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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology



Traders obtained an early footing in Polynesia. Early voyagers carried goods, such as glass beads, looking glasses, cloth, nails, hoop iron, and hatchets, to exchange for food. The later trading vessels were practically floating shops which were stocked with the cheap goods of Europe and America, wherewith to buy sandalwood and bêche-de-mer and pay natives to dive for pearls and pearl shells. When the dried flesh of coconuts, termed copra, became a commercial source for coconut oil and so established a local industry, trading firms set up local branches and the white trader became a settler, for a time at least. The trader usually followed the missionary, so far as time of settlement was concerned, but he did not follow the way of life which the missionaries were trying to inculcate into the native mind as the pattern of white civilization. However, we are not concerned with the morals of the time, but rather with the possibility of the early traders supplying information concerning the manners and customs of the people to whom they sold their goods. There was one such trader, Lamont by name, who wrote a good book. He was wrecked on the atoll of Tongareva (Penrhyn) in 1853, and he lived on terms of friendship with the natives, two of whom he married. As he had no goods to sell, he had time to observe the things around him. When he finally got away to San Francisco, he wrote up his experiences, and his book is the best firsthand account of an atoll community. Others had the opportunity, but if they evinced any interest beyond their own narrow field of commercialism, they lacked the ability to record their experiences in writing. Perhaps it was just as well, though it would be interesting to have a view of native culture from another angle than that of religion.