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Polynesian Resource Center

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Tales of the Savage Coast from the book Kaikoura Coast by William J Elvy

Tales of the Savage Coast from the book Kaikoura Coast by William J Elvy

Bill Elvy was a survey draughtsman who worked for years along the Kaikoura Coast, but more importantly he was a keen amateur historian and his small book is a rare and little known gem that contains evocative sketches of the area's often violence past. The Kaikoura Coast is a stunningly beautiful part of the South Island and thanks to the deep sea trench off the coast was a rich food resource supporting  a high population of Maori.

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.

Tupaia’s Sketchbook

Tupaia’s Sketchbook

Two small naked brown figures paddle a canoe while a bigger man gazes intently into the water, poised to strike a dimly-seen fish with his four-pronged spear. This naive pencil and watercolour painting is the first known image of Aborigines fishing in southeastern Australia.

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

The Unfortuate Slave by Augustus Earle

The Unfortuate Slave by Augustus Earle

Augustus Earle (c. 1793 – c. 1838) Was a London born travelling artist of no little talent, trained at the Royal Academy, he ventured widely ending up in New Zealand in 1827, where he met and painted the famous war chief Hongi Hika. Cannibalism as described by Earle did not die out until about 1840 when the numbers of Europeans in the country dramatically increased.

The Death Of Captain Cook by J. C. Beaglehole

The Death Of Captain Cook by J. C. Beaglehole

John Cawte Beaglehole was and for many still is the most complete authority on Capain Cook. The New Zealand historian edited James Cook’s three journals of exploration and wrote the definative biography of Cook. James Cook was the greatest navigator/explorer the world has ever seen worshipped and admired in life and in death, his reputation has even survived the assaults of the current crop of revisionist historians. However in his case the revisionists have only succeeded in making Cook seem an even more interesting character and as Beaglehole shows in the following which was a speech he wrote that preseeded the concept of revisionist history by many years all these questions of Cook's character have been raised before. 

The Death of Relation Eater from Old New Zealand by Fredrick Maning

The Death of Relation Eater from Old New Zealand by Fredrick Maning

The following is a description of the life and manner of death of an old warrior very much representative of a type in the customs and manners of Old Polynesia.

Tokelau

Tokelau

Archaeological evidence indicates that the atolls of Tokelau — Atafu, Nukunonu, and Fakaofo — were settled about 1,000 years ago and may have been a "nexus" into Eastern Polynesia. Inhabitants followed Polynesian mythology with the local god Tui Tokelau; and developed forms of music (see Music of Tokelau) and art. The three atolls functioned largely independently while maintaining social and linguistic cohesion. Tokelauan society was governed by chiefly clans, and there were occasional inter-atoll skirmishes and wars as well as inter-marriage. Fakaofo, the "chiefly island", held some dominance over Atafu and Nukunonu after the dispersal of Atafu. Life on the atolls was subsistence-based, with reliance on fish and coconut.

The Burning of the Boyd

The Burning of the Boyd

The Boyd Massacre occurred in December 1809 when Māori residents of Whangaroa Harbour in northern New Zealand killed and ate between 66 and 70 Europeans, probably as revenge for the whipping of a young Māori chief by the crew of the sailing ship Boyd. This was reputedly the highest number of Europeans killed by Māori in a single event, and the incident is also one of the bloodiest instances of cannibalism on record. In retribution, European whalers attacked the island pa of Chief Te Pahi about 60 km south-east, in the possibly mistaken belief that he ordered the killings. Between 16 and 60 Maori and one European died in the clash. News of the events delayed the first missionary visits to the country, and caused the number of shipping visits to fall to "almost nothing" over the next few years.

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.

The Maori and the Whaling Days of Old New Zealand

The Maori and the Whaling Days of Old New Zealand

The pre-European Maori had no history of maritime whaling, that being the active pursuit and capture of medium to large whales by harpooning or other means. They relied instead on incidental captures and strandings. The reasons were that their canoes were unsuited to this type of fishing; whaling was too dangerous; and fish were abundant and easy to catch using existing technology. Artefacts such as harpoon points and similar equipment for taking large mammals at sea are sparse in the New Zealand archaeological record. Dolphins were harpooned on occasions. At Akaroa, New Zealand about 1840, a dolphin hunt was witnessed being conducted by two canoes of Ngai Tahu,the harpooner using a bone-tipped wooden lance and flax line.

Tahiti: From Wild Life among the Pacific Islanders by E.H.Lamont

Tahiti: From Wild Life among the Pacific Islanders by E.H.Lamont

This is a pretty good description, if coloured, of how missionaries gained control of Pacific Islands, and how equally nasty foreign governments followed their example.

The Maori View of Christianity by Augustus Earle

The Maori View of Christianity by Augustus Earle

In New Zealand London Missionary Society missionaries laboured for thirty years to convert the Maori to Christianity largely unsuccessfully. In Tahiti after the conversion of Pōmare the Second in 1815 the entire island converted, but largely because by then Tahiti was united under Pōmare. In New Zealand no one chief gained control and as the below quote from Augustus Earle experiences in 1827 suggest Maori were unimpressed with the very idea of Christianity. This was thirteen years after Samuel Marsden preached the first sermon in New Zealand. Much of their later success came from the effect of infectious diseases and the remarkable desire of Maori to learn to read, which was started by the missionaries printing the bible in maori. 

The Anaweka Estuary Waka

The Anaweka Estuary Waka

In 2011 at Anaweka Estuary on the rugged North-Western coast of the South Island a huge storm uncovered a 6 metre section of an ocean going waka hull later carbon dated to 1400AD. This would would have been a wonderful discovery in our attempts to understand Polynesian deep water sailing, but on the side of the hull was carved a beautiful representation of a sea turtle which to its rear has a ridged line that follows the curve of the hull.

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.

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