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Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia

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A blend of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Simon Winchester’s Pacific, a thrilling intellectual detective story that looks deep into the past to uncover who first settled the islands of the remote Pacific, where they came from, how they got there, and how we know. For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a A blend of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Simon Winchester’s Pacific, a thrilling intellectual detective story that looks deep into the past to uncover who first settled the islands of the remote Pacific, where they came from, how they got there, and how we know. For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island. Until the arrival of European explorers they were the only people to have ever lived there. Both the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people in the world before the era of mass migration, Polynesians can trace their roots to a group of epic voyagers who ventured out into the unknown in one of the greatest adventures in human history. How did the earliest Polynesians find and colonize these far-flung islands? How did a people without writing or metal tools conquer the largest ocean in the world? This conundrum, which came to be known as the Problem of Polynesian Origins, emerged in the eighteenth century as one of the great geographical mysteries of mankind. For Christina Thompson, this mystery is personal: her Maori husband and their sons descend directly from these ancient navigators. In Sea People, Thompson explores the fascinating story of these ancestors, as well as those of the many sailors, linguists, archaeologists, folklorists, biologists, and geographers who have puzzled over this history for three hundred years. A masterful mix of history, geography, anthropology, and the science of navigation, Sea People combines the thrill of exploration with the drama of discovery in a vivid tour of one of the most captivating regions in the world. Sea People includes an 8-page photo insert, illustrations throughout, and 2 endpaper maps.


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A blend of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Simon Winchester’s Pacific, a thrilling intellectual detective story that looks deep into the past to uncover who first settled the islands of the remote Pacific, where they came from, how they got there, and how we know. For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a A blend of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Simon Winchester’s Pacific, a thrilling intellectual detective story that looks deep into the past to uncover who first settled the islands of the remote Pacific, where they came from, how they got there, and how we know. For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island. Until the arrival of European explorers they were the only people to have ever lived there. Both the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people in the world before the era of mass migration, Polynesians can trace their roots to a group of epic voyagers who ventured out into the unknown in one of the greatest adventures in human history. How did the earliest Polynesians find and colonize these far-flung islands? How did a people without writing or metal tools conquer the largest ocean in the world? This conundrum, which came to be known as the Problem of Polynesian Origins, emerged in the eighteenth century as one of the great geographical mysteries of mankind. For Christina Thompson, this mystery is personal: her Maori husband and their sons descend directly from these ancient navigators. In Sea People, Thompson explores the fascinating story of these ancestors, as well as those of the many sailors, linguists, archaeologists, folklorists, biologists, and geographers who have puzzled over this history for three hundred years. A masterful mix of history, geography, anthropology, and the science of navigation, Sea People combines the thrill of exploration with the drama of discovery in a vivid tour of one of the most captivating regions in the world. Sea People includes an 8-page photo insert, illustrations throughout, and 2 endpaper maps.

30 review for Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tony

    It's been a traveling year for me in books. I intentionally went first to Trieste and stayed there, for a while, longer than I planned. Oddly, it was logical to go from there directly to Wales. And I book a flight for Nowa Ruda whenever Olga calls. Still in a traveling mood, I boarded a ship, but a creaky one, with only hardtack, mealy biscuits and stale water for dinner. We followed the currents and trade winds, going east first before we turned west. The worst was when we were becalmed. Eventua It's been a traveling year for me in books. I intentionally went first to Trieste and stayed there, for a while, longer than I planned. Oddly, it was logical to go from there directly to Wales. And I book a flight for Nowa Ruda whenever Olga calls. Still in a traveling mood, I boarded a ship, but a creaky one, with only hardtack, mealy biscuits and stale water for dinner. We followed the currents and trade winds, going east first before we turned west. The worst was when we were becalmed. Eventually we spotted certain birds that my more experienced mates knew meant land. The water changed, clearer, and seaweed with it. A large, large cloud. When we finally disembarked, we stood on a floating island - the ground beneath your feet is not really land the way that most people understand it. Yet most surprising, on this speck, we found people. And so, I came to the Polynesian Triangle, like the Europeans before me: with luck, with wonder, and with my own notions. This book raises the obvious questions. Where did these people come from? How did they get there? And why? Some of these questions are even answered. And along the way some things we were taught as children get debunked. Like maybe Thor Heyerdahl was more brave than, you know, correct. I also learned: -- about the Ghyber-Herzberg lens, a layer of fresh water which floats on the top of seawater that infiltrates porous coral rock; -- that in biology and anthropology, race has long been abandoned as a meaningful category; -- and that in seafaring, the most sensitive balance was a man's testicles. Some of the things I learned I already had a pretty good hunch about. I'm thinking I might stay in Polynesia for a while. I think Vargas Llosa followed Gauguin to Tahiti. And I've never been to New Zealand, where I heard Katherine Mansfield had a Garden Party

