Home > POLYNESIAN LIFE AND TIMES

POLYNESIAN LIFE AND TIMES

 
During the period of the Cook voyages little was known in Europe about the interiors of other continents. Asia was largely unexplored. The sources of the Nile were undiscovered, and few had ventured far beyond the Mississippi. The great cradles of civilization at Luxor, Troy, Ur of the Chaldees, and Mohenjo-Daro lay buried or were scarcely known in written records. The public had never heard of Tutankhamen. Yet during that time Cook and his companions were assembling a wealth of information on the day-to-day life of well developed societies on islands half a world away. The European conception of mankind was substantially enlarged by the sudden vision of a human family far more diverse than anyone had imagined.

Neither James Cook nor Reinhold Forster was a social anthropologist in any modern sense. No particular sagacity, in fact, was required on their part to write of what everyone saw on every hand, and indeed their island visits of the year before had already eroded much of the novelty. Yet they had a knack of perceiving the significant items of local culture, whether sea-going canoes, tools and weapons, food and cloth, ceremonial dress, or yams and sweet potatoes. They were perforce anthropocentric, while they remained remarkably free of disabling preconceptions. So it is that their journals are valuable records of eighteenth-century life in the South Pacific on the eve of western influence.

We can visualize Resolution on her epic journey among the islands. Between landfalls her passage was slow and tedious as day after day the mariners went about their affairs. Then at a landing we note a sudden burst of activity, a scribbling of word lists, a helter-skelter trading for artifacts and specimens, with Cook worrying and hurrying everyone to keep the voyage on schedule and Reinhold Forster upset over work left unfinished in too short a stay. Whereupon Resolution would take up her measured tread again to the next hectic landing. The two protagonists - captain and scholar - in that little society were shaped withal by their own separate ambitions, training, and background, and their behavior showed as much. Inevitably the voyage was punctuated from time to time by the clash of their respective personalities.

Easter Island
     Mystery of the Past
     The People of the Long Ears
The Marquesas Islands
     A Promising Start is Thwarted
     A View from the Outside
The Society Islands
     Tahitian Prosperity
     Cook Reviews the Fleet
       Cook Tries Diplomacy
       A Tahitian Farewell
     Huaheine: Just Among Friends
     Raiatea: Friendship Renewed
       Culture and Religion
The Friendly Isles
     Tonga Bids Cook Welcome
     Of Mountains and Mystery
Footnotes

Unsolicited e-mail warning

It has come to our attention that spam mailers (senders of bulk unsolicited e-mail) have been forging their mail with this domain as the point of origin. As a matter of policy, we do not send out e-mail from our domain name. If you have received an email that appears to be from "@CaptainCookSociety.com" it was forged and sent without our consent, knowledge, or the use of our servers.