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Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia

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A blend of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Simon Winchester’s Pacific, a thrilling intellectual detective story that looks deep into the past to uncover who first settled the islands of the remote Pacific, where they came from, how they got there, and how we know. For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a A blend of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Simon Winchester’s Pacific, a thrilling intellectual detective story that looks deep into the past to uncover who first settled the islands of the remote Pacific, where they came from, how they got there, and how we know. For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island. Until the arrival of European explorers they were the only people to have ever lived there. Both the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people in the world before the era of mass migration, Polynesians can trace their roots to a group of epic voyagers who ventured out into the unknown in one of the greatest adventures in human history. How did the earliest Polynesians find and colonize these far-flung islands? How did a people without writing or metal tools conquer the largest ocean in the world? This conundrum, which came to be known as the Problem of Polynesian Origins, emerged in the eighteenth century as one of the great geographical mysteries of mankind. For Christina Thompson, this mystery is personal: her Maori husband and their sons descend directly from these ancient navigators. In Sea People, Thompson explores the fascinating story of these ancestors, as well as those of the many sailors, linguists, archaeologists, folklorists, biologists, and geographers who have puzzled over this history for three hundred years. A masterful mix of history, geography, anthropology, and the science of navigation, Sea People combines the thrill of exploration with the drama of discovery in a vivid tour of one of the most captivating regions in the world. Sea People includes an 8-page photo insert, illustrations throughout, and 2 endpaper maps.


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A blend of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Simon Winchester’s Pacific, a thrilling intellectual detective story that looks deep into the past to uncover who first settled the islands of the remote Pacific, where they came from, how they got there, and how we know. For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a A blend of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel and Simon Winchester’s Pacific, a thrilling intellectual detective story that looks deep into the past to uncover who first settled the islands of the remote Pacific, where they came from, how they got there, and how we know. For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island. Until the arrival of European explorers they were the only people to have ever lived there. Both the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people in the world before the era of mass migration, Polynesians can trace their roots to a group of epic voyagers who ventured out into the unknown in one of the greatest adventures in human history. How did the earliest Polynesians find and colonize these far-flung islands? How did a people without writing or metal tools conquer the largest ocean in the world? This conundrum, which came to be known as the Problem of Polynesian Origins, emerged in the eighteenth century as one of the great geographical mysteries of mankind. For Christina Thompson, this mystery is personal: her Maori husband and their sons descend directly from these ancient navigators. In Sea People, Thompson explores the fascinating story of these ancestors, as well as those of the many sailors, linguists, archaeologists, folklorists, biologists, and geographers who have puzzled over this history for three hundred years. A masterful mix of history, geography, anthropology, and the science of navigation, Sea People combines the thrill of exploration with the drama of discovery in a vivid tour of one of the most captivating regions in the world. Sea People includes an 8-page photo insert, illustrations throughout, and 2 endpaper maps.