  2. 5 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    Christina Thompson is the author of Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, which I read and loved. I was thrilled when I saw that she was about to publish another book, and even more so when I found a review copy; thanks go to Edelweiss and Harper Collins. This book is for sale now. For centuries, Western scholars have tried to tease apart the many unknown aspects of Polynesian history. The islands are spread across an area of the Pacific Ocean (and beyond) so large that all of the Eart Christina Thompson is the author of Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, which I read and loved. I was thrilled when I saw that she was about to publish another book, and even more so when I found a review copy; thanks go to Edelweiss and Harper Collins. This book is for sale now. For centuries, Western scholars have tried to tease apart the many unknown aspects of Polynesian history. The islands are spread across an area of the Pacific Ocean (and beyond) so large that all of the Earth’s landmasses could fit into it, and there would still be room for an extra one the size of Australia. And yet there’s undeniable evidence that they navigated from one to another in canoes, without compasses or written maps of any kind. How the heck did they do it? Thompson discusses the early European efforts, from the ‘discovery’ of various islands—and she points out that Europeans jealously guarded information, and so British explorers didn’t benefit from what the Spanish found, for example, and vice versa—to present day. She talks about the differing points of view, languages, and cultural divides that prevented the white folk from understanding what islanders were trying to tell them, and from believing that they knew as much as they did. As far as I can tell, Thompson is the first Caucasian writer to approach this subject with respect for the islander peoples about whom she is writing; her husband and sons are of Maori descent, and so for her, this connection merges the academic and the personal. The thing that makes Thompson so readable is her wry take on the errors made by those that came before—mostly the Westerners that approached the area with paternalism tinged with more than a little racism in many cases. I’ll be reading along and thinking yes yes, this is interesting…and then I’ll come across a remark and reread it—did she just say what I think she just said? And then I am laughing out loud. Find me a geographer, an anthropologist, a sociologist that can do that. In particular, her unpacking of the whole Kon-Tiki debacle is unmissable. If I could change anything, it would be to have been able to read this before I went into teaching instead of after retirement. I taught a lot of Islander kids, and the wisdom is that when we teach American history, we incorporate the history of each ethnic group represented in the classroom. I knew how to include my African-American students, and I knew what to tell kids of Chinese and Japanese backgrounds. I had material for my Latino kids. But with my Islander students, all I could do is say that I had truly tried to find information for them, but what little I found was so deadly dull and written at such a high literacy level that it wouldn’t work for them. And what would really kick ass is if this writer, at some lull between high-powered academic projects, could write something for children or young adults of Maori descent. Right now, English-speaking Pacific Island kids have one Disney movie. That’s it. This book is highly recommended to every reader with post-high-school literacy ability and stamina. It’s a cultural treasure, and though I rarely do this with galleys, I will go back and read this again, because there’s no way to take it all in the first time, even when making notes. What a wonderful find.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Chrisl

    Was entertained while learning for about 100 pages. But after Captain Cook's explorations, when the whalers and missionaries arrived, I started losing interest. Did appreciate her words about the Lapita https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapita_... *** Historically, perhaps my favorite contemporary topic for exploration, Sapiens earliest watercraft ... Thompson writes: p48 " ... because some portion of the population was always 'away,' hunting turtles or collecting birds' eggs or gathering coconuts or vis Was entertained while learning for about 100 pages. But after Captain Cook's explorations, when the whalers and missionaries arrived, I started losing interest. Did appreciate her words about the Lapita https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapita_... *** Historically, perhaps my favorite contemporary topic for exploration, Sapiens earliest watercraft ... Thompson writes: p48 " ... because some portion of the population was always 'away,' hunting turtles or collecting birds' eggs or gathering coconuts or visiting in some other corner of the archipelago. All of which raises an interesting question: Since there are almost no trees on an atoll, and certainly none of the larger species that in other parts of the Pacific provided wood for keels and planks and masts, what did the inhabitants of the low islands do for canoes? It being inconceivable that they could ever have lived in this watery world without them." ... " There is a picture in ... 'Canoes of Oceania' ... It shows a small canoe from the island of Nukutavake, in the southern Tuamotus, which was brought to England in the 1760s ... in the British Museum, it is described as 'by far the oldest complete hull of a Polynesian canoe in existence ... probably a small fishing boat ... "The amazing thing about the Nukutavake canoe is the way it's constructed. It is composed of no fewer than forty-five irregularly shaped pieces of wood ingeniously stitched together with braided sennit, a kind of cordage made from the inner husk of a coconut. Close up, it looks like nothing so much as a crazy quilt whose seams have been decoratively overstitched with yarn. It is difficult to believe that such neat and painstaking rows of sewing could be made with something as rough as rope; or that what they are holding together could be something as stiff as wooden planks; or that anyone would think of making something as solid and important as a boat using such a method. Everything about it suggests cleverness and thrift and also, plainly, necessity. You can even see where the boards have been patched with little plugs or circles of timbers held in place with stitches radiating out like the rays of a sun, and at least one plank shows signs of having been repurposed from another vessel." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nukutavake https://britishmuseum.org/research/co... "It is in astonishingly good condition considering its long voyage to England lashed to the deck of the Dolphin. The hull is composed of forty-five wood sections bound together with ..." https://www.khanacademy.org/humanitie... *** p80 "And here steps onto the stage one of the most intriguing figures in this story. Tupaia ... tall, impressive man of about forty, with the bearing and tattoos of a member of the chiefly class ... an expert in the arts of politics, oratory, and navigation. ... "But Tupaia was not just a repository of information; he clearly had a deep and inquiring mind. The anthropologist Nicholas Thomas describes him as an 'indigenous intellectual with experimental inclinations'--a phrase that seems to capture something of both the man and the age in which he lived." *** p89 ..."Interestingly, Cook seems not to have considered a sailing rate of 120 miles a day overly optimistic for a Tahitian 'pahi.' noting that these large canoes could sail much faster than a European ship." ***

