Dover Book

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    Those of you who are my regular readers know that I love history and ethnic studies, and when they are combined in one book, I am all the happier. There isn't that much historic material written about the Polynesians, although there is probably more than there was when this book was first published in 1928. James Michener wrote a historical novel on Hawaii, which I have but have not read yet, and I have a number of coloring books on the South Seas, but compared to other ethnic reading material, there seems to be much less.
    The Polynesians were amazing people; intelligent, artistic, great explorers, and had a very precise history that was handed down orally throughout the generations, so there was no room for error. Now, hopefully much more of this history has made its way into books.
    This work is divided into fourteen chapters, so I will just give a brief description of the contents of each one. Yeah, I've said that before and my reviews end up four times longer than planned. One thing I want to urge you to do if you read this book is to keep an atlas handy. There is a totally useless map in the front of the book, so don't count on that. I have an atlas I got from Amazon which I don't particularly like, even though I keep it at my computer and use it constantly, but it has turned out to be perfect for this book. The book is no longer in print at Dover Publications, however, you can still get it at Amazon. I was not able to find it as a free eBook. There are also lots of black and white photos of people, art and architecture to add to the enjoyment of reading this very interesting work. And as the title implies, much of the history of these peoples is partially myth and legend, which is true of the history of any race or ethnic group.
    The first chapter, Polynesia and Its People is a general overview of the race as a whole. It includes a description of the people and also notes their differences. Only a few of the islands were known as cannibalistic. All or most of the people tattooed , but some more extensively than others. Polynesians were noted for being extremely clean. Even Herman Melville noted that in his semi-autobiographical novel, Typee. The book also notes what islands were included as Polynesia. I have a basic map on my Index Page for Polynesia, which also includes other works about these people and places. Andersen provides a chart comparing language and letters of the alphabet between the different peoples, and an explanation of pronunciation.
    A great portion of the first chapter is devoted to theories of the origins of the race, and states that there are no traces of Polynesian civilization anywhere else on earth. So where did they originally come from? There are four theories, or were, at the time this book was written. Some believe they all came from the same place, originally, although at least one scholar believes they were descendents of several different peoples.
    Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of these people was their skill in building boats for very long voyages, and their skill in traveling immense distances, many reaching 3,200 to 4,000 miles, since the Islands that make up Polynesia are spread over a vast area of the Pacific. These were a true seafaring race! Anderson says:

These voyages may cause surprise at their extent; but they were in tropical seas, and the vessels were by no means the insignificant objects usually associated with the name canoe. Even their single canoes, large dug-outs, or vessels made of pieces lashed and sewn together, were more than the equals of the Greek ships at the siege of Troy, or of the dragons of the Norsemen, or even the vessels of Columbus and other early European voyagers. Their single canoes could carry a hundred men, and were up to 108 feet in length; their double canoes had even greater capacity, the larger of them being up to 150 feet in length, and carrying as many as four hundred men.

    They even visited Antarctica. They were a curious people and liked to explore and discover and "behold all the wonderful things." Unfortunately, since some of these people were cannibals, we tend to chalk them up as "savage and uncivilized." That doesn't seem to be the case. It seems to me that Europeans and Americans were much more savage and uncivilized! And because they did not have a written language, their histories were oral and exact. Anderson says:

Doubts have often been expressed as to whether it was possible for these long voyages to be made, and as to whether reliance can be placed on native traditions. When, however, traditions of one island are corroborated by comparison with traditions of another hundreds of miles away, the two peoples having been separated for hundreds of years, their authenticity must be accepted. Moreover, as the people had no written language, and the utmost importance was attached to their genealogies, these mental records must be kept scrupulously exact. They were subject to as much scrutiny as Debrett, were as exact, contained far more minutiæ, and the slightest variation would at once be detected.