30 review for Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia

  1. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    The book is impressive. I rarely give non-biographical non-fiction books five stars; here I was tempted. Why? The book is cleverly set up. The information is presented chronologically, starting with the discovery of the islands by Europeans in the late 1500s. Revealing bit by bit what has been discovered makes the reader intrigued to know more. You want to understand who the island inhabitants are, where they came from and how they came to be there. With this historical perspective, the reader vi The book is impressive. I rarely give non-biographical non-fiction books five stars; here I was tempted. Why? The book is cleverly set up. The information is presented chronologically, starting with the discovery of the islands by Europeans in the late 1500s. Revealing bit by bit what has been discovered makes the reader intrigued to know more. You want to understand who the island inhabitants are, where they came from and how they came to be there. With this historical perspective, the reader views how ideas have changed over the centuries. As scientific knowledge has progressed so too has the focus shifted to include sophisticated radiocarbon dating and genetics. Linguistic and biological studies, as well as experimental test voyages have been conducted to evaluate different theories. The sum of information gathered is impressive. The search for answers is presented as a mystery to be solved. The author captures the beauty of the sea, of the place, of Polynesia, of all the islands of Oceania. The writing shifts from capturing your interest one minute to enchanting you next through lyrical prose. The author shows to us an alternate way of seeing the world. She shows how “sea people” view their world. Stationary in their canoe, the world flies by them--the clouds, the islands and the swell and waves of the sea. The stars above change position depending upon where the observer is situated and when the observer is looking. The observer sitting still in a boat has a different perspective than an individual on land. Each sees the other as moving. With the stars above and the water swirling below, one comes to understand why that person in a boat views the world as a whole, with he being just a teeny speck. The “sea people”’s existence and way of life is mirrored in their world view, traditions, beliefs and myths. This is an essential part of the book too. And so, the writing is alternately interesting, beautiful and thought provoking. How many books of non-fiction give you that?! This is why I considered giving the book five stars, but I stuck with four. There were a few points where the book dragged for me. It became clear that the detailed taxonomic investigations conducted in the 1920s (Louis R. Sullivan’s) were a dead end. Here I lost interest in the details. Thereafter the book picks up again. I knew very little about the people of Oceania; all that I have learned has been fascinating. We learn not only where they migrated from but also when and how they migrated. Answers are not 100% definitive and we learn how views have altered over the years. One cannot help but ponder what discoveries will be made in the future. Susan Lyons narrates the audiobook wonderfully. Her voice is a joy to listen to. Her tone is lovely. Words are clearly pronounced, and the text is read at a perfect pace. I have given the narration five stars. I did have to pull out some books for maps. The paper book includes maps and photos. To get an idea of the paucity of land in the immensity of the 10 million square miles of the Polynesian Triangle, at its corners Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island, consider this--within its borders there is almost one thousand square miles of water to one square mile of land.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    It's been a traveling year for me in books. I intentionally went first to Trieste and stayed there, for a while, longer than I planned. Oddly, it was logical to go from there directly to Wales. And I book a flight for Nowa Ruda whenever Olga calls. Still in a traveling mood, I boarded a ship, but a creaky one, with only hardtack, mealy biscuits and stale water for dinner. We followed the currents and trade winds, going east first before we turned west. The worst was when we were becalmed. Eventua It's been a traveling year for me in books. I intentionally went first to Trieste and stayed there, for a while, longer than I planned. Oddly, it was logical to go from there directly to Wales. And I book a flight for Nowa Ruda whenever Olga calls. Still in a traveling mood, I boarded a ship, but a creaky one, with only hardtack, mealy biscuits and stale water for dinner. We followed the currents and trade winds, going east first before we turned west. The worst was when we were becalmed. Eventually we spotted certain birds that my more experienced mates knew meant land. The water changed, clearer, and seaweed with it. A large, large cloud. When we finally disembarked, we stood on a floating island - the ground beneath your feet is not really land the way that most people understand it. Yet most surprising, on this speck, we found people. And so, I came to the Polynesian Triangle, like the Europeans before me: with luck, with wonder, and with my own notions. This book raises the obvious questions. Where did these people come from? How did they get there? And why? Some of these questions are even answered. And along the way some things we were taught as children get debunked. Like maybe Thor Heyerdahl was more brave than, you know, correct. I also learned: -- about the Ghyber-Herzberg lens, a layer of fresh water which floats on the top of seawater that infiltrates porous coral rock; -- that in biology and anthropology, race has long been abandoned as a meaningful category; -- and that in seafaring, the most sensitive balance was a man's testicles. Some of the things I learned I already had a pretty good hunch about. I'm thinking I might stay in Polynesia for a while. I think Vargas Llosa followed Gauguin to Tahiti. And I've never been to New Zealand, where I heard Katherine Mansfield had a Garden Party

  3. 5 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    When early European explorers — Captain Cook in particular — encountered the Polynesian peoples living on isolated islands in the Pacific Ocean separated by thousands of miles, the logical question that came to their minds was, “How did these people get here? And where did they come from?” The Europeans were quite confident of themselves as being the best navigator/sailors in the world. The fact the Polynesians had found the islands many generations before the Europeans would normally be conside When early European explorers — Captain Cook in particular — encountered the Polynesian peoples living on isolated islands in the Pacific Ocean separated by thousands of miles, the logical question that came to their minds was, “How did these people get here? And where did they come from?” The Europeans were quite confident of themselves as being the best navigator/sailors in the world. The fact the Polynesians had found the islands many generations before the Europeans would normally be considered unbelievable except for the proof of their presence and existence. One passing suggestion—not seriously believed—was that God must have created them there in place. Thus began the largely Western anthropological study and analysis of the evidence to unlock the mystery of the human migration throughout the Polynesian Triangle. This book follows this quest in a chronological order of the uncovering of various bits of evidence and the resulting multiple theories that were developed. The development of radiocarbon dating and DNA analysis in recent years has finally provided a greater degree of certainty than ever before. Also the Polynesian Voyaging Society has constructed and sailed ocean going double hulled canoes utilizing navigational techniques without sextant, chronometer, or GPS, and have demonstrated the feasibility of inter-island sailing by such craft. This illustration demonstrates the chronological dispersal of the ancestors of the Polynesian people. They apparently began developing their sailing technology in 2000 BC when they first started spreading south and east from Taiwan through what is today Indonesia and Philippines going as far east as Samoa and Tonga by 900/800 BC. Then surprisingly, they spread west and settled in Madagascar near Africa circa 500 AD. Their eastern progress stalled for about a thousand years until about 700 AD when they began moving east into the Cook Islands and Tahiti, reaching Hawaii in 900 AD, Easter Island in 1000 AD, and New Zealand in 1200 AD. One interesting thing that DNA analysis has shown is that there is sufficient genetic diversity among the island inhabitants — and the animals they brought with them — to conclude that all the islands were initially settled by a fairly large contingent of settlers — probably numbering in the hundreds — with the probable exception of Easter Island. It's interesting to note that testing the DNA of rats — who traveled with the humans — was the most convenient source of DNA data because their remains were easily found in all the midden piles. I wish the author would have elaborated more on Hawaii. Apparently their are signs of settlement in 900 AD, but there was an arrival of a large group 1219 to 1266 AD. According to island folklore — probably the experience of this later group — there were already people inhabiting the island when they arrived. Native Hawaiians referred to the earlier group as Menehune. I am under the impression that the existence of the Menehune is supported by archeological evidence. If so when did they arrive? Is that where the 900 AD date came from? (view spoiler)[ When I visited the island of Kauai I saw the Kikiaola irrigation ditch located near Waimea. The signs in the area said it was constructed by the Menehune. It was constructed of a style of block that was not done by Hawaiians at other locations. (hide spoiler)]

