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ISLANDERS, PROTESTANT MISSIONARIES, AND TRADITIONS REGARDING THE PAST IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY POLYNESIA*

  • TOM SMITH (a1)

Abstract

In this article, I consider Polynesian genealogies, which took the form of epic poems composed and recited by specialist genealogists, and were handed down orally through generations of Polynesians. Some were written down in the nineteenth century, reaching an English-speaking audience through a number of works largely neglected by historians. In recent years, some anthropologists have downplayed the possibility of learning anything significant about Polynesian thought through English-language sources, but I show that there is still fresh historical insight to be gained in demonstrating how genealogies came to interact with the traditions of outsiders in the nineteenth century. While not seeking to make any absolute claims about genealogy itself, I analyse a wide body of English-language literature, relating chiefly to Hawai‘i, and see emerging from it suggestions of a dynamic Polynesian oral tradition responsive to political, social, and religious upheaval. Tellingly, Protestant missionaries arriving in the islands set their own view of history against this supposedly irrelevant tradition, and in doing so disagreed with late nineteenth-century European and American colonists and scholars who sought to emphasize the historical significance of genealogy. Thus, Western ideas about history found themselves confounded and fragmented by Polynesian traditions.

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Corresponding author

Trinity Hall, Cambridge, cb2 1tj tds33@cam.ac.uk

Footnotes

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*

Many thanks to Sujit Sivasundaram, who supervised the thesis upon which this article is based and was a source of great insight and encouragement. Thanks also to those who offered helpful comments at various stages, notably David Maxwell, Maia Nuku, Kate Stevens, Seth Archer, Lottie Field, the anonymous peer reviewers, and participants in both the Cambridge World History Workshop and Dr Sivasundaram's graduate reading group.

Footnotes

References

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1 Qu. N. K. Silva, Aloha betrayed: native Hawaiian resistance to American colonialism (Durham, NC, 2004), p. 93.

2 M. W. Beckwith, trans. and ed., The Kumulipo: a Hawaiian creation chant (Chicago, IL, 1951).

3 For missionary records, see W. W. Gill, Myths and songs from the South Pacific (London, 1876); G. Turner, Samoa: a hundred years ago and long before, together with notes on the cults and customs of twenty-three other islands in the Pacific (London, 1884); J. B. Stair, Old Samoa, or flotsam and jetsam from the Pacific Ocean (London, 1897); T. Henry, Ancient Tahiti: based on material recorded by J. M. Orsmond (Honolulu, HI, 1928); for non-missionary observers' work, see A. Fornander, An account of the Polynesian race: its origins and migrations and the ancient history of the Hawaiian people to the times of Kamehameha I (3 vols., Rutland, VT, 1969), i; Fraser, J., ‘The Samoan story of creation – a “tala’, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 1 (1892), pp. 164–89; for indigenous scholars' work see D. Malo, Hawaiian antiquities (Moolelo Hawaii), trans. N. B. Emerson (Honolulu, HI, 1951); S. M. Kamakau, Tales and traditions of the people of old (No moolelo a ka poe kahiko), trans. M. K. Pukui, ed. D. B. Barrère (Honolulu, HI, 1991).

4 A. Salmond, Aphrodite's island: the European discovery of Tahiti (Auckland, 2009), p. 20; B. Smith, European vision and the South Pacific, 1769–1850: a study in the history of art and ideas (Oxford, 1960), p. 91.

5 S. Sivasundaram, Nature and the godly empire: science and evangelical mission in the Pacific, 1795–1850 (Cambridge, 2005), pp. 1–2; N. Thomas, Islanders: the Pacific in an age of empire (New Haven, CT, 2010), p. 26.

6 S. Thorne, Congregational missions and the making of an imperial culture in nineteenth-century England (Stanford, CA, 1999), pp. 6–7; A. Johnston, Missionary writing and empire, 1800–1860 (Cambridge, 2003), p. 2; Sivasundaram, Nature, pp. 3–4; Wetherell, D., ‘Pioneers and patriarchs: Samoans in a nonconformist mission district in Papua, 1890–1917’, Journal of Pacific History, 15 (1980), pp. 130–54, at p. 130; J. Barker, ‘Where the missionary frontier ran ahead of empire’, in N. Etherington, ed., Missions and empire (Oxford, 2005), pp. 93–4; P. Brock, ‘New Christians as evangelists’, in Etherington, ed., Missions and empire, p. 133; R. Lange, Island ministers: indigenous leadership in nineteenth-century Pacific islands (Christchurch and Canberra, 2005), pp. 39–43; M. K. Matsuda, Pacific worlds: a history of seas, peoples, and cultures (Cambridge, 2012), p. 144.