    In addition to this, sailing directions were also remembered across the centuries so they always remembered how to reach the island to which they set out. They knew the skies and the stars and the winds; the latitudes and longitudes. They made rude charts with sticks and strings and a calabash gourd was also a useful too!

An ordinary calabash had its top cut off level, and some distance below the rim four equidistant holes were bored at the same level. When it was desired to see if the stars were at the right elevation, water was poured into the calabash to the level of the holes. The instrument was 'set' for Hawaii, and when the star took the position over the rim that it occupied in that place, the westerly course was taken, and Hawaii fetched in due time. The magic calabash was no other than a combined sextant and compass.

    Here is an article from the Journal of the Polynesian Society that explains further about the "sacred calabash."
    One last quote from this introductory chapter, and it concerns what must have been an incredible memory of these people. Of course, they didn't have the internet and cell phones and Facebook and all the other crap to distract them.

The Maori started to learn the history of his people from his very cradle; his lullabies were histories. Every chief knew the genealogies of every member of his tribe, knew the histories of all the names of the genealogies. He had his regular schools of learning, too, where the tribal history was taught, under scrupulous supervision. Our written histories are generally the work of one man only, who consults such documents as he is able to peruse, documents which may or may not be true, and of which he may or may not render a faithful account. The Maori and other native histories are composite productions of the entire tribe, where the history of one man is known to every other man, and any deviation from fact would have to be by collusion of the whole tribe.