  4. 4 out of 5

    Peter Mcloughlin

    Starts with the European encounter with the peoples of Polynesia as they made early forays and later more systematic exploration and conquest of an Ocean that takes up nearly half globe with islands dotting its huge expanse. As the Europeans encountered people who had braved the Pacific before them questions were raised at how the peoples of Polynesia pulled it off as pre-state, pre-literate peoples. The first guess was they randomly drifted onto the islands but once Europeans put aside their e Starts with the European encounter with the peoples of Polynesia as they made early forays and later more systematic exploration and conquest of an Ocean that takes up nearly half globe with islands dotting its huge expanse. As the Europeans encountered people who had braved the Pacific before them questions were raised at how the peoples of Polynesia pulled it off as pre-state, pre-literate peoples. The first guess was they randomly drifted onto the islands but once Europeans put aside their egos and explored their navigating abilities the picture on the Polynesian conquest of the Pacific it became clear that their seafaring is more remarkable than the European's feats in the age of exploration. As the picture evolved the methods and means of the conquest of the Pacific is explained by various oral stories, Star charts, and island wildlife sign the Polynesians spread and traded with each other across the Pacific.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Clare O'Beara

    This exploration of explorations of an exploring people is full of fascinations, friendships and frightening distances. Also birds - as guides, as food, as giants made extinct. The author tells us she is married to a Polynesian gentleman who is one of a people who inhabit remote islands across the Pacific, which today are in a nine hours' flight on a side, triangle. To explore a people who didn't have a written history, and lost much oral history when diseases struck, is to give an account of how This exploration of explorations of an exploring people is full of fascinations, friendships and frightening distances. Also birds - as guides, as food, as giants made extinct. The author tells us she is married to a Polynesian gentleman who is one of a people who inhabit remote islands across the Pacific, which today are in a nine hours' flight on a side, triangle. To explore a people who didn't have a written history, and lost much oral history when diseases struck, is to give an account of how other nations came across them, reacted to them, befriended them and learned about them. From Spaniards and Dutch, to Captain Cook's many voyages, to Thor Heyerdahl, spans centuries of puzzlement. For how did the Polynesians get where they were, where did they come from, and were they all related? Linguistics proved a relationship, the animals carried, pigs, dogs, chickens and rats, added firmly to the links. In the modern times, after radiocarbon dating, fishhooks and pottery were added, the animals came in useful again; their bones could safely be DNA tested from modern and buried sites, rather than disturbing too many human graves. I enjoyed the account and the photos. Some of the passages were new to me and others more familiar but the whole is well assembled and tries to show what people on both sides believed at the time. Notes P319 - 354 in my e-ARC. I counted 11 names which I could be sure were female. I downloaded a ARC from Net Galley. This is an unbiased review. Anyone interested in reading fictional accounts of seafaring Polynesian-like communities may enjoy 'The Roof of Voyaging' by Garry Kilworth, 'Misfits And Heroes - Past The Last Island' by Kathleen Rollins, 'Daughter of the Reef' by Clare Coleman and 'Where the Waters Turn Black' by Patrick Benedict.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

