RA'IVAVAE by Donald Marshall


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Ra'ivavae, or High Island, is ""a spot of land in the South Pacific, four hundred miles from Tahiti"". With a population of only a few hundred natives, all of whom devote most of their energies to raising and gathering food, it is today a quiet French protectorate. However, this out-of-the-way spot had been the subject of a controversial four-volume manuscript by ethnologist J. Frank Stimson, who depicted the ancient island life as uniquely tempestuous and passionate, concentrating on war and on strange erotic rites. Stimson had been denounced by many colleagues as ""overly interested in sex,"" but in 1957, Donald Marshall led an archaeological expedition to Ra'ivavae, to try and determine what the mysterious cultural past of this island had been. This book is the story of that field trip, and of the step-by-step way in which Mr. Marshall and his colleagues traced the lost background of High Island--once a source for the best Polynesian art in our museums. It is also the story of the vindication of Stimson, for the expedition found that ""ancient Ra'ivavae had been as grand, as erotic, and as fierce as Stimson had depicted"". This artistic and stormy culture has now vanished from the life of the island, following an epidemic in the 1820's which wiped out most of the older men. The book is readable, but contains, of course, sexual details of life on ancient Ra'ivavae which are definitely not for the squeamish.

Pub Date: Jan. 27th, 1960
Publisher: Doubleday