  4. 5 out of 5

    Donna Davis

    Christina Thompson is the author of Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, which I read and loved. I was thrilled when I saw that she was about to publish another book, and even more so when I found a review copy; thanks go to Edelweiss and Harper Collins. This book is for sale now. For centuries, Western scholars have tried to tease apart the many unknown aspects of Polynesian history. The islands are spread across an area of the Pacific Ocean (and beyond) so large that all of the Eart Christina Thompson is the author of Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, which I read and loved. I was thrilled when I saw that she was about to publish another book, and even more so when I found a review copy; thanks go to Edelweiss and Harper Collins. This book is for sale now. For centuries, Western scholars have tried to tease apart the many unknown aspects of Polynesian history. The islands are spread across an area of the Pacific Ocean (and beyond) so large that all of the Earth’s landmasses could fit into it, and there would still be room for an extra one the size of Australia. And yet there’s undeniable evidence that they navigated from one to another in canoes, without compasses or written maps of any kind. How the heck did they do it? Thompson discusses the early European efforts, from the ‘discovery’ of various islands—and she points out that Europeans jealously guarded information, and so British explorers didn’t benefit from what the Spanish found, for example, and vice versa—to present day. She talks about the differing points of view, languages, and cultural divides that prevented the white folk from understanding what islanders were trying to tell them, and from believing that they knew as much as they did. As far as I can tell, Thompson is the first Caucasian writer to approach this subject with respect for the islander peoples about whom she is writing; her husband and sons are of Maori descent, and so for her, this connection merges the academic and the personal. The thing that makes Thompson so readable is her wry take on the errors made by those that came before—mostly the Westerners that approached the area with paternalism tinged with more than a little racism in many cases. I’ll be reading along and thinking yes yes, this is interesting…and then I’ll come across a remark and reread it—did she just say what I think she just said? And then I am laughing out loud. Find me a geographer, an anthropologist, a sociologist that can do that. In particular, her unpacking of the whole Kon-Tiki debacle is unmissable. If I could change anything, it would be to have been able to read this before I went into teaching instead of after retirement. I taught a lot of Islander kids, and the wisdom is that when we teach American history, we incorporate the history of each ethnic group represented in the classroom. I knew how to include my African-American students, and I knew what to tell kids of Chinese and Japanese backgrounds. I had material for my Latino kids. But with my Islander students, all I could do is say that I had truly tried to find information for them, but what little I found was so deadly dull and written at such a high literacy level that it wouldn’t work for them. And what would really kick ass is if this writer, at some lull between high-powered academic projects, could write something for children or young adults of Maori descent. Right now, English-speaking Pacific Island kids have one Disney movie. That’s it. This book is highly recommended to every reader with post-high-school literacy ability and stamina. It’s a cultural treasure, and though I rarely do this with galleys, I will go back and read this again, because there’s no way to take it all in the first time, even when making notes. What a wonderful find.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Thoughts soon.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Chrisl

    Was entertained while learning for about 100 pages. But after Captain Cook's explorations, when the whalers and missionaries arrived, I started losing interest. Did appreciate her words about the Lapita https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapita_... *** Historically, perhaps my favorite contemporary topic for exploration, Sapiens earliest watercraft ... Thompson writes: p48 " ... because some portion of the population was always 'away,' hunting turtles or collecting birds' eggs or gathering coconuts or vis Was entertained while learning for about 100 pages. But after Captain Cook's explorations, when the whalers and missionaries arrived, I started losing interest. Did appreciate her words about the Lapita https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lapita_... *** Historically, perhaps my favorite contemporary topic for exploration, Sapiens earliest watercraft ... Thompson writes: p48 " ... because some portion of the population was always 'away,' hunting turtles or collecting birds' eggs or gathering coconuts or visiting in some other corner of the archipelago. All of which raises an interesting question: Since there are almost no trees on an atoll, and certainly none of the larger species that in other parts of the Pacific provided wood for keels and planks and masts, what did the inhabitants of the low islands do for canoes? It being inconceivable that they could ever have lived in this watery world without them." ... " There is a picture in ... 'Canoes of Oceania' ... It shows a small canoe from the island of Nukutavake, in the southern Tuamotus, which was brought to England in the 1760s ... in the British Museum, it is described as 'by far the oldest complete hull of a Polynesian canoe in existence ... probably a small fishing boat ... "The amazing thing about the Nukutavake canoe is the way it's constructed. It is composed of no fewer than forty-five irregularly shaped pieces of wood ingeniously stitched together with braided sennit, a kind of cordage made from the inner husk of a coconut. Close up, it looks like nothing so much as a crazy quilt whose seams have been decoratively overstitched with yarn. It is difficult to believe that such neat and painstaking rows of sewing could be made with something as rough as rope; or that what they are holding together could be something as stiff as wooden planks; or that anyone would think of making something as solid and important as a boat using such a method. Everything about it suggests cleverness and thrift and also, plainly, necessity. You can even see where the boards have been patched with little plugs or circles of timbers held in place with stitches radiating out like the rays of a sun, and at least one plank shows signs of having been repurposed from another vessel." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nukutavake https://britishmuseum.org/research/co... "It is in astonishingly good condition considering its long voyage to England lashed to the deck of the Dolphin. The hull is composed of forty-five wood sections bound together with ..." https://www.khanacademy.org/humanitie... *** p80 "And here steps onto the stage one of the most intriguing figures in this story. Tupaia ... tall, impressive man of about forty, with the bearing and tattoos of a member of the chiefly class ... an expert in the arts of politics, oratory, and navigation. ... "But Tupaia was not just a repository of information; he clearly had a deep and inquiring mind. The anthropologist Nicholas Thomas describes him as an 'indigenous intellectual with experimental inclinations'--a phrase that seems to capture something of both the man and the age in which he lived." *** p89 ..."Interestingly, Cook seems not to have considered a sailing rate of 120 miles a day overly optimistic for a Tahitian 'pahi.' noting that these large canoes could sail much faster than a European ship." ***