    Summary: A mostly entertaining look at how our theories about unrecorded history evolve, with a few slow bits. "For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island. Until the arrival of European explorers they were the only people to have ever lived there. Both the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people in the world before the era of mass migration, Polynesians ca Summary: A mostly entertaining look at how our theories about unrecorded history evolve, with a few slow bits. "For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island. Until the arrival of European explorers they were the only people to have ever lived there. Both the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people in the world before the era of mass migration, Polynesians can trace their roots to a group of epic voyagers who ventured out into the unknown in one of the greatest adventures in human history. How did the earliest Polynesians find and colonize these far-flung islands? How did a people without writing or metal tools conquer the largest ocean in the world? This conundrum, which came to be known as the Problem of Polynesian Origins," (source) and how people have tried to answer it, is the focus of this book. I started this book shortly after reading Simon Winchester's Krakatoa, which had a downright colonial perspective. I was worried this would be the same, but was hoping for a focus on Polynesian perspectives. I think it delivered to the extent possible on this topic. It seems that most surviving records from the earliest time periods the author covers are from Europeans. Unlike Winchester though, the author doesn't treat this as the only perspective that matters. She shares European accounts of Polynesian origin stories. She also discusses the limitations of the European records, due to their perspective or lack of knowledge. Where possible, she gives some informed speculation about the ways the perspectives of the Polynesians might differ. The content of the book was fascinating, a great blend of history, culture, and natural history. It's amazing that the Polynesian islands were colonized as early as they were. I enjoyed learning about the many different theories of how that came to be. It was interesting to learn about methods we can use to learn about historical events that weren't recorded or when records are spotty or unreliable. For the most part, I thought the author included a great collection of fun facts. Her enthusiasm was infectious. At the end though, the book started to drag. One of the last sections focuses on the details of many, poorly supported theories that Europeans came with up for the order in which the islands were colonized. The theories didn't build on each other. There was no forward momentum. It was more like reading a list, a very detailed list with items it was hard to keep track of. Things did pick back up, with a look at modern recreation of voyages and some modern science, but the book had lost it's drive for me. I'd still recommend it if the topic particularly interests you, but it's definitely not my favorite history.This review was originally posted on Doing Dewey

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    This is a library loan, so I must mark as "read" having read through the book once, but it is a book so full of interesting history, theories and expeditions in addition to the recounting of people who sacrificed a great deal to find truth that it could serve as reference book to repeatedly turn to and cite. There was so much new information for me I could not possibly summarize key points in this small space. Yes, I learned some of this information long ago, but Thompson expertly gathers and ta This is a library loan, so I must mark as "read" having read through the book once, but it is a book so full of interesting history, theories and expeditions in addition to the recounting of people who sacrificed a great deal to find truth that it could serve as reference book to repeatedly turn to and cite. There was so much new information for me I could not possibly summarize key points in this small space. Yes, I learned some of this information long ago, but Thompson expertly gathers and tames the key events and people in a beautifully readable narrative. To Read Again = Learning is a Wonderful Thing One small example of my ignorance: I knew nothing of Moa birds!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    See my review below from the March issue of Baltimore Style. Humans have had wanderlust for as long as they’ve been in existence. Christina Thompson’s Sea People : the Puzzle of Polynesia uses a variety of sciences to determine the who, what, when, where and why the South Pacific became inhabited. Much of what we thought we knew was seen through the eyes and culture of 16th century European explorers and turned out to be flat-out wrong. Using linguistics, cartography, archaeology, anthropology and g See my review below from the March issue of Baltimore Style. Humans have had wanderlust for as long as they’ve been in existence. Christina Thompson’s Sea People : the Puzzle of Polynesia uses a variety of sciences to determine the who, what, when, where and why the South Pacific became inhabited. Much of what we thought we knew was seen through the eyes and culture of 16th century European explorers and turned out to be flat-out wrong. Using linguistics, cartography, archaeology, anthropology and genetics, this well- researched study debunks the early ideas and then builds a case that is closer to truthful. Don’t underestimate the importance of story here - the oral traditions of the Polynesians, written off as “folklore”, turned out to be closer to the truth than the observations of those explorers who came later.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Seth Turner

    Fascinating ethnographic look into the migration puzzle of the Polynesian peoples. Clearly a passion project that starts to unpack the puzzle presented in the book. Highly recommend it for anthropologists, historians, and related fields of interest.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Howard

    Very interesting!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Corin

    Fascinating!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nihilistic Librarian

    This book absolutely blew me away. Aside from the beautiful historical narrative, it fundamentally changed the way I see the world. I come from a written history culture and Thompson was able to provide a lens to peer through into an oral history culture. From small examples like Europeans giving directions by reading maps with the presumption that the top will always be north, while a Polynesian person gives directions from the literal point they are facing; to huge concepts like history and ge This book absolutely blew me away. Aside from the beautiful historical narrative, it fundamentally changed the way I see the world. I come from a written history culture and Thompson was able to provide a lens to peer through into an oral history culture. From small examples like Europeans giving directions by reading maps with the presumption that the top will always be north, while a Polynesian person gives directions from the literal point they are facing; to huge concepts like history and genealogy being passed down through what European cultures viewed as "myths" and "stories" that in digging a little deeper, turned out to be very accurate. Highly recommend for history buffs, geography buffs, and anyone who is inquisitive about how they view reality in contrast to other people coexisting in the world.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Laura Trombley

