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Vikings of the Sunrise


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A regional survey of Polynesia was undertaken by the Bernice P. Bishop Museum under the guidance of its Director, Professor Herbert E. Gregory. Research work was rendered possible by financial assistance from Bayard Dominick, Yale University, the Rockefeller Foundation, and various generous friends of the Museum in Hawaii. The Museum contributed out of its own funds and adopted the policy of publishing the reports as soon as possible.

The project was so appealing to one of Polynesian blood that I relinquished my position as Director of Maori Hygiene in New Zealand and joined the staff of the Bishop Museum as an ethnologist to aid in the fieldwork. The reports of fieldworkers are of necessity somewhat technical, and, though of the greatest value to science, they do not reach the general reader. This work is an attempt to make known to the general public some of the romance associated with the settlement of Polynesia by a stone-age people who deserve to rank among the world's great navigators.

I have tried to tell the tale from the evidence in Polynesian myths regarding the creation of man and of islands, and in legends and traditions of the great seafaring ancestors and their voyages. Though the story is not intended for critical anthropologists, I have mentioned various customs and usages that I deem of interest to them and to the general reader. I have introduced personal incidents, wherever possible, to give the story a more human atmosphere.

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I have drawn freely from the works published by the Museum, and I am greatly indebted to the staff of the Museum for their assistance and above all for their criticism. While it is invidious to select from so many advisers, I must acknowledge my gratitude to Frances E. Williams, editor on the Museum staff. She has among other things corrected my mixed tenses and moods due to writing in English and thinking in Polynesian.

Of Polynesian words and names, I have kept to the spelling of the particular group and used the hamza or inverted comma for. consonants that have been dropped, even though the present written language takes no note of them. The inclusion of the glottal in Hawai‘i shows more clearly its affinity with Hawai‘i in central Polynesia than the present official spelling of Hawaii.

I am grateful to Bob Davis of the New York Sun for encouraging me to make this presentation of the Polynesian romance to the English-reading public. The Sun's man has travelled 1,250,000 miles around the world without reference to the rising or the setting of the sun. He has written nine travel books and his opinion that there was need for a book dealing with old-time travels across the Pacific in the trail of the rising sun has greatly stimulated the production of this work.

I may be criticized for applying the term vikings to the Polynesian ancestors, but the term has come to mean bold, intrepid mariners and so is not the monopoly of the hardy Norsemen of the North Atlantic. To the Polynesians, the sunset symbolized death and the spirit land to which they returned, but the sunrise was the symbol of life, hope, and new lands that awaited discovery. I am hopeful that Vikings of the Sunrise will reach my kinsmen in the page vii scattered isles of Polynesia and draw us together in the bond of the spirit. We have new problems before us, but we have a glorious heritage, for we come of the blood that conquered the Pacific with stone-age vessels that sailed ever toward the sunrise.

Peter H. Buck

Bernice P. Bishop Museum,
Honolulu, Hawaii.
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