  7. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth A.G.

    This is a well researched and engagingly written narrative of the origins of the Pacific Ocean island peoples of Polynesia, their exploratory navigations and settlement of the islands, the European "discoverers" of the islands in the 16th century and later, and the attempts to learn from where the original settlers came, why they ventured into the vast seas, and how they did so. Thompson describes the attempts of sailors, geographers, linguists, archeologists, and anthropologists to unravel the This is a well researched and engagingly written narrative of the origins of the Pacific Ocean island peoples of Polynesia, their exploratory navigations and settlement of the islands, the European "discoverers" of the islands in the 16th century and later, and the attempts to learn from where the original settlers came, why they ventured into the vast seas, and how they did so. Thompson describes the attempts of sailors, geographers, linguists, archeologists, and anthropologists to unravel the mystery of how these isolated island inhabitants of prehistory with their mythologies, oral tradition, and lack of written maps and modern navigational instruments were able to find and settle in the islands. Many early origin theories were debunked over time and modern reenactments of ancient voyages and through the scientific advancements of computers, radiocarbon dating, and DNA studies, the history and puzzle start to become untangled. As Thompson states: "the appeal of this history is that it combines the romance of a great human adventure with a cool, cerebral awareness that it is only by sifting through volumes of evidence that we will ever get close to knowing what happened in the dim, unreachable, mesmerizing, endlessly entrancing past."

  8. 4 out of 5

    Silvana

    This is the first International Book of the Month picked by the members of the Non Fiction Book Club at Goodreads. I nominated it and could not be happier. What a wonderful book. Just in case you have not noticed, I love everything about the deep blue sea. I am ceaselessly in awe of the force of the oceans and even more of the people who have conquered them, the true sailors and explorers. Coming from a country that is also the biggest archipelago in world, I am drawn to the Polynesians. The boo This is the first International Book of the Month picked by the members of the Non Fiction Book Club at Goodreads. I nominated it and could not be happier. What a wonderful book. Just in case you have not noticed, I love everything about the deep blue sea. I am ceaselessly in awe of the force of the oceans and even more of the people who have conquered them, the true sailors and explorers. Coming from a country that is also the biggest archipelago in world, I am drawn to the Polynesians. The book kind of confirms the reason behind the attraction. Indonesians and Polynesians do share the same genetic roots, as the Polynesians ancestors took thousands of years when they first traveled from Formosa (now Taiwan) and gradually island-hopped their way via Indonesia before finally spread themselves into the current Triangle we know now (Hawai'í in the north, New Zealand/Aotearoa in the south, and Easter Island/Rapa Nui in the far east). The book is like an onion; the answer of the puzzle is in the innermost part. The author let us open each layer of the mystery and it does take patience to get there. On the origin (very lengthy) debate, all the earlier accounts were dominated by the Europeans, as they seemed to be the most obsessed theorists ever since Cook's voyage. But then gradually the Polynesians themselves took the reins in the discovery journey, especially to answer the mystery on how did their ancestors get across the huge expanse of the Pacific Ocean. How the journey became possible? What would it take? The book It gives insights on how the Polynesians perceive their own cultures and tradition, their legacies. And it was marvelous. I recognized many similar traits with the Bajau mariners in Sulawesi who can read the sea, the wind, the sky and the animals, and use those know how in navigating their way to the coast of Madagascar. Alas, reading this book has been an illuminating experience. The sea is calling, after all.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