    The rest of the chapters are mostly stories, myths and legends, though, as is typical, part truth and part fantasy. The majority are about New Zealand, but there are some about Hawaii, and a bit about the other islands. I will only give a brief mention of the contents of each chapter.
    Chapter II is about 'Koropanga and Rukutia. It is a love story, mostly, but the second version is very different. In the first, The Pau-makua family lived on Oahu. They were a second migration family, but lived in peace on the eastern side of the island. Mawake had three sons, and his eldest, Muliele-alii had three sons and a daughter. When his eldest son, Kumu-honua inherited the estate, the younger brothers Olopana and Moikeha left for Hawaii. Following hurricanes and floods, they decided to leave the islands altogether, and set off for Tahiti. Olopana had married Lu'ukia, and they gathered together a group and sailed off in five double canoes. They landed at Ra'iatea (part of the Society Islands, and lived in harmony, with Olopana acting as the sovereign and his brother as chief advisor. But there was a jealous troublemaker named Mua, who tried to set the brothers against each other. While they had a slight falling out, Moikeha, on good terms with his brother, decided to return to their homeland. Though a sworn bachelor, declaring his spear was his wife, things did not turn out quite so.
    They eventually landed at Kauai, where Puna was a very popular leader for his fairness and compassion in dealing with his people. He had a beautiful daughter, Ho'o-ipo, who didn't seem in a hurry to choose a husband, though she had many rivals who sought her hand. Finally, she agreed that the rivals would be the ones who decided who would win her, and so her father devised a contest for a canoe race. A carved whale bone ornament was taken to Kaula, not far away, and the contestants would have to reach the island and return it to Puna. Whoever reached it first, therefore, would win Ho'o-ipo's hand.
    Moikeha came late to the game, not revealing his true identity. But he had quickly fallen in love with Ho'o-ipo, and she with him, so losing was not an option. He got a slow start, but confidence was high, because along with him in his canoe was La'a-maomao, the god of the wind, who blew him across the sea with great speed.
    The title characters, however, are from the Maori (New Zealand) legend. Olopana is now 'Koropanga and his wife, Lu'ukia, Rukutia.
    She lived with her husband Tama-nui-a-raki and their children. But he was ugly, and when the family of Tu-te-Koropanga came visiting, they danced, adorned with beautiful feathers, while Tama-nui's children danced with dog's tails around their waists. He was ashamed. Meanwhile, 'Koropanga seduced his wife, and she left her husband to be with him.
    But Tama-nui wins in the end, traveling to the underworld where he undergoes the very painful, almost lethal process of being tattooed and made beautiful. He will win back his wife, but must chop off her head first.
    Chapter III, Kelea and Kalamakua is another love story about a beautiful maiden of Maui named Kelea, who was more interested in riding the surf than in finding a mate. So a mate finds her, and kidnaps her! Actually, it is the chief's cousin, Kalamakua, who finds her and returns with her to Oahu. She and Lo-Lale marry, and are happy for a while. But they live inland, and Kelea misses the surf terribly. Fortunately, Kalamakua had promised Lo-Lale that if the wife he chose for him did not work out, he would marry her himself. But even more fortunately, when Kalea leaves her husband, intending to return home, she only makes it as far as Kalamakua's home, because they loved each other from the start.
    Chapter IV, Uenuku, is not about love but about endless tribal wars. It is a Maori legend and takes place after the time of Tawhaki. We really don't know much about him until Chapter VI, which is devoted to him and his family, who are descended from the gods. I have to say it is a quite confusing chapter, and the names of the people, throughout the whole book, are so similar that they are a constant point of confusion. This one begins with the wife of Uenuku, Taka-rita, who committed adultery with two men. Uenuku kills them all, then fed their son the cooked heart of his mother. Eventually, word gets to her relatives, who are enraged, and revenge between the two goes on and on and on.
    One thing I want to point out with this book is that it has a very comprehensive glossary in the back, which contains not only people's names, but also native words and terms. This is extraordinarily helpful. One of the words that shows up all the time is karakia, which is an incantation, used to ensure help and success in all kinds of activities of these people. War was certainly a case where incantations were needed. However, since both sides used them, it boiled down to whose was the strongest. I also want to point out that as the book progresses, it becomes less and less historical, and more mythical, with lots of magic, gods. and non-human creatures. With many of these, there are different versions for different islands, although most of the book focuses on New Zealand and Hawaii.
    Chapter V is about Fairies and Taniwha, which is a kind of monster. Some are romances, where a being from the fairy world falls in love with a mortal, and they eventually must part.
    Chapter VI, as mentioned above, is called The Tawhaki Cycle, being about gods and mortals mixed, part romance and lots of revenge, over a number of generations.
    Chapter VII is entitled Maui' (Maui-tikitiki-a-Taranga) and is perhaps more of a "typical" myth that we modern people may recognize, especially with ancient civilizations who found creative ways to answer questions about life. Maui' was a mischievous rascal, and Andersen points out that though we would perceive him as evil, to the ancients, he was just an adventurer that caused a lot of trouble. He was a demigod whose mother, Taranga, gave birth to him prematurely while walking by the seashore. She "rolled up the unformed being in a wisp of her hair and cast it into the sea."
    And there the sea- deities hid it, but it washed ashore and was rescued by a sea-ancestor, Tama-nui-ki-te-rangi, who raised him and taught him much. Eventually he returned to his family, and his mother was convinced he is her son. But she has her mysteries, too, and often leaves home in the middle of the night. Maui', determined to know, follows her to the Netherworld and there meets his father, too.
    Perhaps the most important contribution of Maui', according to the myth, is that he introduced fire to mortals, He also captured 'Ra, the Sun, and made him slow down his movement across the sky so their days would be longer. On a fishing trip one time, he catches a huge fish, which becomes the North Island of New Zealand ("Maui' Hauls up the Land"). The people thought that island was shaped like a fish, but I dunno about that.
    The Maui' story comes in many variations across the islands. Andersen believes it is a very ancient myth that the people knew while they still all lived together before venturing into the South Seas, perhaps somewhere in Indonesia. So the Maui' myths originate before the Polynesians split apart into different peoples on different islands. This was one of my favorite chapters.
    The next chapter, Hina', Sister of Maui' is also a creation-type myth, and also comes in many different versions. But the main theme is that she had an eel that she raised as a pet that eventually hurts her, so he tells her to cut off his head and bury it. From it sprouts the coconut tree. As with Maui', Hina' had many adventures, but introducing the coconut to the island people seems to be the most important.
    Chapter IX returns to Hawaii, and is about Pele The Fire Goddess. As in volcanoes, specifically Kilauea, which really struck a nerve, seeing what "she" is doing in Hawaii right here in the present. She was not a nice deity, and her personality and passions were as fiery as her volcano.
    The Spirit Worlds is the longest chapter in the book, and covers a wide range of subjects. It includes stories about mortals who returned from the Netherworld when a loved one went to fetch them, kinda like Orpheus tried to do and failed. But the chapter also supplies songs that were sung for funeral ceremonies, discusses clothing and education, discusses language, and returns to more historical information, as at the beginning of the book, rather than just legends.
    You know, if you look at all the primitive peoples from all over the world and collect their stories, there will be a great similarity, even where it is impossible that the people would have ever met. Andersen made the point of comparing these myths to Nordic legends. I found an interesting couple a paragraphs that reminded me of a scene in Bram Stoker's The Mystery of the Sea where the ghosts were marching in procession. That took place in Scotland. This takes place in Hawaii:

Every year, it is told, the procession of ghosts marches silently down the Mahiki road, and at this point enters the Lua-o-Milu. The company of the dead is said to have been seen in quite recent times. A man, walking in the evening, saw the company appear in the distance; and, knowing that should they encounter him his death was certain, he hid himself behind a tree, and, trembling with fear, gazed at the dread sight.

    Another interesting point from this chapter is a drama about Ngaru entering the spirit world where he risks being eaten, but is saved by his father's lizards. The short drama is printed in the book, and Andersen compares it to the ancient mystery plays. And the actors are all women!
    Io, Tangaroa, and Creation is also one of the longer chapters, and it covers the different creation myths of several of the island groups. One thing I really admire about Andersen's writing is that he never speaks disrespectfully about the Pagan beliefs of these peoples. He never refers to them as savage, or anything derogatory, in fact he scoffs at other writers who attempt to connect them with Christianity. Of course, they eventually were Christianized, but I won't even go there because my opinion of missionaries is that they should mind their own business and not assume their beliefs are right or better than others'.
    Every religion is a myth, you know, and certain beliefs tended to permeate all of humanity, no matter how separated by time or space they were. Here is a section of an interesting ancient Maori chant of creation:

Io dwelt within breathing space of immensity.
The universe was in darkness, with water everywhere.
There was no glimmer of dawn, no clearness, no light.
And he began by saying these words,
That he might cease remaining inactive,
"Darkness, become a light-possessing darkness."
And at once light appeared.
He then repeated those self-same words in this manner,
That he might cease remaining inactive,
"Light, become a darkness-possessing light."
And again intense darkness supervened.
Then a third time he spake, saying,
"Let there be a darkness above,
"Let there be a darkness below.
Let there be a darkness unto Tupua,
Let there be a darkness unto Tawhito;
It is a darkness overcome and dispelled.
Let there be one light above,
Let there be one light below.
Let there be a light unto Tupua,
Let there be a light unto Tawhito.
A dominion of light,
A bright light."
And now a great light prevailed.

    It reminds me of Genesis, which goes to show that the Judeo-Christian god wasn't the only one who called forth the Light. Nor was the idea of a trinity a Christian exclusive. Here is a fragment of another ancient chant. Ono, is "spirit."

O the great prince, O the sacred superior!
O the princely son, first-born of divine power!
O the lord of all, here, there and always!
O the lord of heavens and amplitude of sky!
O the son equal with the father and with Ono!
Dwelling in the same place.
Joined are they three in the same power.
The father, Ono, and the son. From those three was one tree formed.
The tree producing in the heavens.
All the good and wondrous families in love.

