The Tuamotu Islands and Tahiti

The Tuamotu Islands and Tahiti

The Tuamotu Islands and Tahiti

The Tuamotu Islands and Tahiti

Synopsis

The final volume in the quartet of books on the naval, scientific, and social activities of the Imperial Russian Navy in the South Pacific, this book focuses on the expeditions to Tahiti and the dangerous atoll chains to its east, known as the Tuamotus. Under the command of Captains Otto von Kotzebue and F. Fellingshausen, expedition members were the first to chart several of the Tuamotu islands. They also theorized correctly about coral reef and atoll formation, botanized, and collected ethnographica in a systematic way.

Excerpt

This is the final volume in a series entitled Russia and the South Pacific, 1696-1840. the first three surveyed the Russians' early dealings in Australia, in Southern and Eastern Polynesia (New Zealand, the Austral Islands, Easter Island), and in Melanesia and the Western Polynesian fringe (Fiji, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, and Anuta). This instalment offers surveys and discussion of the Russians' social, maritime, and scientific dealings in Tahiti and its nearest westward neighbour, Mo'orea, and among the numerous (and dangerous) low atolls to its east, the Tuamotu Archipelago. Like broken necklaces, these atolls stretch at least a thousand miles on a roughly wnw by ese axis. Even today, they remain a great impediment to efficient trade and commerce. When Russian ships first entered Polynesia in the early nineteenth century, most were unknown to Europeans, who generally avoided the entire archipelago, then marked on atlases as "Dangerous or Low." It is the proud boast of the Russian Navy to have minimized the danger represented by these little specks of coral, one light sweep of which was enough to rip a hole in a wooden vessel.

Russian records for Tahiti--Otaiti in contemporary Russian logs and journals, which so regularly and deliberately echoed those of Bougainville, Cook, and other eighteenth-century "discoverers" of Otaheite-- differ in two respects from Russian evidence for other parts of Polynesia in the Southern Hemisphere. Both those differences reflect the lateness of the Russians' arrival on the Tuamotuan-Tahitian scene (1816-20). First, Tahiti was a kingdom in the full sense of that word: with aid and arms from Europeans, the Pomares had become a dynasty, ruling a centralized, if not yet unified, small Polynesian state much as Kamehameha I of the Hawaiian Islands also ruled a state. Second, the European missionary in-

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