    Summary: A mostly entertaining look at how our theories about unrecorded history evolve, with a few slow bits. "For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island. Until the arrival of European explorers they were the only people to have ever lived there. Both the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people in the world before the era of mass migration, Polynesians ca Summary: A mostly entertaining look at how our theories about unrecorded history evolve, with a few slow bits. "For more than a millennium, Polynesians have occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, a vast triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island. Until the arrival of European explorers they were the only people to have ever lived there. Both the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people in the world before the era of mass migration, Polynesians can trace their roots to a group of epic voyagers who ventured out into the unknown in one of the greatest adventures in human history. How did the earliest Polynesians find and colonize these far-flung islands? How did a people without writing or metal tools conquer the largest ocean in the world? This conundrum, which came to be known as the Problem of Polynesian Origins," (source) and how people have tried to answer it, is the focus of this book. I started this book shortly after reading Simon Winchester's Krakatoa, which had a downright colonial perspective. I was worried this would be the same, but was hoping for a focus on Polynesian perspectives. I think it delivered to the extent possible on this topic. It seems that most surviving records from the earliest time periods the author covers are from Europeans. Unlike Winchester though, the author doesn't treat this as the only perspective that matters. She shares European accounts of Polynesian origin stories. She also discusses the limitations of the European records, due to their perspective or lack of knowledge. Where possible, she gives some informed speculation about the ways the perspectives of the Polynesians might differ. The content of the book was fascinating, a great blend of history, culture, and natural history. It's amazing that the Polynesian islands were colonized as early as they were. I enjoyed learning about the many different theories of how that came to be. It was interesting to learn about methods we can use to learn about historical events that weren't recorded or when records are spotty or unreliable. For the most part, I thought the author included a great collection of fun facts. Her enthusiasm was infectious. At the end though, the book started to drag. One of the last sections focuses on the details of many, poorly supported theories that Europeans came with up for the order in which the islands were colonized. The theories didn't build on each other. There was no forward momentum. It was more like reading a list, a very detailed list with items it was hard to keep track of. Things did pick back up, with a look at modern recreation of voyages and some modern science, but the book had lost it's drive for me. I'd still recommend it if the topic particularly interests you, but it's definitely not my favorite history.This review was originally posted on Doing Dewey

  10. 5 out of 5

    Peter Mcloughlin

    Starts with the European encounter with the peoples of Polynesia as they made early forays and later more systematic exploration and conquest of an Ocean that takes up nearly half globe with islands dotting its huge expanse. As the Europeans encountered people who had braved the Pacific before them questions were raised at how the peoples of Polynesia pulled it off as pre-state, pre-literate peoples. The first guess was they randomly drifted onto the islands but once Europeans put aside their e Starts with the European encounter with the peoples of Polynesia as they made early forays and later more systematic exploration and conquest of an Ocean that takes up nearly half globe with islands dotting its huge expanse. As the Europeans encountered people who had braved the Pacific before them questions were raised at how the peoples of Polynesia pulled it off as pre-state, pre-literate peoples. The first guess was they randomly drifted onto the islands but once Europeans put aside their egos and explored their navigating abilities the picture on the Polynesian conquest of the Pacific it became clear that their seafaring is more remarkable than the European's feats in the age of exploration. As the picture evolved the methods and means of the conquest of the Pacific is explained by various oral stories, Star charts, and island wildlife sign the Polynesians spread and traded with each other across the Pacific.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Clare O'Beara

    This exploration of explorations of an exploring people is full of fascinations, friendships and frightening distances. Also birds - as guides, as food, as giants made extinct. The author tells us she is married to a Polynesian gentleman who is one of a people who inhabit remote islands across the Pacific, which today are in a nine hours' flight on a side, triangle. To explore a people who didn't have a written history, and lost much oral history when diseases struck, is to give an account of how This exploration of explorations of an exploring people is full of fascinations, friendships and frightening distances. Also birds - as guides, as food, as giants made extinct. The author tells us she is married to a Polynesian gentleman who is one of a people who inhabit remote islands across the Pacific, which today are in a nine hours' flight on a side, triangle. To explore a people who didn't have a written history, and lost much oral history when diseases struck, is to give an account of how other nations came across them, reacted to them, befriended them and learned about them. From Spaniards and Dutch, to Captain Cook's many voyages, to Thor Heyerdahl, spans centuries of puzzlement. For how did the Polynesians get where they were, where did they come from, and were they all related? Linguistics proved a relationship, the animals carried, pigs, dogs, chickens and rats, added firmly to the links. In the modern times, after radiocarbon dating, fishhooks and pottery were added, the animals came in useful again; their bones could safely be DNA tested from modern and buried sites, rather than disturbing too many human graves. I enjoyed the account and the photos. Some of the passages were new to me and others more familiar but the whole is well assembled and tries to show what people on both sides believed at the time. Notes P319 - 354 in my e-ARC. I counted 11 names which I could be sure were female. I downloaded a ARC from Net Galley. This is an unbiased review. Anyone interested in reading fictional accounts of seafaring Polynesian-like communities may enjoy 'The Roof of Voyaging' by Garry Kilworth, 'Misfits And Heroes - Past The Last Island' by Kathleen Rollins, 'Daughter of the Reef' by Clare Coleman and 'Where the Waters Turn Black' by Patrick Benedict.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    This is a library loan, so I must mark as "read" having read through the book once, but it is a book so full of interesting history, theories and expeditions in addition to the recounting of people who sacrificed a great deal to find truth that it could serve as reference book to repeatedly turn to and cite. There was so much new information for me I could not possibly summarize key points in this small space. Yes, I learned some of this information long ago, but Thompson expertly gathers and ta This is a library loan, so I must mark as "read" having read through the book once, but it is a book so full of interesting history, theories and expeditions in addition to the recounting of people who sacrificed a great deal to find truth that it could serve as reference book to repeatedly turn to and cite. There was so much new information for me I could not possibly summarize key points in this small space. Yes, I learned some of this information long ago, but Thompson expertly gathers and tames the key events and people in a beautifully readable narrative. To Read Again = Learning is a Wonderful Thing One small example of my ignorance: I knew nothing of Moa birds!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Rex Fuller