    Sea People is a wonderful little book about how and when the Polynesians ended up in Polynesia. Beginning with the moments when Europeans first discovered unknown inhabited islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean going forward through all of the documentation and then science used to answer these questions. I cannot even imagine getting into a outrigger canoe and traveling to some unknown island that may or may not be there. It was fascinating.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

    This was such a wonderful book! I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Susan Lyons, who did a great job. I do wish that the narrator had been a Polynesian person, but that's my only complaint, really. The writing is evocative and lush--at times the book reads almost like a novel. It incorporates Polynesian legends and myths with accounts from European explorers. I especially loved the last part, which details the resurgence and reclamation of traditional sailing and navigating by the Polynesia This was such a wonderful book! I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Susan Lyons, who did a great job. I do wish that the narrator had been a Polynesian person, but that's my only complaint, really. The writing is evocative and lush--at times the book reads almost like a novel. It incorporates Polynesian legends and myths with accounts from European explorers. I especially loved the last part, which details the resurgence and reclamation of traditional sailing and navigating by the Polynesian people.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Becky Diamond

    Piecing together a vast number of elements including history, science, mysticism, folklore, archeology and ancient genealogies, Thompson creates a mesmerizing account of the Polynesian puzzle. A revelatory summary of this vast area steeped in culture and tradition. Highly recommend.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tomi

    Kuvauksen perusteella tämä on tarina Polynesian kansojen historiasta: siitä miten maailman laajimmalle alueelle levinnyt, mutta silti toisilleen läheistä sukua ollut ihmisryhmä levittäytyi pitkin Tyyntä valtamerta ja sen pieniä saaria. Olin pettynyt, kun kirja olikin pääosin eurooppalaisen kolonialismin, ennakkoluulojen, haparoivien selitysten ja alkuperäiskansojen sivuuttamisen historia. Valtaosa Thompsonin kirjasta on omistettu sille, miten eurooppalaiset "löysivät" Polynesian saaret ja sitten Kuvauksen perusteella tämä on tarina Polynesian kansojen historiasta: siitä miten maailman laajimmalle alueelle levinnyt, mutta silti toisilleen läheistä sukua ollut ihmisryhmä levittäytyi pitkin Tyyntä valtamerta ja sen pieniä saaria. Olin pettynyt, kun kirja olikin pääosin eurooppalaisen kolonialismin, ennakkoluulojen, haparoivien selitysten ja alkuperäiskansojen sivuuttamisen historia. Valtaosa Thompsonin kirjasta on omistettu sille, miten eurooppalaiset "löysivät" Polynesian saaret ja sitten vuosisatoja arvailivat, mistä ja miten polynesialaiset ovat saarille tulleet. Tässä ei sinänsä ole mitään vikaa: kulttuurien kohtaamiset ovat kiinnostavia, tieteen kehittyminen on kiinnostavaa. Mutta jos halutaan kertoa polynesialaisten tarina, pitäisi mielestäni keskiössä olla polynesialaisten omat tarinat heistä itsestään. Ja kun muiden näkökulmista kerrotaan, pitäisi ne kontekstualisoida ja niihin liittyvät ennakkoluulot, rajoitteet ja rasismi avata suoraan ja väistelemättä. Thompson tekee tätä sivulauseissa ja jonkin verran kirjan lopussa, mutta ei mielestäni ollenkaan tarpeeksi. Kirja on muuten kirjoitettu ihan hyvin ja vetävästi, äänikirjakin on miellyttävää kuunneltavaa. Opin paljon uutta ja kiinnostus Polynesian kansojen historiaan heräsi. Mutta en päässyt edellä kuvaamastani keskeisestä puutteesta missään kohtaa oikein yli.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Christina Dudley

    I loved this book! A fascinating history of Polynesia and of outsider perceptions of Polynesia over the few recorded centuries since western "discovery." If you love history of exploration, anthropology, seafaring, natural history, origin stories, and good old rat DNA, this is the book for you. You'll also want to spend some time in a planetarium and will add the name "Willowdean" to your list of baby girl names. It wasn't till I got to the end that I found I'd also read and enjoyed Thompson's pr I loved this book! A fascinating history of Polynesia and of outsider perceptions of Polynesia over the few recorded centuries since western "discovery." If you love history of exploration, anthropology, seafaring, natural history, origin stories, and good old rat DNA, this is the book for you. You'll also want to spend some time in a planetarium and will add the name "Willowdean" to your list of baby girl names. It wasn't till I got to the end that I found I'd also read and enjoyed Thompson's previous book COME ON SHORE AND WE WILL KILL AND EAT YOU ALL, about first encounters between outsiders and Maori in NZ.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Phillip

