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An Introduction to Polynesian Anthropology


The Tuamotu Archipelago, formerly referred to as Paumotu, consists of 78 atolls extending from the Society Islands to the Mangareva Islands, a stretch of about 900 miles. In depth they range between 14° and 23° S., the trend in direction being southeast. Many of the atolls are uninhabited but they are owned and visited by the people of neighboring inhabited atolls. The archipelago was annexed by France in 1844 with the exception of Ducie, Henderson, and Oeno at the extreme eastern end which, with Pitcairn, are British.

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Owing to the wide extent of the archipelago, the individual atolls have been discovered by a number of explorers from Mendaña in 1595 to the Wilkes Expedition in 1840. The faulty methods of determining longitude in the earlier voyages make it difficult to identify many of the discoveries which were given European names. The list of early voyages to the Tuamotus is fairly long, but many accounts are scanty because the great depth of the ocean outside the reefs made it impossible for ships to anchor off the atolls. Even when boats were able to land, the stay was usually short. In many instances, the atolls were merely sighted and recorded or scanty observations on the people were made through the telescope.

Of other writers, the earliest observers were the Roman Catholic missionaries, of whom Montiton was the most productive. Articles by Audran and Seurat contain good material, and Tregear compiled a Paumotuan dictionary which appeared in issues of the journal of the Polynesian Society.

The Bishop Museum staff expedition to the Tuamotus, with K. P. Emory and J. F. Stimson, in 1929-31 was able to collect much information, as a motor launch was provided to visit the various islands. The expedition was joined by H. L. Shapiro, who made records of the physical characters. Bishop Museum has published a good many of the expedition's reports, but some manuscripts await completion. Records of the music were made and have been studied by E. G. Burrows. Some of the material bearing on religion may be regarded as open to doubt, because a difference of opinion prevails regarding the veracity of some informants and the interpretation of their information. The Mangarevan Expedition of 1934 added further information.