7 Henry, Ancient Tahiti, p. i.

8 Beckwith, trans. and ed., Kumulipo, p. 40; Henry, Ancient Tahiti, p. 109; Fraser, ‘Samoan story’, pp. 165–6.

9 Luomala, K., ‘Documentary research in Polynesian mythology’, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 49 (1940), pp. 175–96, at p. 176; Henry, Ancient Tahiti.

10 Gunson, N., ‘Understanding Polynesian traditional history’, Journal of Pacific History, 28 (1993), pp. 139–58, at pp. 140, 142; Emory, K. P., ‘The Tahitian account of creation by Mare’, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 47 (1938), pp. 4563 , at p. 53.

11 M. P. Nogelmeier, Mai pa'a i ka leo: historical voice in Hawaiian primary materials, looking forward and listening back (Honolulu, HI, 2010), pp. xi–xiv, 3–12, 17–26, 46, 59, 157.

12 B. N. McDougall, ‘Genealogy, colonial entitlement, and the politics of translation of the Kumulipo’, paper presented at Oceanic archives and transnational American studies, conference at the University of Hong Kong, June 2012.

13 McDougall, B. N., ‘Putting feathers on our words: kaona as a decolonial aesthetic practice in Hawaiian literature’, Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 3 (2014), pp. 122 , at p. 3.

14 Roberton, J. B. W., ‘Genealogies as a basis for Maori chronology’, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 65 (1956), pp. 4554 , at p. 49; Piddington, R., ‘A note on the validity and significance of Polynesian traditions’, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 65 (1956), pp. 200–3.

15 D. R. Simmons, The great New Zealand myth: a study of the discovery and origin traditions of the Maori (Wellington, 1976); M. P. K. Sorrenson, Maori origins and migrations: the genesis of some Pakeha myths and legends (Auckland, 1979); M. Orbell, Hawaiki: a new approach to Maori tradition (Christchurch, 1985).

16 M. Sahlins, How ‘natives’ think: about Captain Cook, for example (Chicago, IL, 1995), p. 4; Obeyesekere, G., ‘British cannibals: contemplation of an event in the death and resurrection of James Cook, explorer’, Critical Inquiry, 18 (1992), pp. 630–54, at pp. 643–7; G. Obeyesekere, The apotheosis of Captain Cook: European mythmaking in the Pacific (Princeton, NJ, 1992), p. 10.

17 H. Adams, Memoirs of Arii Taimai E, Marama of Eimeo, Teriirere of Tooarai, Teriinui of Tahiti, Tauraatua I Amo (Paris, 1901), pp. 10, 17.

18 Malo, Hawaiian antiquities, p. 54.

19 Qu. McDougall, ‘Putting feathers on our words’, p. 13.

20 Beckwith, trans. and ed., Kumulipo, p. 7.

21 J. Williams, A narrative of missionary enterprises in the South Sea islands, with remarks upon the natural history of the islands, origin, languages, traditions, and usages of the inhabitants (London, 1837), pp. 3–4; S. Dibble, History of the Sandwich Islands (Lahainaluna, 1843), p. 31; Fornander, Account, ii, pp. 158–200; Adams, Memoirs, pp. 2, 46.

22 Henry, Ancient Tahiti, pp. 420–1, 437; Turner, Samoa, pp. 7, 212–13.

23 Fraser, ‘Samoan story’, pp. 168–9, 179; Silva, Aloha betrayed, p. 93; Beckwith, trans. and ed., Kumulipo, p. 23.

24 Qu. McDougall, ‘Putting feathers on our words’, p. 13.

25 Beckwith, M. W., ‘Polynesian mythology’, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 49 (1940), pp. 1736 , at p. 23; Beckwith, trans. and ed., Kumulipo, p. 161.