    4.5 / 5.0 Delightful meandering tour through Western Attempts to interpret Polynesian Origins and History. Well organized and hard to put down well written. Incorporates elements of mythology astronomy geology archeology biology and tradition into a balanced summary of the evidence and theory.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    FIVE STARS! This book was great. I didn’t know how interested I was until I started reading. This book combines narrative with facts in a very pleasant proportion. The really impressive facet of this book is the underlying theme of how western understanding of a foreign culture changes over time. The evolution of anthropological understanding as a study in ideas changing over time is fascinating. Really good stuff.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Penelope Schoeffel

    Not a puzzle anymore! This engaging account tells us what is known about the Polynesians and how it came to be known. This amazing people achieved a feat of marine exploration of thousand of miles of ocean when everyone else in the world was just dabbling in calm waters.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Lowrie Osborne

    Broadened My Horizons Thanks, Christina Thompson. Now I have a list of other books to read so I can understand even more! My first reaction to the photo section was frustration that they hadn't been in the text, but in retrospect, it was a nice surprise at the end.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Larry Kilham

    Excellent book about human nature in the context of the wide Pacific. The author seems to have omitted, however, overpopulation among the reasons why the sea Polynesians migrated onwards to additional islands.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Kathy Stone

    I won this book from a First Reads giveaway here on Goodreads. This is the History of what we have learned about Polynesia and how we learned it. Christina Thompson is married to a New Zealand Maori and she wished to know more of his culture and the people that populate the Polynesian Triangle. The book uses every branch of the social studies starting with history and goes into ethnology, anthropology, linguistics and archaeology. Mythology also places a large part of the story. She than conclud I won this book from a First Reads giveaway here on Goodreads. This is the History of what we have learned about Polynesia and how we learned it. Christina Thompson is married to a New Zealand Maori and she wished to know more of his culture and the people that populate the Polynesian Triangle. The book uses every branch of the social studies starting with history and goes into ethnology, anthropology, linguistics and archaeology. Mythology also places a large part of the story. She than concludes with Radiocarbon dating and DNA studies related to the human genome project. The book starts with the journeys of Captain James Cook as he traveled through the Polynesian Triangle in the eighteenth century. Europeans have always been fascinated with the people found on these far flung islands in the middle of the world's biggest ocean. They are not like anyone else in the world. There languages appear to have a different root than those found in the Indo-European Family and scholars in the nineteenth century spent many years trying to find the root of Proto-Oceanic. From this book there are still no conclusions as to where these people came from. Some groups clearing came from Asia and the Micronesian islands, but others may have come from South America because of the prevalence of sweet potatoes in the Polynesian Triangle. Sweet Potatoes are a Unique root vegetable of South America. Columbus brought some back on his first journey. Now the first meetings between the Polynesians and the Europeans did not go well. Men will killed over misunderstandings. European diseases were brought to these lands and many people were killed. This makes doing DNA analysis difficult because many genes died in the epidemics. This may be a shame to the modern world, but no culture is static. The evidence shows that Polynesian Islands were inhabited and uninhabited throughout the last 2000 years by different groups. Some people have even tried to learn the old ways of navigating the ships without instruments. It is interesting that modern materials have been used to make these canoes instead of the traditional ways. Are these people lost in the modern world or are the people descended from the Europeans the ones that are lost in this technological age. This is a question that still remains to be answered.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Chaitra

    Exactly six years ago, I went on a vacation to Hawaii and fell in love with it. I was born in a coastal town but didn't much care for the sea until Hawaii. In Hawaii, also, I remember taking a plantation tour where I recall the tour guide talking about someone migrating on canoes with coconuts (this was a coconut plantation) and adjusting to life on Hawaii. This was something I heard vaguely - I was on the back of an open top bus and I couldn't hear much over the noise it was making - and I thin Exactly six years ago, I went on a vacation to Hawaii and fell in love with it. I was born in a coastal town but didn't much care for the sea until Hawaii. In Hawaii, also, I remember taking a plantation tour where I recall the tour guide talking about someone migrating on canoes with coconuts (this was a coconut plantation) and adjusting to life on Hawaii. This was something I heard vaguely - I was on the back of an open top bus and I couldn't hear much over the noise it was making - and I think the impression I was left with was that the settlers came from the American coast. But it was fascinating to me anyway, because how did they know there was anything out there to begin with? They could have been journeying into the great abyss for all they knew. When I saw this book on my library's website exactly six years since my trip, I picked it up and immediately started reading because finally I'd know where they'd come from. And the book kind of delivers, I guess? Because now I know that they're not Americans, the sea people. But then, the sea people also held oral history and not written, and while that is important, who knows how much of it was lost during the European first contact that decimated their population. Ancient DNA analysis has thrown light, but there are still too many mysteries. None of which is the book's fault, and none of these problems are what made me give this book 3 stars and not higher. It's the middle of the book that's the culprit. It's not actually bloated, or information dense, but it's terribly boring. After Cook, I was briefly intrigued by the Lapita people, and only really got back into the book when Hokule'a was mentioned. By that time it was too late to muster up my enthusiasm for the book. But, it has some information that I had never really thought about, the Carolinian navigation system, for example. That is fascinating, and completely beyond something my brain can accept as a rational method. I also liked the science involved, radiocarbon dating, ancient DNA sampling. It's an interesting book, but with boring parts.

