Thursday, May 27, 2010

Global exchange, 1700s style

Sailors and traders : a maritime history of the Pacific peoples / by Alastair Couper. Published by the University of Hawai'i Press, 2009. 262 p., illustrations, maps.

Selected from the new book shelf are Sailors and traders : a maritime history of the Pacific peoples / by Alastair Couper and A Maritime history of Baja California by Edward W. Vernon. Both books offer amazing insight into changes that occurred because of maritime influence on the indigenous societies and ways of life at the time of their discovery by people from as far away as Spain and the Netherlands.

Sailors and Traders is a summary history: its intent is to include the most important events of ocean and island cultural exploration, enriched by details about the interaction between explorers and native people of New Zealand, the Maoris. From pages 67-68, the author characterizes the attitudes prevalent among the explorers:

“… members of the first exploration ships were the scientists and artists, whose perceptions were politically influential… The European scientists were so ethnocentric that they were unable to learn much from the skills and knowledge of Pacific people… The proud and intelligent Tupaia of Tahiti must have carried enormous indigenous knowledge, most of which remained unrecorded… Only in the twentieth century did this knowledge become more clearly recognized by Europeans as the essential basis of marine science.”

The book has eleven chapters : besides an encapsulation of the first explorers of the Pacific, he discusses the maritime and trade events leading to foreign settlement and commerce; he also considers shipping companies, maritime law, and the “spheres of influence of maritime trade”, along with photographs . An epilogue, “Some contemporary resonances”, completes his essay.

In a summary on pages 97 and 98, he states, “The period of 1800 to the 1860s brought most of the main islands of Polynesia and several elsewhere to the edge of the capitalist system. This was carried to them by commercial ships… and new commodities were incorporated into indigenous channels of trade… and the accumulation of personal wealth for the… deeply entrenched kingships of Tahiti and Hawai’i. One of the most lasting effects was the creation of a working class at sea and ashore. To them the ship was among the most remarkable of the material changes which Euopeans had introduced into the life of the Pacific. ”

Explanation of terms used:
new book shelf: as the library acquires or receives donations, they are noted on the web site and cataloged on Look for a posting on The Maritime History of Baja California, next week.

Image from Wikipedia, engraved after Sydney Parkinson's sketch of a Maori chief.

Maoris: explained on page 187 of South Pacific A to Z. / Robert S. Kane. Published by Doubleday, 1966. “New Zealand’s earliest known inhabitants were a people believed to be Polynesian… They came in giant canoes… all the way from French Polynesia. The earliest of these Pacific Vikings probably arrived in New Zealand in the 12th century.” Moreover, on page 440, Geography of the Pacific. / Otis W. Freeman, editor. N.Y.: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1951, “Prior to their migrations to New Zealand were already skilled navigators, fearless warriors, and expert agriculturalists.” Read about the Maori culture, origins, migrations and more in the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Tupaia: the Tahitian priest who first met Europeans Captain James Cook and his botanist Joseph Banks in 1768, and became a translator and interpreter of the Maori language in New Zealand for the explorers.

epilogue: "a concluding part adding to a literary work..." p. 480, Random House Dictionary, 1966.

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