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Austral Island Dance Paddle

Austral Island Dance Paddle

The Austral Islands dance paddle is one of the great enigmas of Polynesian Art. The Australs lie south of Tahiti and were visited briefly by Captain Cook on his first and last  voyages, but the exposed nature of the islands and the unfriendliness of the inhabitants convinced Cook to sail on both times after a small amount of trading took place. Fletcher Christian and the Bountry mutineers returned to Tahiti after briefly attempted to settle on Tubuai, but not before they killed or wounded sixty islanders. It was only after Tahitian lay missionaries arrived in 1821 that the islands began to establish real contact with Europeans, yet even this coincided with the introduction of European diseases and a catastrophic collapse of the population.

Choosing a Polynesian Tattoo

Choosing a Polynesian Tattoo

Celebrities and their tattoos are always news so we may as well use them as examples of how to and how not to chose a tattoo. Dwayne Johnson who as an American Samoan could have chosen a Samoan arm and shoulder tattoo but he didn't, he decide to go to Frances Arbie a professional  Tattoo Artist from Manila in the Philippines and she constructed what is basically a Marquesan style tattoo. Now personally I like his tattoo and he wears it well, but it is a non-authentic Polynesian tattoo as you would expect as Frances Arbie is plainly not Polynesian.

Harpooning Sharks in Polynesia

Harpooning Sharks in Polynesia

In pre-European times the Maori used a bird-spear to which a barbed bone point was attached. Hundreds of these points may be seen in museums and private collections, and adequate accounts of the methods of use are on record. The use of spears in taking flounders is also on record, but in this case the accounts given of methods of use cannot be described as adequate. I do not know of any reference to the use of the harpoon by the Maori, though there are in collections a number of harpoon points, and it is thus certain that the harpoon was used.

Book Review: The Discovery of Aotearoa by Jeff Evans, 1998 revised copy supplied

Book Review: The Discovery of Aotearoa by Jeff Evans, 1998 revised copy supplied

This little book is one of the clearest explanations of Polynesian Navigation, especially if like me the finer principles of navigation made your head ache. It also includes a description of Greg Whakataka-Brightwell's building and sailing of the traditional double hulled waka; Hawaiki-nui from Tahiti to New Zealand in 1985. Loads of good simple drawings and clear explainations help the reader to come to grips with what can be a complicated and difficult subject. My only quibble is the sections relating to Maori Lore for descriptions of the earliest discoveries of New Zealand.

Book Review: The World Until Yesterday; Jared Diamond

Book Review: The World Until Yesterday; Jared Diamond

Diamond's theme is What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? It is not a great book, unlike his brilliant Guns,Germs and Steel, but it contains many ideas and hints worth us pursuing. Basically Diamond looks at what we could learn by studing the social approaches of indegenous people in the areas conflict resolution, treatment of the elderly, childcare and a host of other subjects. I suppose it does deserve that damned with faint praise description of Popular Science, but those that use such terms give us the heads up that we are dealing with “experts” jealous of their rights to speak for their fields.

Book Review: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

Book Review: Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond

The 1997 book by Jared Diamond, professor of geography and physiology at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). In 1998, it won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction and the Aventis Prize for Best Science Book. A documentary based on the book, and produced by the National Geographic Society, was broadcast on PBS in July 2005.

Book Review: Polynesia: The Mark and Carolyn Blackburn Collection of Polynesian Art

Book Review: Polynesia: The Mark and Carolyn Blackburn Collection of Polynesian Art

Mark Blackburn started collecting Polynesian Art thirty years ago, and since then he and his wife Carolyn have built an extensive collection. It is hard to know the progress of this collection, we do not know what past through the collector's hands, what they saw but did not buy and quite frankly how much money they had available to purchase items. This is one of the weaknesses of the book, the lack of personal back story that would have put the collection into context. The Blackburn's friend Adrienne Kaeppler wrote the text and she is a very well published authority on Polynesian Art, but in a small section on Hawaiian calabashes, Mark Blackburn reveals himself as an interesting and knowledgable writer.

Mackintosh from The Trembling of a Leaf by W. Somerset Maugham

Mackintosh from The Trembling of a Leaf by W. Somerset Maugham

He splashed about for a few minutes in the sea; it was too shallow to swim in and for fear of sharks he could not go out of his depth; then he got out and went into the bath-house for a shower. The coldness of the fresh water was grateful after the heavy stickiness of the salt Pacific, so warm, though it was only just after seven, that to bathe in it did not brace you but rather increased your languor; and when he had dried himself, slipping into a bath-gown, he called out to the Chinese cook that he would be ready for breakfast in five minutes. He walked barefoot across the patch of coarse grass which Walker, the administrator, proudly thought was a lawn, to his own quarters and dressed.