  25. 5 out of 5

    David Frederick

    This book is essentially about the way centuries of well-intentioned Europeans have approached Polynesian culture as if it was a puzzle to be solved. Christina Thompson sympathizes deeply with her cast of curious outsiders; she is herself a Westerner married to a Maori. She writes engaging prose that’s just a degree or two shy of the romanticism embraced by her predecessors, and she does, ultimately, answer the question of Polynesian origins with a hat tip to the insight of the original islander This book is essentially about the way centuries of well-intentioned Europeans have approached Polynesian culture as if it was a puzzle to be solved. Christina Thompson sympathizes deeply with her cast of curious outsiders; she is herself a Westerner married to a Maori. She writes engaging prose that’s just a degree or two shy of the romanticism embraced by her predecessors, and she does, ultimately, answer the question of Polynesian origins with a hat tip to the insight of the original islanders. Along the way, however, she presents every influential Western theorist in the best possible light, brushing off the negative consequences of their speculations. (Thor Heyerdahl, for example, didn’t just build and voyage on the Kon-Tiki. He also invented a racial myth about Easter Island that, due to his charisma and Western cultural megaphone, threatened to extinguish and replace the actual traditions of the people who live there — even amongst Rapa Nui themselves.) That said, the book is fun to read, informative, and doubtless largely correct. You can learn about real Polynesian navigational techniques from it, and Thompson does attempt to hold up a consistent Polynesian worldview in contrast to the shifting trends of Western understanding. I would have liked more of this — less about Fornander (for all his virtues) and more about Samuel Kamakau, say, who barely gets a single mention in this book. Doing so might have required Thompson to broaden her focus from the question of Polynesian origins to issues of Polynesian identity — and perhaps the author did not feel qualified, as an outsider, to attempt such a feat. Maybe she was right! As it stands, Sea People is worth picking up! But it is, as Thompson admits in the final chapter of her book, essentially “a European story” first, and “a Polynesian one as well.”

  26. 5 out of 5

    Seth

    My eyes glaze over when I read some vague legend about Rata setting off from legendary Hawaiki to avenge his father’s death encountering monstrous swordfishes and clams. I’m more interested in actual anthropological questions. Who what where when why? These questions seem to be in some post-modernist way insulting to the descendents of the people involved in these questions. How did the sweet potato end up in Polynesia from America? Why with the aggressive expansionist tendencies of the Polynesi My eyes glaze over when I read some vague legend about Rata setting off from legendary Hawaiki to avenge his father’s death encountering monstrous swordfishes and clams. I’m more interested in actual anthropological questions. Who what where when why? These questions seem to be in some post-modernist way insulting to the descendents of the people involved in these questions. How did the sweet potato end up in Polynesia from America? Why with the aggressive expansionist tendencies of the Polynesians did they never seem to have made the relatively short journey to Australia? If settlers set off into the deep to discover Hawai’i and New Zealand with no idea it was even out there thousands of miles away, does that mean there were suicidal settlers who set out towards other points of the compass to find nothing but open ocean and perish? Why with the archeological record of deep entanglement between Melanesian and Polynesian people do they look so dissimilar? We’ll probably never know the answers and these questions are getting more and more ‘racist’ to ask. This book is a historiography of Polynesia and how we know what we do know. Most is familiar to people with a general interest in Polynesia. The parts that rely on the Polynesians’ own legends and navigational techniques are vague and confusing to my Western eyes. If I came home from work and found a bunch of sweet potatoes dumped on my floor, I’d want to know who put them there and how they got into my house. That’s all. Not confusing legends involving monsters and ancient heros that might be interesting but not really enlightening. I find that stuff to be filler. Stuff either happened or it didn’t. Also it’s really hard to root for Team Polynesians. The settling of New Zealand and Hawaii along with the Austronesian settlement of Madagascar are the three biggest ecological nightmares since the time of Christ.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Randall Harrison

