Review – Sea People

Posted August 14, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Sea People by Christina ThompsonSea People: In Search of the Ancient Navigators of the Pacific, Christina Thompson

Christina Thompson’s husband, Seven, is Maori — but Thompson herself is not. This book is mostly about the history of the Polynesian peoples from a Western-eye view: the “discovery” of the islands, and our questions and experiments and concerns about the Polynesian past and where everyone came from. I’d been hoping for something a little closer to the subject matter, even if not written by a person from Polynesia, but it’s very much from an outsider’s point of view, focusing on what outsiders have learned through anthropological studies, archaeology and later carbon dating, etc.

It’s very readable and pretty enjoyable for what it is, but I felt it was sorely lacking in Polynesian voices. Tupaia, a priest and navigator who chose to sail with Cook, is mentioned, along with some later scholars who were from the area or naturalised there, but… it really feels like “how the West found these islands, and what they made of it once they got there”. I was hoping for something a little more centred on the other point of view.

I was also hoping for a bit more discussion of the archaeology of the islands, but Thompson focuses more on the stories and navigational skills passed down. Still, there are some glimpses of the archaeology and in general it’s a fair introduction to the area and what we’ve figured out about the deeper history of the place. It shouldn’t be surprising for people to learn that the genealogies and stories did contain much useful information that matches what Western methods have found; we respect that when it comes to Norse sagas!

Anyway, enjoyable, if not what I’d hoped for.

Rating: 3/5

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2 responses to “Review – Sea People

    • To be fair, there’s a lot of discussion about how Polynesians populated the islands, and how they navigated, just… not much about their material culture.

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