26 Henry, Ancient Tahiti, p. 465.

27 Gunson, N., ‘Great families of Polynesia: inter-island links and marriage patterns’, Journal of Pacific History, 32 (1997), pp. 139–52, at pp. 139–40, 152.

28 Ibid., pp. 140, 144.

29 Report of the board of genealogy of Hawaiian chiefs (1884), p. 3.

30 Ibid., p. 20.

31 Gunson, ‘Great families’, p. 139; Fraser, ‘Samoan story’, p. 169.

32 Silva, Aloha betrayed, pp. 90–1, 120.

33 Report, pp. 11–26; Silva, Aloha betrayed, p. 97.

34 Report, p. 14.

35 Henry, Ancient Tahiti, pp. 247, 268; Adams, Memoirs, pp. 32, 39, 43, 76, 87, 95, 113; J. Davies, The history of the Tahitian mission, 1799–1830, ed. C. W. Newbury (Cambridge, 1961), p. 364.

36 Beckwith, trans. and ed., Kumulipo, pp. 40–1, 57, 68, 75.

37 K.-A. R. N. Oliveira, Ancestral places: understanding Kanaka geographies (Corvallis, OR, 2014), pp. 2–5.

38 Beckwith, trans. and ed., Kumulipo, pp. 37, 96.

39 Ibid., p. 47.

40 Fornander, Account, i, p. 19; Stokes, J. F. G., ‘An evaluation of early genealogies used for Polynesian history’, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 39 (1930), pp. 142 , at p. 3.

41 Malo, Hawaiian antiquities, pp. 1–2; Stokes, ‘Evaluation’, p. 4.

42 D. Salesa, ‘The Pacific in indigenous times’, in D. Armitage and A. Bashford, eds., Pacific histories: ocean, land, people (Basingstoke, 2014), p. 41.

43 Malo, Hawaiian antiquities, p. 54.

44 Qu. Silva, Aloha betrayed, p. 93.

45 Beckwith, trans. and ed., Kumulipo, p. 9.

46 Kame‘eleihiwa qu. in Silva, Aloha betrayed, p. 93; Salesa, ‘Pacific’, p. 39.

47 Silva, Aloha betrayed, p. 120.

48 Beckwith, trans. and ed., Kumulipo, pp. 35, 154.

49 Ibid., pp. 30, 96, 109; Gill, Myths, pp. 14, 88.

50 Piddington, ‘Note on the validity’, at p. 200; D. P. Henige, The chronology of an oral tradition: quest for a chimera (Oxford, 1974), p. 190.

51 J. Vansina, Oral tradition: a study in historical methodology, trans. H. M. Wright (London, 1965), pp. 31–3.

52 P. S. Herda, ‘Genealogy in the Tongan construction of the past’, in P. S. Herda, J. Terrell, and N. Gunson, eds., Tongan culture and history: papers from the 1st Tongan history conference held in Canberra 14–17 January 1987 (Canberra, 1990), p. 21.

53 Dibble, History, p. 17.

54 Beckwith, trans. and ed., Kumulipo, pp. 25, 28.

55 Ibid., pp. 69, 153; Silva, Aloha betrayed, p. 103.

56 Stokes, ‘Evaluation’, pp. 4–5, 7.

57 Ibid., pp. 7–13; Beckwith, trans. and ed., Kumulipo, p. 36.

58 Qu. Gunson, ‘Understanding Polynesian traditional history’, p. 149.

59 Many thanks to Maia Nuku, Associate Curator for Oceanic Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

60 J. Vansina, ‘From memory to history: processes of Luba historical consciousness’, in M. N. Roberts and A. F. Roberts, eds., Memory: Luba art and the making of history (New York, NY, 1996), pp. 12–13.

61 Ibid., pp. 41, 44.

62 Vansina, Oral tradition, p. 53.

63 McDougall, ‘Putting feathers on our words’, p. 14.

64 Nogelmeier, Mai pa'a i ka leo, pp. 81, 96, 103–4.

65 Ibid., pp. 88–9.

66 Stair, Old Samoa, p. 14.

67 Gill, Myths, p. xx.

68 Davies, History, p. 153; ‘To the Rev. T. Cuzens, to the deacons and to church members assembling in the King Street Chapel, Portsea, Hants. From their apparently forgotten brother in church fellowship, J. M. Orsmond, 1849’, CWM/LMS/South Seas/Odds/Miscellaneous/Box 6, Council for World Mission Archives, School of Oriental and African Studies, London (CWM Archives).

