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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology



Pitcairn is a small volcanic island lying southeast of Mangareva. The vegetation is abundant, the soil fertile, and cultivable food plants thrive. The island was uninhabited when the mutineers of the Bounty settled there in 1790, but religious structures (maraes), skulls, bones, and stone implements bore silent evidence of its previous occupation by people of Polynesian stock.

The first European to sight the island was Ensign Pitcairn on the Swallow, commanded by Captain Philip Cartaret, which had been separated in a storm from the Dolphin under Captain Wallis. This was in 1767, but Cartaret sailed on without landing. The mutineers of the Bounty, with Tahitian followers and Tahitian wives, remained in safe sanctuary on the island until they were discovered by Captain Folger in the Topaz in 1808. Beechey visited the island in 1825. Various accounts have been written about the descendants of the mutineers. Their culture is a late offshoot of Tahitian culture, influenced by Christianity.

Owing to the danger of overcrowding from increase of population, some of the people were taken to Norfolk Island. The physical characteristics of the Norfolk Islanders were studied by H. L. Shapiro, Bishop Museum Fellow in 1923. Later, Shapiro visited Pitcairn with the second Zaca Expedition and page 84was able to complete his measurements on the remaining descendants of the mutineers. He also wrote a general work on the six generations of people.

The Franco-Belgian Expedition to Easter Island called at Pitcairn, and Lavachery wrote an article on its archaeology. Numbers of stone artifacts have found their way to museums and have been studied by Brown and Emory. Recently, H. E. Maude, as the representative of the British High Commission for the Western Pacific (including Pitcairn), was able to collect over 500 stone artifacts which are in safe storage until circumstances permit their study.

Literature on Pitcairn Island

Early Voyagers
  • Beechey (1825-1828)
  • Bennett (1833-1836)
  • Moerenhout (1828-1834)
Other Writers

Brown, John A., Stone implements from Pitcairn Island: Royal Anthrop. Inst.Great Britain and Ireland, Jour., vol. 30, pp. 83-88, 1900.

Emory, K. P., Stone implements of Pitcairn Island: Polynesian Soc., Jour., vol. 37, pp. 125-135, 1928.

Keith, A., The physical characteristics of two Pitcairn Islanders: Man, vol. 17, pp. 121-131, 1917.

Lavachery, Henri, Contribution à l'étude de l'archéologie de l'lle Pitcairn: Soc. Am. de Belgique, Bull. 19, pp. 1-30, 1936.

Nordhoff, Charles, andHall, James N., Pitcairn's Island, Boston, 1934.

Seurat, L. G., Sur les anciens habitants de l'Ile de Pitcairn: L'Anthropologie, vol. 15, pp. 369-372, 1904.

Shapiro, H. L., The heritage of the Bounty, New York, 1936.

Shillibeer, J., A narrative of the Briton's voyage to Pitcairn's Island, 2d ed., London, 1817.

Young, Rosalind A., Mutiny of the Bounty and story of Pitcairn Island 1790-1894, Oakland, California, 1894.

Bishop Museum Publication

Shapiro, H. L., Descendants of mutineers of the Bounty, Mem., vol. 11, no. 1, 1929.