    Andersen also compares this, again, with Nordic mythology, because of the sacred tree.
    As the chapter progresses, it is obvious that Andersen believes these peoples had a keen sense of spiritual curiosity, in addition to being much more intelligent than most would imagine. Why do we think of ancient civilizations such as the Greeks or Egyptians as being so advanced for their time, and yet think of the Polynesians as being savages? They were not, and Europeans were probably more war-like that these basically gentle people.
    Andersen quotes the French voyager Moerenhout, especially of the Society Islands (which includes Tahiti) He says:

Moerenhout thinks that these are not the ideas of a mere savage dancing on the shore in a defiant brandishing of arms against an as savage enemy. They are the idea of a Zoroaster, a Pythagoras, who, having long meditated on the marvels of nature, sees in them the work of some divine creator; they are the ideas of a theist who, recognizing God in His works, is exalted in a religious fervor to the apprehension and adoration of an omnipotent being.

    And later on her says:

Moerenhout found that the people had a considerable knowledge of astronomy, of the motion of the heavenly bodies, and that they believed the moon to be a globe similar to the earth, inhabited like the earth, and producing an abundance of similar growth and life. He quotes a song-fragment on the birth of the stars, which, while couched in enigmatic language, revealed an exalted imagination, an aptitude for scientific speculation.

    The next chapter, Tane' and Rongo, continues with the creation theme, including the creation of humans.
    The Areoi Society and the Hula Dance is about an exclusive society in Tahiti in which members had to be accepted and go through initiations, which included the very painful process of being tattooed. These people would travel in huge groups to other islands to entertain and enlighten, as the medieval minstrels and actors in mystery and morality plays. That is what is depicted on the cover of this book above. The society had a religious or spiritual base, and kind of reminds me of Masonic or other Western societies. The members did not have to remain celibate, but infanticide was practiced, and any child born of one of the members would be killed. There was another society called the Kaioa from the Marquesas Islands, but they did not have the respect that the Tahitian groups did. The hula was from Hawaii, and the performers were highly trained to tell their story with dance and movement. Their costumes also had to be exactly right.
    Andersen talks a little more about infanticide, which of course modern civilizations think is horrible. And yet, he says there was a necessity for keeping down the population in general, because the islands were not big enough to accommodate a large population, and there was the worry of a scarcity of food. In Vaitupu (Tracey Island) only two children were allowed to a family. In Nuku-fetau (De Peyster Island) only one was allowed. He says:

It is clear that necessity was the reason for it, not inhumanity. It is well known that the Polynesians were and are fond of children, and as kind to them as any human beings could be. If the extent of the islands be considered, and the number of the population at the time of Cook's visit, it is evident that if the islands did not then support all the population possible they were very near the limit. Infanticide was one means of reducing the numbers; war was another. When Cook visited Tongatabu (Amsterdam) he was struck with the neatness of the plantations and enclosures, the orderliness of everything, plots fenced and pathways fenced off, houses with their grass plots; everything ordered so that, fertile as the island was, its fertility was fully conserved.

    I don't believe in infanticide, but I absolutely do believe in population control, desperately needed here in 2018. It is a sad statement on the ignorance and selfishness of modern society that makes people think they have the right to use their productive organs as much as they please, regardless of the effect it has on the environment and the welfare of the planet on the whole.
    The final chapter, Religious Observances discusses temples and other structures of a religious nature, including a little about the huge monoliths on Easter Island.
    In all, a very interesting and informative book. The only thing that drove me crazy were the names. Everything had a name, not only people. Canoes were named and weapons and everything else that was important in the lives of these people, they gave it a name as if it were a being. And the names are all so similar, because their alphabet was smaller than our modern one and unless one is an expert in the Polynesian language, the words all look similar. As I said earlier, the glossary is a great help, but even there, often one word or name stands for many different things or people.
    Still, if you are interested in ethnic studies, as I am, this is an essential read, because there is not that much, comparatively speaking, written about the ancient Polynesians.


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