    Picture a gigantic triangle from New Zealand to Hawaii to Easter Island. That's Polynesia. Up until recently, the people of Polynesia were the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people on earth. Until Europeans came, Polynesians were the only people to have lived there. Now think about this: they didn't use metal tools or written language. How in God's name did they get there? Suffice to say that has been the question ever since Europeans showed up. This book guides us on the fasc Picture a gigantic triangle from New Zealand to Hawaii to Easter Island. That's Polynesia. Up until recently, the people of Polynesia were the most closely related and the most widely dispersed people on earth. Until Europeans came, Polynesians were the only people to have lived there. Now think about this: they didn't use metal tools or written language. How in God's name did they get there? Suffice to say that has been the question ever since Europeans showed up. This book guides us on the fascinating trip through the many efforts to answer the question. We sail with Cook in Hawaii and across the south Pacific with Heyerdahl. We watch the painstaking effort of radiocarbon and DNA testers. We watch anthropologists, linguists, and sundry other experts and amateurs labor over the inquiry. And the answer, or rather answers are frankly hard to believe. If you've traveled in the area at all, you'll want to read this. If not, after you read it you'll want to travel there.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    See my review below from the March issue of Baltimore Style. Humans have had wanderlust for as long as they’ve been in existence. Christina Thompson’s Sea People : the Puzzle of Polynesia uses a variety of sciences to determine the who, what, when, where and why the South Pacific became inhabited. Much of what we thought we knew was seen through the eyes and culture of 16th century European explorers and turned out to be flat-out wrong. Using linguistics, cartography, archaeology, anthropology and g See my review below from the March issue of Baltimore Style. Humans have had wanderlust for as long as they’ve been in existence. Christina Thompson’s Sea People : the Puzzle of Polynesia uses a variety of sciences to determine the who, what, when, where and why the South Pacific became inhabited. Much of what we thought we knew was seen through the eyes and culture of 16th century European explorers and turned out to be flat-out wrong. Using linguistics, cartography, archaeology, anthropology and genetics, this well- researched study debunks the early ideas and then builds a case that is closer to truthful. Don’t underestimate the importance of story here - the oral traditions of the Polynesians, written off as “folklore”, turned out to be closer to the truth than the observations of those explorers who came later.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Seth Turner

    Fascinating ethnographic look into the migration puzzle of the Polynesian peoples. Clearly a passion project that starts to unpack the puzzle presented in the book. Highly recommend it for anthropologists, historians, and related fields of interest.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Howard

    Very interesting!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    This exploration of the history of the Polynesian people was fascinating. I received an advanced review copy of the book from Edelweiss but waited to read it until I was on vacation on the island of Kauai in Hawaii last week. Being on one of the triangles of Polynesia added an extra dimension to my appreciation of the book. The book Sea People itself reminded me of a journey like the seafaring journeys the Polynesian people took between the islands. Each chapter and section approached the topic This exploration of the history of the Polynesian people was fascinating. I received an advanced review copy of the book from Edelweiss but waited to read it until I was on vacation on the island of Kauai in Hawaii last week. Being on one of the triangles of Polynesia added an extra dimension to my appreciation of the book. The book Sea People itself reminded me of a journey like the seafaring journeys the Polynesian people took between the islands. Each chapter and section approached the topic from a different angle like from historical accounts from European explorers, genetic research, and attempted recreations of the journeys. There were parts of the books that were a little slower like being caught in the doldrums out at sea but overall it was a still a five stars for me from the comprehensiveness and passion the author brought to the book. It made me wish I had Polynesian ancestry. The Polynesian people should be proud of their history. Thanks to Edelweiss, Harper, and the author Christina Thompson for a digital review copy. This book was first published March 12, 2019.

  18. 5 out of 5

    AnnaG

    I hoped this book would be an insight into the lives of Polynesia, their culture and history. I have read Guns, Germs and Steel and was keen to find out more. I have come away a little disappointed - if I'd paid a bit more careful attention to the subtitle - this book is really about the "search" for these people. For example, it has a chapter on the sequencing of rat DNA and how that helps us to understand how different islands were populated and also rather than recounting the creation myths f I hoped this book would be an insight into the lives of Polynesia, their culture and history. I have read Guns, Germs and Steel and was keen to find out more. I have come away a little disappointed - if I'd paid a bit more careful attention to the subtitle - this book is really about the "search" for these people. For example, it has a chapter on the sequencing of rat DNA and how that helps us to understand how different islands were populated and also rather than recounting the creation myths from the different island people, the author is more interested in how those stories have been transmitted and whether they truly represent the original myths, not what the myths actually say. There is plenty of reverence for the cultures of the Pacific and interesting information about them, but it is surrounded by explanations of how science has determined the information, not just the history itself. If you want to know why Maori do the haka - the answer isn't in here, if you want a recounting of the first time a European saw them do it and how that didn't turn into a war - Christina has you covered. I'm glad I didn't give up on the book, but it was a bit of a struggle at points.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Porter Broyles

