Hawaiki, Ancestral Polynesia: An Essay in Historical Anthropology

Hawaiki, Ancestral Polynesia: An Essay in Historical Anthropology

Hawaiki, Ancestral Polynesia: An Essay in Historical Anthropology

Hawaiki, Ancestral Polynesia: An Essay in Historical Anthropology

Synopsis

In this innovative book, Kirch and Green develop the theory and method of an anthropological approach to long-term history. Combining archaeology, comparative ethnography, and historical linguistics, they advance a phylogenetic model for cultural diversification, and apply a triangulation method for historical reconstruction. Through an analysis of the history of Polynesian cultures they present a first-time detailed reconstruction of Hawaiki, the Ancestral Polynesian culture that flourished some 2,500 years ago. This book will be essential reading for any anthropologist, prehistorian, linguist, or cultural historian concerned with the study of long-term history.

Excerpt

Enchanted by the seductively salubrious atmosphere of California's Napa Valley, we gazed over sun-drenched vineyards with the 1993 harvest ripening on the vine, sipping the last of a lush Cabernet while intently arguing the intricacies of some Proto Polynesian term. Perhaps — given the blissful feeling this setting inspired — we might have been excused our conceit that we would conspire to write “a little essay between covers. ” The notion, naive in retrospect, was to expand slightly on our 1987 article on “History, phylogeny and evolution in Polynesia” (Kirch and Green 1987), so as to address certain critiques of the phylogenetic approach to historical anthropology, and to elaborate what we call a “triangulation method” for historical reconstruction. The proposition seemed straightforward enough. Yes, a “little essay, ” perhaps a hundred pages or so. Over plates of roast Petaluma duck and grilled swordfish, our wives had seconded the idea, insisting that we should keep the essay lean and trim.

Nearly a decade later, our “essay” has taken shape as a book, a more ponderous volume than we at first envisioned. Its writing has occupied far longer than anticipated, requiring several international trips and much longdistance collaboration. Yet we do not regret the transformation that our project has undergone, because out of it we have gained a deeper respect for the possibilities of a truly integrative historical anthropology.

We were trained (at Penn and Yale, New Mexico and Harvard, respectively) in the classic holistic perspective of Americanist anthropology, and although we are both primarily archaeologists of the Pacific, each of us in our respective careers has endeavored to bring a full spectrum of anthropological evidence and approaches to bear in our research programs. Green early on incorporated historical linguistics into his models of Polynesian settlement (e.g., Green 1966), while Kirch integrated field ethnography into his work on prehistoric ecology and economy (e.g., Kirch 1994a). This book reflects the maturing of those long-standing interests, a statement of our conviction that anthropology at its best is always holistic and integrating. At a time when at least one prominent biologist is crying out for “consilience” between the social and biological sciences (Wilson 1998), we would point out that anthropology has always heeded that call.

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