69 J. Comaroff and J. L. Comaroff, Of revelation and revolution, i: Christianity, colonialism, and consciousness in South Africa (Chicago, IL, 1991), p. 240; P. S. Landau, The realm of the word: language, gender, and Christianity in a southern African kingdom (Portsmouth, NH, 1995), pp. 86, 109; D. Maxwell, Christians and chiefs in Zimbabwe: a social history of the Hwesa people c. 1870s–1990s (Edinburgh, 1999), p. 108.

70 Davies, History, p. 237; Henry, Ancient Tahiti, p. 247.

71 Gill, Myths, p. xx.

72 B. R. Finney, R. K. Johnson, M. N. Chun, and E. K. McKinzie, ‘Hawaiian historians and the first Pacific history seminar’, in N. Gunson, ed., The changing Pacific: essays in honour of H. E. Maude (Oxford, 1978), p. 310.

73 Ibid., pp. 311–12.

74 Beckwith, trans. and ed., Kumulipo, pp. 118, 144, 154, 171; Henry, Ancient Tahiti, p. 307.

75 Fraser, ‘Samoan story’, p. 169.

76 Fornander, Account, i, pp. 225–7.

77 Stokes, ‘Evaluation’, p. 28.

78 Malo, Hawaiian antiquities, pp. vii, ix.

79 Finney, Johnson, Chun, and McKinzie, ‘Hawaiian historians’, p. 313; Malo, Hawaiian antiquities, p. viii.

80 For example Malo, Hawaiian antiquities, p. 76.

81 Ibid., p. 237.

82 Beckwith, trans. and ed., Kumulipo, p. 168.

83 W. Ellis, Polynesian researches, during a residence of nearly six years in the South Sea islands (2 vols., London, 1829), ii, pp. 38–9.

84 D. B. Barrère, ‘Revisions and adulterations in Polynesian creation myths’, in G. A. Highland, R. W. Force, A. Howard, M. Kelly, and Y. H. Sinoto, eds., Polynesian culture history: essays in honor of Kenneth P. Emory (Honolulu, HI, 1967), p. 104.

85 M. F. C. Bourdillon, ‘Gleaning: Shona selections from Biblical myth’, in W. James and D. H. Johnson, eds., Vernacular Christianity: essays in the social anthropology of religion, presented to Godfrey Lienhardt (Oxford, 1988), pp. 123, 128–9.

86 Barrère, ‘Revisions and adulterations’, p. 116.

87 Thomas, Islanders, p. 22.

88 H. Bingham, A residence of twenty-one years in the Sandwich Islands, or the civil, religious, and political history of those islands (New York, NY, 1969), p. 18.

89 J. Comaroff, Body of power, spirit of resistance: the culture and history of a South African people (Chicago, IL, 1985), p. 141.

90 V. L. Rafael, Contracting colonialism: translation and Christian conversion in Tagalog society under early Spanish rule, (Ithaca, NY, 1988), pp. 40–1.

91 Davies, History, p. 18.

92 Williams, Narrative, pp. viii, 24–5; Smith, European vision, pp. 1, 254; M. T. Bravo, ‘Precision and curiosity in scientific travel: James Rennell and the Orientalist geography of the new imperial age (1760–1830)’, in J. Elsner and J. Rubiés, eds., Voyages and visions: towards a cultural history of travel (London, 1999), p. 166; T. Fulford, D. Lee, and P. J. Kitson, Literature, science, and exploration in the Romantic era (Cambridge, 2004), p. 2.

93 Williams, Narrative, p. viii.

94 Ibid., p. 502.

95 H. B. Gardner, ‘The “faculty of faith”: evangelical missionaries, social anthropologists, and the claim for human unity in the nineteenth century’, in B. Douglas and C. Ballard, eds., Foreign bodies: Oceania and the science of race, 1750–1940 (Canberra, 2008), pp. 260–1.

