Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia

Harper. Mar. 2019. 384p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780062060877. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062060891. HIST
OrangeReviewStarThe islands that we now collectively refer to as Polynesia have led explorers such as Captain James Cook to ask the question: How could people from such distant places as Hawaii and New Zealand have similar cultural and physical attributes? Thompson (Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All) uses a chronological narrative to explore how both the Western world and the diverse groups of Polynesians themselves have sought to answer this question. Much of this book deals with the prejudices that Westerners hold toward cultures that solely have oral traditions. In this vein, the book also serves as a microcosm of how anthropological advancements have been made over the last 200 years. This progression is exemplified by the recording of oral histories and the advent of experimental archaeology that, in this case, was the building of traditional watercraft and voyages undertaken using Polynesian navigational techniques—passed down from generation to generation by memorization and experience—and the acceptance of different but still equal ways of understanding the world in which humans live and interact.
VERDICT Thompson accomplishes a lot in this work that blends history, anthropology, and geology; the smoothly flowing narrative makes for an exceptional read.
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