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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology


The Marquesas, between latitude 7° 50' and 10° 35' S. and longitude 138° 25' and 140° 50' W., may be conveniently divided into two groups. The southeastern group consists of Fatuhiva, Tahuata, Hivaoa, Mohotane (Motane), and Fatuuku; the northwestern group of Uapou, Nukuhiva, Uahuku, Eiao, and Hatutu. These islands are volcanic with rugged ridges and drowned valleys. There are no true coastal plains, and the coastline is bounded by steep cliffs.

The islands were first settled by a branch of Polynesians who termed themselves the Take. The ancient chants enumerate the islands of Havai'i, Opo'u, and Vevau through which the early ancestors passed, hence there is little doubt that they came from the Society Islands. They carried the Polynesian food plants with them and, as in Mangareva, fermented breadfruit became a staple food. Of the domestic animals, they had the pig and the fowl but the dog was absent. The people developed into distinct tribes inhabiting the various valleys and making war upon each other. Religion and social organization were developed from the central Polynesian pattern. Variation and local development were greater in material culture—in the form of houses, types of weapons and ornaments, for instance, and in the arts of carving and tattooing.

The southeastern group formed the first discovery in Polynesia made by a European explorer, Mendaña having encountered four of them on his second page 87voyage across the Pacific in 1595. He named the individual islands Magdalena (Fatuhiva), San Pedro (Mohotane), Santa Christina (Tahuata) and Dominica (Hivaoa), and the group, he named Las Islas de Marquesas de Mendoza, after the Viceroy of Peru. The long Spanish name has been shortened to the Marquesas. Cook discovered the fifth island in 1774 and named it Hood Island (Fatuuku). The northwestern, group was discovered by Joseph Ingraham, an American fur trader, in 1791, and he named them Washington Islands. A large number of early voyagers called at the Marquesas for refreshment, for they were a convenient port of call for vessels rounding the Horn and sailing north to the Hawaiian Islands or the northwest American coast. The information in published journals of British, French, Russian, and American navigators is ample.

Of later writers, Dordillon compiled a grammar and dictionary of the language, Karl von den Steinen published well-illustrated works on carving and tattooing, and Tautain wrote much on ethnological subjects. Herman Melville wrote an interesting popular book on his experiences in the Typee Valley.

The Bayard Dominick Expedition visited the group in 1920. E. S. C. Handy wrote on the native culture, religion, and legends; and Ralph Linton described the archaeology and material culture. Willowdean Handy made contributions on tattooing and string figures, and music was studied by E. S. C. Handy and Jane Winne from records taken in the field. The records on physical characters were worked up by Louis R. Sullivan.