96 Williams, Narrative, pp. 546–7.

97 M. D. Johnson, The purpose of the Biblical genealogies, with special reference to the setting of the genealogies of Jesus (Cambridge, 1969), pp. 254, 256; R. R. Wilson, Genealogy and history in the Biblical world (New Haven, CT, 1977), pp. 2–8, 199–200.

98 Luomala, ‘Documentary research’, pp. 176–7.

99 Qu. Finney, Johnson, Chun, and McKinzie, ‘Hawaiian historians’, p. 315.

100 Fornander, Account, i, pp. iv, ix.

101 Qu. ibid., inside cover.

102 Ibid., pp. iv, 2.

103 Ibid., pp. 159–60.

104 Ibid., pp. 61–2, 83, 90, 99–101; Stokes, ‘Evaluation’, pp. 18–29.

105 Malo, Hawaiian antiquities, p. 243; Fraser, ‘Samoan story’, pp. 167, 181.

106 Fornander, Account, i, p. 139; Fraser, ‘Samoan story’, p. 170.

107 Smith, S. P., ‘The genealogy of the Pomare family of Tahiti, from the papers of the Rev. J. M. Orsmond, with notes thereon by S. Percy Smith’, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 2 (1893), pp. 2542 , at p. 30.

108 Fornander, Account, i, p. 165; Smith, ‘Genealogy’, p. 41.

109 T. Ballantyne, Orientalism and race: Aryanism in the British empire (Basingstoke, 2002), pp. 63, 133.

110 Ibid., p. 4.

111 H. B. Gardner, Gathering for God: George Brown in Oceania (Dunedin, 2006), pp. 107, 123.

112 Gill, Myths, p. xiii.

113 Turner, Samoa, frontispiece.

114 Stair, Old Samoa, p. 15.

115 William Wyatt Gill's manuscript notebook, 1868–75, CWM/LMS/Personal/Box 1/Miscellaneous Personal Papers, CWM Archives; ‘The genealogy of Samoan kings and princes, by George Pratt, 1890’, CWM/LMS/Odds/Miscellaneous/Box 3, CWM Archives.

116 Fraser, J., ‘Some folk-songs and myths from Samoa’, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 5 (1896), pp. 171–83, at p. 171.

117 Ibid., pp. 171–2.

118 Fraser, J., ‘Folk-songs and myths from Samoa’, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 6 (1897), pp. 1936 , at p. 19.

119 Fraser, J., ‘Folk-songs and myths from Samoa’, Journal of the Polynesian Society, 7 (1898), pp. 1529 , at p. 15.

120 Malo, Hawaiian antiquities, p. xiii.

121 Fornander, Account, ii, p. 8.

122 P. Brantlinger, Dark vanishings: discourse on the extinction of primitive races, 1800–1930 (Ithaca, NY, 2003), p. 2.

123 Gill, Myths, pp. v–xviii; Turner, Samoa, pp. ix–xii.

124 Ballantyne, Orientalism, p. 68.

125 Salesa, ‘Pacific’, p. 39.

126 N. Gunson, ‘Tongan historiography: shamanic views of time and history’, in Herda, Terrell, and Gunson, eds., Tongan culture, pp. 18–19; Vansina, Oral tradition, pp. 1–2, 15, 30–1, 39, 48, 65, 67–75, 76, 81, 102, 140; Herda, ‘Genealogy’, pp. 24–5.

127 Dominy, M. D., ‘New Zealand's Waitangi tribunal: cultural politics of an anthropology of the High Country’, Anthropology Today, 6 (1990), pp. 1115 , at p. 13; Mikaere, A., Tomas, N., and Johnston, K., ‘Treaty of Waitangi and Maori land law’, New Zealand Law Review (Part iii, 2003), pp. 447–84, at p. 460.

128 T. M. Tau, ‘Epilogue’, in T. M. Tau and A. Anderson, eds., Ngai Tahu: a migration history (Wellington, 2008), pp. 201–3.

* Many thanks to Sujit Sivasundaram, who supervised the thesis upon which this article is based and was a source of great insight and encouragement. Thanks also to those who offered helpful comments at various stages, notably David Maxwell, Maia Nuku, Kate Stevens, Seth Archer, Lottie Field, the anonymous peer reviewers, and participants in both the Cambridge World History Workshop and Dr Sivasundaram's graduate reading group.

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