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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology

Ethnological Societies in Polynesia

Ethnological Societies in Polynesia

The formation of a society for a specific interest depends upon the initiative of one or a few enthusiastic individuals who can induce others to join in sufficient number to provide adequate funds through membership fees to publish annual reports or, better still, to produce a journal. The first two ethnological societies formed in Polynesia were the Polynesian Society in New Zealand and the Hawaiian Historical Society in Honolulu, both in 1892. Later, in 1917, the French residents of Tahiti formed the Société des Études Ocean-iennes. These three societies have published much interesting and valuable material. They not only provide a means of placing short articles on perma-page 40nent and available record, but they raise the standard of accuracy by refusing to accept material bordering on fiction or the result of unrestrained imagination on the part of the contributor. Rarely, an article may be accepted in good faith which, after publication, is found to be spurious. A good example of the spurious is the article on the interpretation of the so-called Easter Island script which was perpetrated by Dr. A. Carroll and published in the first volume of the Polynesian Journal in 1892. Such mistakes are happily rare, and the standard of a society's publication owes much to a wise editor who is not too proud to consult others in moments of doubt.

The white inhabitants of Apia in Upolu, Western Samoa, formed the Samoan Society in 1923, but the population was not large enough to provide a sufficient membership to finance publication. Papers read before the society have been published in the journal of the Polynesian Society.

The Polynesian Society

The Polynesian Society was founded in New Zealand in 1892 by a small group of enthusiasts led by S. Percy Smith. The object of the society was "to promote the study of the Anthropology, Ethnology, Philology, History, and Antiquities of the Polynesian race by the publication of an official journal to be called 'The Journal of the Polynesian Society,' and by the collection of books, manuscripts, photographs, relics, and other illustrations of the history of the Polynesian race." In order to extend its scope of interest to include neighboring cultures which might throw light on the study of the Polynesian race, the society adopted the following curious definition: "The term 'Polynesia' is intended to include Australasia, New Zealand, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Malaysia, as well as Polynesia proper." The annual subscription was placed at one guinea and life membership at ten pounds. These have recently been raised to 25 shillings and 15 pounds respectively.

When the proposition was put forward to form the Society, many people held that it was too late to save anything of importance in Polynesian culture. In spite of this pessimistic forecast, the society has continued to publish its quarterly journal throughout the years, and the year 1945 sees the unbroken chain of 54 annual volumes. Objections have been made at times that the journal has contained too much Maori material and not enough general Polynesian matter. This has been due to the difficulty of procuring correspondents in the various parts of Polynesia with the knowledge and the will to write on local ethnology. In spite of difficulties, the journal has recorded a vast amount of information concerning Polynesia, and no library which professes to be up-to-date on Pacific material is complete without a full set of journals of the Polynesian Society.

In addition to the journal, the society has published 21 volumes of memoirs and four reprints. Most of the memoirs are composed of long papers page 41which previously ran through several copies of the journal, and their publication as single volumes has been of great convenience to members of the society as well as to purchasing non-members.

The Hawaiian Historical Society

The Hawaiian Historical Society was organized on January 11, 1892, and its first annual meeting was held on December 5 of that same year. The objects of the society are the collection, study, and utilization of material illustrating the, ethnology, archaeology, and history of the Hawaiian Islands. There were 21 original members, and 216 were added during the year as well as 20 corresponding members. The initiation fee was five dollars and the original annual subscription of one dollar was later raised to two.

The Society holds meetings, at which papers are read and discussed. In addition to the annual report, the more important papers have been printed, as well as five reprints from early voyages which touched at Hawaii and three genealogies of local American families.

The Société Des Études Oceaniennes

The Société des Études Oceaniennes was founded in Papeete, Tahiti, in 1917 for the purpose of studying the anthropology, ethnology, philology, archaeology, and the history of the institutions, manners, customs, and traditions of the native inhabitants of eastern Polynesia. The journal of the Society, the "Bulletin de la Société Études Oceaniennes" with the subtitle "Polynésie orientale" was printed by the government. It appeared twice a year in the first three years, was dropped for three years, and then came out as a quarterly until the second World War disorganized printing. However, number 71 was published in June 1944. The bulletin has recorded much valuable information made by French observers in French Oceania.