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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology

First Settlers

First Settlers

The early voyagers visited the islands, obtained food supplies and water, made observations on the inhabitants, and sailed away. Seamen, who deserted from ships or were shipwrecked or captured, were the first white settlers of Polynesia. They were followed by escaped convicts and fugitives from justice. Some were lazy and eked out an existence by living on the natives. As a class they were unproductive from a literary sense, but there was one notable exception in the person of William Mariner.

Mariner, who had sailed on the privateer Port au Prince from England in 1805, was taken prisoner when the ship was captured by the Tongans off page 27Lifuka Island in the Haapai group. His life was spared, and he lived in the islands for some years under the protection of the powerful chief Finau. He finally escaped from his hosts on the brig Favourite under the command of Captain Fisk. He was observant, and his stories of his experiences aroused the interest of John Martin, M.D., who contacted him and compiled and arranged his communications into a classical work, which was published in London in 1817. Mariner could not have written the book himself, and the credit of the recording and the publication is entirely due to the interest of an educated man who never saw Polynesia. Some readers express doubt as to whether some statements were those of Mariner or of Martin. However, such confusion is not unique, for in some modern works, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish whether certain information was communicated by the native informant or inferred by the author. It is probable that some of these early settlers did impart information orally to visiting authors, but the "beach-comber" class had more to conceal than to reveal.