The Art of Tattooing by Augustus Earle

The Art of Tattooing by Augustus Earle

This description by Earle says a lot about how artistry was viewed amongst the Maori, for his friend the tattoo artist; Rangi was a slave the lowest position a man could fall to in Maori society, yet was treated with honour by all, because no doubt his gifts were considered sacred.

The Pool by William Somerset Maugham

The Pool by William Somerset Maugham

When I was introduced to Lawson by Chaplin, the owner of the Hotel Metropole at Apia, I paid no particular attention to him. We were sitting in the lounge over an early cocktail and I was listening with amusement to the gossip of the island.

The Fall of Edward Barnard by William Somerset Maugham

The Fall of Edward Barnard by William Somerset Maugham

Polynesia and its people are deeply fasinating, but of almost equal interest is the  deep attraction Eurpeans feel for Polynesia. Maugham's does a very good job in capturing the affect of Polynesia has on the romantic soul; the white searcher who looks to the Pacific for an existance closer to the natural world, so removed from a materialistic world.  Somerset Maughams estimate of himself as an author was that he was a first rate writer of the second rank. This is very true but even taking into account Maughams sometimes ponderous style,  he still managed to capture the flavour of the Pacific.  In 1916, he travelled there to research his novel The Moon and Sixpence, based on the life of Paul Gauguin and the resulting book The Trembling of a Leaf contains several stort stories on Europeans attracted to the Pacific for different reasons. The Fall of Edward Barnard contains a good description of  sort of allure of that Polynesia still exerts on

Tikopia

Tikopia

Tikopia lies in the southwest Pacific, part of the Solomons but in fact a Polynesian outlier with an inhabited history of two thousand years. The island in only 1.8 square miles but has a stable population of 1,200. Tikopia was one of several outliers that were too small to attract the interest of missionaries in the 19th century and remained non-Christian well into the 20th Century. The island has been quite well studied by the New Zealanders Raymond Firth in the 1920,s and Mike Predergast in the early 1970's.

Rain - From the Trembling of a Leaf by W. Somerset Maugham

Rain - From the Trembling of a Leaf by W. Somerset Maugham

From Augustus Earle in the 1820's to William Somerset Maugham in the middle of World War I, the deep distaste intelligent men had for missionaries in the Pacific was almost universal. When the reader thinks how difficult it was for the English to openly criticise Christian Missionaries in print throughout most of this period and how barely concealed was the contempt with which some writers went after them, it says a great deal of the loathing they inspired.  Maugham of course had the great misfortune to lose both his parents young and to end up in the care of an Uncle who was the Vicar of Whitstable, in Kent.

Polynesian Sexual Customs

Polynesian Sexual Customs

The subject of sexual customs in Polynesia is permeated with misunderstandings, one of the true curiosities of the Modern Age is the historical revision being attempted on the reputation for sexual liberation of Polynesians. Strange phd thesis advance bizarre apologies for the sexual practices customary in the Pacific and so called Women's Studies writers attempt to downplay the promiscuity of Polynesian women.

Surfing in Ancient Hawaii by Ben Finney

Surfing in Ancient Hawaii by Ben Finney

Ben Finney is one of those actually not so rare indiviuals; a European who contributed in a major way to Polynesian Society. His master's degree thesis, for his MA in anthropology in 1959 was; Hawaiian Surfing: a Study of Cultural Change”,which became the basis for Surfing: The Sport of Hawaiian Kings, a book which Finney co-authored in 1966. Finney went on to co-founded in 1973 the Polynesian Voyaging Society with artist Herb Kawainui Kane and sailor Charles Tommy Holmes. Within three years, they had designed, built, and sailed the Hōkūleʻa on its first historic voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti with a crew led by captain Kawika Kapahulehua and navigator Mau Piailug. As he admits himself to write a master's thesis in 1959 on surfing, was to say the least, unusual. A man ahead of his time.

Thor Heyerdahl - Norwegian Kon Artist

Thor Heyerdahl - Norwegian Kon Artist

One of the first lessons you learn going into the field as an anthropologist, archaeologist or journalist is never to come back empty-handed. The cost of the expedition, the need to gratify sponsors, the urge to make a name, all turn up the pressure to get the story. So it’s easy to forget the second great lesson of fieldwork: beware of a story that’s just a little too good.

Polynesian Childhood

Polynesian Childhood

It is my belief that Polynesia has much to teach us if we are prepared to open our eyes along with our minds. In traditional Polynesia Society children enjoy the sort of happy, carefree childhoods Western children could barely imagine. Firstly the environment is a tropical paradise of lagoon, sea, reef, beach and luxurious vegetation. Children are free range with little constraint, because as with most indigenous societies in Polynesia children are regarded as independent individuals with Free Will, not the property of parents.