    This was a fascinating book. This book is about the Puzzle of Polynesia---or more specifically, about how the people of Polynesia covered essentially every inhabitable island in the Pacific---an area larger than Asia! The book centers around what “we” (non-Polynesian culture) knows and understands about Polynesia. It starts talking about Captain Cook and his initial discovery of Hawaii. It follows-up with his subsequent voyages wherein he discovers that the people all over the Pacific are somehow This was a fascinating book. This book is about the Puzzle of Polynesia---or more specifically, about how the people of Polynesia covered essentially every inhabitable island in the Pacific---an area larger than Asia! The book centers around what “we” (non-Polynesian culture) knows and understands about Polynesia. It starts talking about Captain Cook and his initial discovery of Hawaii. It follows-up with his subsequent voyages wherein he discovers that the people all over the Pacific are somehow related. From that point on, it continues on trace what “we” knew and what “we” learned over time. The book started off superb, fizzles out in the middle, and then ends with a bang. I loved hearing about how “we” learned how the Polynesians travelled across the ocean and how “we” came to learn that it was possible. The lore and the testing of that lore was spell binding!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Corin

    Fascinating!

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nihilistic Librarian

    This book absolutely blew me away. Aside from the beautiful historical narrative, it fundamentally changed the way I see the world. I come from a written history culture and Thompson was able to provide a lens to peer through into an oral history culture. From small examples like Europeans giving directions by reading maps with the presumption that the top will always be north, while a Polynesian person gives directions from the literal point they are facing; to huge concepts like history and ge This book absolutely blew me away. Aside from the beautiful historical narrative, it fundamentally changed the way I see the world. I come from a written history culture and Thompson was able to provide a lens to peer through into an oral history culture. From small examples like Europeans giving directions by reading maps with the presumption that the top will always be north, while a Polynesian person gives directions from the literal point they are facing; to huge concepts like history and genealogy being passed down through what European cultures viewed as "myths" and "stories" that in digging a little deeper, turned out to be very accurate. Highly recommend for history buffs, geography buffs, and anyone who is inquisitive about how they view reality in contrast to other people coexisting in the world.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Laura Trombley

    Sea People is a wonderful little book about how and when the Polynesians ended up in Polynesia. Beginning with the moments when Europeans first discovered unknown inhabited islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean going forward through all of the documentation and then science used to answer these questions. I cannot even imagine getting into a outrigger canoe and traveling to some unknown island that may or may not be there. It was fascinating.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    This was such a wonderful book! I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Susan Lyons, who did a great job. I do wish that the narrator had been a Polynesian person, but that's my only complaint, really. The writing is evocative and lush--at times the book reads almost like a novel. It incorporates Polynesian legends and myths with accounts from European explorers. I especially loved the last part, which details the resurgence and reclamation of traditional sailing and navigating by the Polynesia This was such a wonderful book! I listened to the audiobook, narrated by Susan Lyons, who did a great job. I do wish that the narrator had been a Polynesian person, but that's my only complaint, really. The writing is evocative and lush--at times the book reads almost like a novel. It incorporates Polynesian legends and myths with accounts from European explorers. I especially loved the last part, which details the resurgence and reclamation of traditional sailing and navigating by the Polynesian people.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Becky Diamond

    Piecing together a vast number of elements including history, science, mysticism, folklore, archeology and ancient genealogies, Thompson creates a mesmerizing account of the Polynesian puzzle. A revelatory summary of this vast area steeped in culture and tradition. Highly recommend.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    Starts with the European discovery and expeditions to the lovely islands of the Pacific within the Polynesian Triangle as well as anthropological and historical research into the origins of the Polynesia people from Fiji and Tahiti to Hawaii and Rapa Nui and even New Zealand. The reader certainly has a great deal of information to get through and the author has the story move chronologically from Magellan to today. The author did touch on the contamination from Europe society as well as the conve Starts with the European discovery and expeditions to the lovely islands of the Pacific within the Polynesian Triangle as well as anthropological and historical research into the origins of the Polynesia people from Fiji and Tahiti to Hawaii and Rapa Nui and even New Zealand. The reader certainly has a great deal of information to get through and the author has the story move chronologically from Magellan to today. The author did touch on the contamination from Europe society as well as the conventions determined by various Christian sect missionaries. Information culled from diaries and journals of explorers and travels reveal that even the way Polynesians view the world is vastly different from the way Westerns did which made understanding their cultures, folklore and mind set all the more problematic. As the author brings the book into the present, she attempts to answer questions on the origins of the Polynesian people as well as their own waves of exploration. Unfortunately, she will mention something about the islands and the colonial governments and continue without explaining causes or reasons or what/if things have changed. The French banning tattooing being one. The determination that Polynesians weren't 'Caucasian' enough to enter mainland U.S. is another. One nice part is the discovery of the Lapita people and pottery. These are the ancient residents of the islands before the second wave came with the current natives. On the other hand, the amount of information regarding why either wave of people decided to venture out into the ocean and where they started from is decidedly lacking. Not necessarily because Thompson didn't write about it but the knowledge is still being revealed. It seems that only recently that the people of the islands have realized that the 'old ways' and oral traditions have nearly disappeared and it is up to them to preserve them. Nainoa Thompson (no relation to the author, I believe) is a native Hawaiian navigator and member of the Polynesian Voyaging Society that is even now, training people how their ancestors crossed the Pacific. On an amusing note: Thompson says 'that the claim that any European explorer discovered anything in the Pacific - least of all the islands of Polynesia - is obviously problematic.' I have to agree. The natives of the islands certainly weren't lost by any stretch. 2019-119

