fiji history.

A plausible explanation is that some 700 years ago, when sea levels in Fiji fell slightly, a food crisis resulted, which led to warfare and the abandonment of coastal sites for mountain-top ones.




Read more:
Rise and fall: social collapse linked to sea level in the Pacific


A few weeks ago, we returned from a reconnaissance trip looking for hill forts in the high volcanic islands of the Kadavu group (southern Fiji). On the pristine stellate island of Ono, we visited and mapped five hill forts, including ones on the summits of Qilai and Uluisolo, the latter reputed to be the place where the god Tanovu who battled the recalcitrant god of distant Nabukelevu island once lived.

But the least expected find was on top of the mountain named Madre where numerous large rocks have been rolled up onto its summit and arranged, it seems, in ways consistent with megalithic structures elsewhere in the world.

In a first for Fiji, there seems to be the remains of a dolmen (a stone tomb) on the summit of Madre.

The dolmen on the hill fort at the summit of Madre, Ono Island, Fiji.
Patrick Nunn

The Fijian word for village is “koro”, used today to refer to any nucleated settlement, mostly along the islands’ coasts. But up until about the 1830s, the word koro was used only to refer to a mountain-top village, thus the name Korolevu means “big village”, Korovatu means “rocky village” and Koronivalu means “war town”. The study of place names can help illuminate history in countries like Fiji where written history is incomplete.

On Ono Island in Kadavu, the researchers stayed in the villages of Vabea and Waisomo and made several ascents of the formidable mountain behind them. This mountain – and the impressive hill fort that sprawls across it – is named Korovou, meaning “new village”, in this sense a new hill fort built, presumably, after another was abandoned. Where its predecessor was, no one is sure … yet.

The author would like to acknowledge his co-researchers in the three-year study of Buan hill forts – Elia Nakoro and Niko Tokainavatu (Fiji Museum), Michelle McKeown (Landcare New Zealand), Paul Geraghty and Frank Thomas (University of the South Pacific), and Piérick Martin, Brandon Hourigan and Roselyn Kumar (University of the Sunshine Coast).The Conversation

Patrick D. Nunn, Professor of Geography, School of Social Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Hidden women of history: Marau Ta’aroa, the Sydney-schooled ‘last Queen of Tahiti’


Nicholas Hoare, Australian National University

In this series, we look at under-acknowledged women through the ages.

From Tongan Princes to the daughters of Sāmoan political leaders, elite Australian schools have long been considered desirable locations for the children of high-ranking Pacific families. One such student was a young Tahitian named Joanna Marau Ta‘aroa who attended Sydney Ladies’ College from 1869 to 1873.

While easily “mistaken for a Spaniard” on the streets of downtown Sydney, the young Marau was in fact the second youngest daughter of an aristocratic Tahitian mother, Ari‘i Taimai, and a wealthy Englishman of Jewish descent, Alexander Salmon. (The pair, who had married in 1842, had nine children, all of whom enjoyed a cosmopolitan upbringing, speaking English and being educated overseas.)

Although little is known about her time in Sydney, other than an abiding memory of ice-cold baths and unpleasant Australian mutton, Marau’s Australian education was cut short at the age of 14 when she was summoned home to marry Prince Ari‘i-aue. Her marriage to the alcoholic future king, who was some 22 years her senior, saw her written into the history books as “the last Queen of Tahiti”.

An unhappy match

By all accounts, Marau’s royal wedding was a spectacular affair, with a fusion of Polynesian and European style festivities continuing across Papeete, the Tahitian capital, for two days. However, unlike that of her parents, her marriage was far from a love match.

It was a strategic alliance between the Pōmare family – who had always struggled to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the Tahitian public – and her mother’s Teva dynasty, who were more readily recognised as the true holders of chiefly power and prestige.

But in Marau’s words, her husband’s behaviour “quickly became impossible to tolerate”. Allegedly suffering from syphilis, tuberculosis and occasionally pneumonia, the prince’s predilection for rum before noon was legendary.

Despite the kindness shown to her by his mother Queen Pōmare IV, palace life was far from happy for Marau. She found herself spending more and more time at her mother’s home in Papara, where she occupied herself reading, learning Tahitian embroidery and unravelling the secrets of her family’s land.

After the death of the Queen, she was briefly encouraged to return to her prince’s side to ascend the throne in September 1877. However, less than two years later, the now-Queen Marau accepted a royal pension of 300 francs per month and moved out permanently.

