An inspired history of the elusive far-flung Pacific region and peoples of the “Polynesian Triangle.”
Defined by the three points of Hawaii, New Zealand, and Easter Island—and encompassing all the islands within it—the Polynesian Triangle was initially colonized thousands of years ago by a group of voyagers carrying with them their shared language, tools, myths, and plants and animals. Where did they come from: South America or Melanesia and Taiwan? Since the Pacific islands were first “discovered” by European explorers in the 16th century, the Western myths surrounding the “problem of Polynesian origins” abounded, and Harvard Review editor Thompson (Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story, 2008), a dual citizen of the United States and Australia, follows the thread in a beautifully woven narrative. The author is inspired by her husband, Seven, of Maori origin, who is essentially at home among any of the islands within this vast area of the Pacific Ocean, much as the original settlers would have been. From the first eyewitnesses to make contact with the islanders—Spaniard Álvaro de Mendaña on the Marquesas (1595), Jacob Roggeveen on Easter Island (1722), and James Cook on Hawaii (1778)—there was much wonderment about how these early seafarers could have traversed 600 miles between islands amid a vast expanse of ocean in canoes lacking sophisticated navigation instruments. As Thompson smoothly traces the history of the Polynesians and their language and culture through discoveries in anthropology and archaeology, especially radiocarbon dating, she emphasizes the importance of the migrations of the Lapita people from Asia. Ultimately, the author makes clear that the original settlers were not just blown about by currents and winds; they keenly navigated using star paths, ocean swells, and other land-finding techniques like bird-watching.
Thompson vividly captures the wondrousness of this region of the world as well as the sense of adventure tied up in that history.