  26. 4 out of 5

    George

    ERUDITE AND ANECDOTAL. “This is what is meant by the Polynesian Triangle, an area of ten million square miles in the middle of the Pacific Ocean defined by the three points of Hawai‘i, New Zealand, and Easter Island. All the islands inside this triangle were originally settled by a clearly identifiable group of voyagers: a people with a single language and set of customs, a particular body of myths, a distinctive arsenal of tools and skills, and a “portmanteau biota” of plants and animals that th ERUDITE AND ANECDOTAL. “This is what is meant by the Polynesian Triangle, an area of ten million square miles in the middle of the Pacific Ocean defined by the three points of Hawai‘i, New Zealand, and Easter Island. All the islands inside this triangle were originally settled by a clearly identifiable group of voyagers: a people with a single language and set of customs, a particular body of myths, a distinctive arsenal of tools and skills, and a “portmanteau biota” of plants and animals that they carried with them wherever they went. They had no knowledge of writing or metal tools—no maps or compasses—and yet they succeeded in colonizing the largest ocean on the planet, occupying every habitable rock between New Guinea and the Galápagos, and establishing what was, until the modern era, the largest single culture area in the world.” (p. 9). Extensively researched, extremely well narrated, and rife with new (to me), and interesting real-life people and places, Christina Thompson’s book: Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia does not, however do much to answer the really big question that it poses: “Who are all these people and how did they end up here?” (p. 63), as far as I could fathom. It does offer copious amounts of food-for-thought and imaginative speculations on the whens, wheres and whys of the settlement of Polynesia; but little by way of definitive conclusions. Recommendation: Still it is well worth the read. It will expand one’s grasp of the single largest feature of our planet, the Pacific Ocean. “Virtually everyone who has ever thought about the problem of Polynesian origins has been attracted to the subject by two different things: first, by the sheer wondrousness, the improbability, of these migrations—all those thousands of miles of open ocean, the landfalls so few and far between—and, second, by the intellectual puzzle, the question of how such a story can ever really be known.” (p. 317). Harper. Kindle Edition. 366 pages

  27. 4 out of 5

    Christina Dudley

    I loved this book! A fascinating history of Polynesia and of outsider perceptions of Polynesia over the few recorded centuries since western "discovery." If you love history of exploration, anthropology, seafaring, natural history, origin stories, and good old rat DNA, this is the book for you. You'll also want to spend some time in a planetarium and will add the name "Willowdean" to your list of baby girl names. It wasn't till I got to the end that I found I'd also read and enjoyed Thompson's pr I loved this book! A fascinating history of Polynesia and of outsider perceptions of Polynesia over the few recorded centuries since western "discovery." If you love history of exploration, anthropology, seafaring, natural history, origin stories, and good old rat DNA, this is the book for you. You'll also want to spend some time in a planetarium and will add the name "Willowdean" to your list of baby girl names. It wasn't till I got to the end that I found I'd also read and enjoyed Thompson's previous book COME ON SHORE AND WE WILL KILL AND EAT YOU ALL, about first encounters between outsiders and Maori in NZ.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Isaac

    Great book! Thompson captures the wonder and romance of Europeans' discovery of the islands scattered across the Pacific, the remarkable cultural similarities across thousands of miles, and the developing theories about Polynesian origins. Respectful interactions with original cultures as well as a progressive understanding of the awful realities of colonialism. Brings you right up to 2018 with mitochondrial DNA studies and the best information we have about the settlement and history of Polynes Great book! Thompson captures the wonder and romance of Europeans' discovery of the islands scattered across the Pacific, the remarkable cultural similarities across thousands of miles, and the developing theories about Polynesian origins. Respectful interactions with original cultures as well as a progressive understanding of the awful realities of colonialism. Brings you right up to 2018 with mitochondrial DNA studies and the best information we have about the settlement and history of Polynesia. I wish there had been something about the history of Mormonism among Pacific islanders. The progress of Christianity and Mormonism in the Pacific is something I've wondered about.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kelsey

    Really interesting and fun book about what we know (and don’t know) about the settlement of Polynesia, and how we came to know what we do. Wonderful combination of history, geography, anthropology, archaeology, linguistics.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    Very readable and fascinating to learn the story of how we discovered how Polynesia was settled. My favorite parts included times when native islanders were able to control the narrative of their ancestors despite interference from European anthropologists.

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