Polynesian Collections - Auckland War Memorial

Polynesian Collections - Auckland War Memorial

The Auckland Museum has a fabulous Polynesian collection mainly centred on North Island tribal art styles. Adding to its share of the Oldman collection it gained many items from local Maori as well as the bounty of serious collectors like Sir George Grey and Gilbert Mair. Highlights are many but some that I especially admire are the huge War Waka carved in the 1840's, the famous Kaitaia Lintel and strangely enough a collection of portraits painted by a European painter.

Polynesian Collections - The Otago Museum

Polynesian Collections - The Otago Museum

The Otago Museum is in the southern city of Dunedin, on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand. The museum has a fine collection of mainly Eastern Polynesian Art as well as one would expect, this being New Zealand, a superb Maori Collection containing some of the finest examples of Archaic Southern Maori Art; Waitaha, Kati Mamoe and Kai Tahu. The collection is ethnographically displayed, but is a well lit and cleanly arranged example of this dated type of collection presentation.

Polynesian Collections - Te Papa National Museum of New Zealand

Polynesian Collections - Te Papa National Museum of New Zealand

Te Papa Museum has built a very poor reputation with New Zealanders since it opened in 1998 at a cost of 300,000,000 NZD, so before writing this review I decided to visit Wellington specifically to see if things had changed since my last visit. Te Papa's problem is that it was planned and opened before the new wave of modern Art Museums that rode a sea change in the treatment of Tribal Art. Which is a shame because with its fabulous collections it could have been one of the greatest Tribal Art Museums in the World, instead of being an ugly building containing one of the greatest Tribal Art Collections in the World, which is believe me not the same thing.

Polynesian Collections - The Canterbury Museum

Polynesian Collections - The Canterbury Museum

The Canterbury Museum is housed in a Cecil Mundford building from the 1860's, a pleasing aesthetic building from the outside and inside a mess. Upon entry the visitor is immediately assaulted by the sight of the biggest pile of tourist crud outside of Hawaii. However by veering sharply to the right one can flee this visual abomination and come face to face with the skeleton of a Giant Moa which is to say the least impressive if somewhat unrealistically mounted.

Polynesian Material Culture - Tahitian Tapa Beater - British Museum

Polynesian Material Culture - Tahitian Tapa Beater - British Museum

At one time the most common sound in Polynesia was the sound of tapa cloth beaters striking a heavy board or squared log as village women carried on the age old craft of making tapa cloth. Paper mulberry (Broussonetia papyrifera) is native to Japan and Taiwan, and its initial dispersal into the Pacific is thought to be associated with the Austronesian People, who left Taiwan 6,000 years ago travelling down through South-East Asia and Melanesia then out to Fiji, Tonga and Samoa around three thousand years ago. Of the many plants they brought with them into the Pacific the paper mulberry was amongst the most important because although these were topical islands requiring little clothing, the paper mulberry supplied their needs where modesty required covering, and as a perfect material for decoration and display.

Polynesian Material Culture - Rarotongan Tapa Cloth - British Museum

Polynesian Material Culture - Rarotongan Tapa Cloth - British Museum

Sometimes in the study of Polynesian Art History a small window opens on a world that has disappeared. This happen to me not long after I came up with the idea of writing a series of articles on Polynesian Material Culture. This term is just an fancy academic way of saying stuff;  rather like if we were discussing everyday objects in our world; everything from electric razors to tampax. These object are often common, so common no one bothers thinking about them, little own writing about them. 

Polynesian Material Culture – Tongan Kava Bowl  – Te Papa Museum

Polynesian Material Culture – Tongan Kava Bowl – Te Papa Museum

Few objects in Polynesia are so loaded with cultural symbolism as the humble kava bowl, and although this article will show fine and beautiful kava bowls in fact the word humble fits perfectly the average kava bowl in Polynesia, because most are both plain and common. The name kava is from Tongan and Marquesan; the other names for kava include ʻawa in Hawaiʻi and ava in Samoa. The roots of the plant are used to produce a drink with sedative and anesthetic properties, like the paper mulberry another canoe plant it requires growing from a cutting.

Polynesian Material Culture - Nukutavake Canoe - British Museum

Polynesian Material Culture - Nukutavake Canoe - British Museum

The collection of this canoe is rather strange and probably relates to Captain Samuel Wallis, its collector's admiration for the ingenuity of its construction. As Steven Hooper points out at 3.87metres it must have been considerable nuisence strapped upside down on the deck of the  Dolphin on the long journey back to England. It was collected in June 1767 at Nukutavake in the Tuamotu Islands archipelago; the Tuamotus being low-lying islands with few forests, or trees large enough for a hull to be crafted from a single trunk, which explains its remarkable construction from forty-five wood sections bound together with continuous lengths of plaited coconut coir.

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