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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology


The Society Islands are the geographical center of Polynesia and, in ancient times, also the cultural center. The islands are conveniently ranged in two groups, the windward and the leeward islands. The main islands of the windward group are Tahiti and Moorea, with the smaller islands of Meetia, Teti-aroa, and Tapuaemanu. The leeward group comprises the large islands of Raiatea, Tahaa, Huahine, and Borabora, with the small islands of Tubai, Maupiti, Mopihaa, Fenuaura, and Motuone. The large islands are mountainous and well forested and have fertile valleys. The bounding coral reef is some distance from the shore in places, with deep lagoons affording anchorage to ships which may enter through deep channels in the reef.

The traditions of the people indicate that the islands were first settled by people referred to as the Manahune and that later a more highly developed culture spread from Raiatea. The settlement period is so far back that the first ancestors and their voyaging canoes have been forgotten. It is evident that the culture developed in the Society Islands was diffused as far as the marginal areas of Hawaii, Easter Island, and New Zealand.

Tahiti and Moorea of the windward islands were discovered by Wallis in 1767 and Bougainville arrived during the following year. The leeward islands were discovered by Cook in 1769. A large number of early voyagers visited the islands, as may be seen from the literature list, and consequently the amount of published material is very rich. Cook's three voyages are particularly good, and Webber's drawings, made during Cook's third voyage, are excellent.

Of other writers, the work of the missionary William Ellis on "Polynesian Researches" is a classic. Montgomery's journal of the travels of the Reverend Tyerman and George Bennet is mainly a rehash of Ellis' work, as far as the Society Islands are concerned. The Roman Catholic Bishop, Tepano Jaussen, compiled a grammar and dictionary on the language. The Memoirs of Arii Taimai, edited by Henry Adams, is good, and so is Corney's work on the emissaries of Spain.

Bishop Museum's contribution commenced with the staff expedition to the Society Islands in 1923 with E. S. C. Handy, Mrs. W. C. Handy, and Jane Winne. Reports were made on history, culture, and arts and crafts. A second staff expedition, in 1925 by K. P. Emory, dealt with archaeology. A valuable manuscript on "Ancient Tahiti", written by Miss Teuira Henry from information recorded by the Reverend Orsmund, an early worker of the London Missionary Society, was published by the Museum. Anthropometrical records made by Mr. and Mrs. Handy and J. F. G. Stokes were worked up by H. L. Shapiro.