    Ms. Thompson has written a compelling story about Polynesian history, culture and "discovery". I most enjoyed the sections that focused on navigation, trying to answer age-old questions about how natives settled the various island groups - where did they come from and how did they get there? I'm fascinated reading that islanders rowed vast distances across open seas to reach destinations using only celestial, instrument-free navigation, including a good deal of human intuition. Having visited Ha Ms. Thompson has written a compelling story about Polynesian history, culture and "discovery". I most enjoyed the sections that focused on navigation, trying to answer age-old questions about how natives settled the various island groups - where did they come from and how did they get there? I'm fascinated reading that islanders rowed vast distances across open seas to reach destinations using only celestial, instrument-free navigation, including a good deal of human intuition. Having visited Hawaii and New Zealand, I knew the proud heritage the native Polynesians honor and uphold. Kind of sad to hear that some elements of their oft-told oral histories might have been hijacked and embellished by the initial European transcribers of that history. That some of it overwrote true oral history, and that the natives accepted the repurposed versions, was a revelation to me. Don't know if that sentiment is widespread as I'd never heard about it. However, Thompson's is the first Polynesian-centric volume I've read on this subject. The rest of it was written from a Euro-American perspective. Perhaps, I'm just poorly-informed. If you don't want to sail the southern seas and visit these tropical places after reading this book, nothing will thus move you. Thompson incorporates multiple disciplines to tell this compelling tale: history, geography, anthropology, sociology, even computer science. She has produced a certain good read for anybody who has visited, wants to visit or knows of the islands of the mid-Pacific ocean. An added plus for me, the narrative cured my poor geographical understanding of the various island groups, and their locations relative to each other. Can't see how anybody who loves travel, geography or exploration won't enjoy reading this book. I truly enjoyed reading this fascinating, well-told and well-written tale.

  28. 4 out of 5

    John

    The Pacific Ocean spans half the globe, yet the paucity of land means that it is very sparsely populated. Given that even a place as remote as Easter Island is now known to have been people by travellers from the west, who were those early settlers and how did they make such astonishing journeys across almost empty seas, often heading into the prevailing winds? Christina Thompson has produced a wonderful synthesis of history, anthropology, exploration and folklore to tell the story of how Polynes The Pacific Ocean spans half the globe, yet the paucity of land means that it is very sparsely populated. Given that even a place as remote as Easter Island is now known to have been people by travellers from the west, who were those early settlers and how did they make such astonishing journeys across almost empty seas, often heading into the prevailing winds? Christina Thompson has produced a wonderful synthesis of history, anthropology, exploration and folklore to tell the story of how Polynesia came to be inhabited and how different versions of that story have come together to form a probable explanation. She brings together the ancient knowledge of Polynesian people with the stories of the European explorers and how they interacted. She is as respectful of local explanations as she is of scientific ones, and in the process of explaining them she conveys the spirit of these remote places for those of us who can only stand on the edge of the Pacific and wonder at its immensity.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Julian Walker

    I was enthralled learning about Captain Cook in my school days, and later on by reading about Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki expedition - but this book is a further revelation. Minutely researched, it covers the origins, learnings, languages and skills of a people whose lands are divided yet connected by vast tracts of open ocean - which in fact make up a more meaningful part of their world. The author manages to create a highly readable and fascinating story, from both a personal and an historic pers I was enthralled learning about Captain Cook in my school days, and later on by reading about Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki expedition - but this book is a further revelation. Minutely researched, it covers the origins, learnings, languages and skills of a people whose lands are divided yet connected by vast tracts of open ocean - which in fact make up a more meaningful part of their world. The author manages to create a highly readable and fascinating story, from both a personal and an historic perspective, and I was transported around the world by her lyrical writing style. This was an unplanned read for me having seen it in a bookshop new titles display and I am thrilled to have read and thoroughly enjoyed it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paleoanthro

    A thoroughly insightful, researched, and personal look at Polynesian origins. Thompson navigates us throughout Polynesia from the earliest inhabitants, to the first European explorers, to modern day adventures and scientific explorations; all the while we learn about the peoples of this remarkable part of the planet and how they came to inhabit such a widely disbursed area. Engagingly written, Thompson blends history, culture, and science into a remarkable look into the incredible people of Poly A thoroughly insightful, researched, and personal look at Polynesian origins. Thompson navigates us throughout Polynesia from the earliest inhabitants, to the first European explorers, to modern day adventures and scientific explorations; all the while we learn about the peoples of this remarkable part of the planet and how they came to inhabit such a widely disbursed area. Engagingly written, Thompson blends history, culture, and science into a remarkable look into the incredible people of Polynesia.

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