Queen Marau, 1879, photographer unknown.
Collection du Musée de Tahiti et des îles – Te Fare Manaha

Children shut out

While the pair did not officially divorce until January 1888, from 1879 onward they would appear together only at official ceremonies where neither would talk to the other. However, Marau would not let these personal circumstances get in the way of living a life befitting of royalty.

In 1884 she took to Europe – without the King’s blessing – where she was “received and celebrated all over”, often finding herself in homes and palaces of elite Parisian families. Wearing old-style Tahitian dresses, Marau would attend the theatre most nights, where she revelled in the limelight as any 25-year-old guest of honour would do.

Meanwhile, back in Tahiti, her husband felt that press reports of his wife’s reception by the French political class “offended our dignity and insulted us as people”. This was perhaps a little rich coming from somebody who just four years earlier had ceded sovereignty over Tahiti and its dependencies to the French for a sizeable pension in return. (Famed American historian Henry Adams would write that he “now gets drunk on the proceeds, $12,000 a year”.)

For Queen Marau, the tip of the iceberg was the King’s refusal to recognise her two daughters, Teri‘i (born in 1879) and Takau (born in 1887), as his own.

Though they eventually took the Pōmare name – the third, Ernest, who arrived several months after the divorce proceedings, was never officially recognised – all three children were shut out of the royal inheritance. After Pōmare V’s refusal to recognise the third child, Marau famously snapped back that none of them belonged to him anyway.

‘True old-goldishness’

In the months preceding the death of Pomare V in June 1891, Queen Marau played host to Henry Adams and his artist-friend John La Farge. Bored and growing increasingly critical of colonial Papeete, the pair’s fortunes changed upon meeting Marau and her brother Tati Salmon at Papara. Of Marau, Adams wrote:

If she was once handsome, certainly her beauty is not what attracts men now. What she has is a face strongly marked and decidedly intelligent, with a sub-expression of recklessness, or true old-goldishness … One feels the hundred generations of chiefs who are in her, without one commoner except the late Salmon, her deceased parent.

Finding her “still showy, very intelligent, musical, deep in native legends and history, and quite energetic”, Marau became the perfect conduit between Adams and her ageing mother. In turn, this enabled the pair to work on the production of the Memoirs of Arii Tamai (1901). A history of pre-colonial Tahiti from the perspective of the Teva family, it is now regarded as a canonical text in Tahitian ethnography.

A dominant public figure

With most scholars tending to lose interest in Marau’s life at this point, it would be tempting to end our story here with the Queen living out the rest of her years “hard-up” on a measly government pension.

But the reality was that she remained a dominant public figure until her death in February 1935.

When massive phosphate deposits were discovered on the nearby island of Makatea in 1907, Marau frustrated the progress of an Anglo-French consortium by using her influence to sign contracts with local landowners, despite knowing she lacked the means to exploit the mineral herself.

While the intervention netted her a tidy payment of 75,000 francs and an ongoing royalty of 37 and a half centimes per ton of phosphate extracted, victory was even sweeter as the man behind the phosphate operation was her ex-husband’s lawyer, Auguste Goupil, chief architect of the plan to write her children out of their royal inheritance.

Finally, just as the stories of Ari‘i Taimai were collected and written down by a younger, energetic Marau, her own daughter Takau did the same for her mother in her dotage (eventually published in 1971 as Memoires de Marau Taaroa). As modern and tumultuous as her life may have been, the Memoires also portrays someone who never lost her grounding in ancient Tahitian culture.

Nothing reflects this better than Marau’s grand tomb at Uranie cemetery just outside of Papeete. Her tomb, taking the form of the grand Teva-family marae, Mahaiatea, it is a tribute to one of Tahiti’s greatest cultural and spiritual monuments.

Tomb of Queen Marau, Uranie Cemetery, Tahiti.
Photo by Nicholas Hoare, 2018

This monument to the Tahitian god ‘Oro, consecrated by the famous Tupaia between 1766-8, had been destroyed in 1865 by a European planter in order to construct a bridge. The bridge itself was soon washed away by flood.The Conversation

Nicholas Hoare, PhD Candidate in Pacific History, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Sandy Island?



Polynesian Migration in the Pacific


The link below is to an article that looks at Polynesian migration through the Pacific.

For more visit:
http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/news/2014/10/polynesian-migration-mystery-solved


Article: Amelia Earhart’s Plane Discovered?


The link below is to an article that reports on the possible discovery of Amelia Earhart’s plane off Kiribati.

For more visit:
http://news.discovery.com/history/us-history/earhart-plane-revealed-in-sonar-130529.htm


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