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Sailors and Traders

Sailors and Traders: A Maritime History of the Pacific Peoples

Alastair Couper
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    Sailors and Traders
    Book Description:

    Written by a senior scholar and master mariner, Sailors and Traders is the first comprehensive account of the maritime peoples of the Pacific. It focuses on the sailors who led the exploration and settlement of the islands and New Zealand and their seagoing descendants, providing along the way new material and unique observations on traditional and commercial seagoing against the background of major periods in Pacific history. The book begins by detailing the traditions of sailors, a group whose way of life sets them apart. Like all others who live and work at sea, Pacific mariners face the challenges of an often harsh environment, endure separation from their families for months at a time, revere their vessels, and share a singular attitude to risk and death. The period of prehistoric seafaring is discussed using archaeological data, interpretations from interisland exchanges, experimental voyaging, and recent DNA analysis. Sections on the arrival of foreign exploring ships centuries later concentrate on relations between visiting sailors and maritime communities. The more intrusive influx of commercial trading and whaling ships brought new technology, weapons, and differences in the ethics of trade. The successes and failures of Polynesian chiefs who entered trading with European-type ships are recounted as neglected aspects of Pacific history. As foreign-owned commercial ships expanded in the region so did colonialism, which was accompanied by an increase in the number of sailors from metropolitan countries and a decrease in the employment of Pacific islanders on foreign ships. Eventually small-scale island entrepreneurs expanded interisland shipping, and in 1978 the regional Pacific Forum Line was created by newly independent states. This was welcomed as a symbolic return to indigenous Pacific ocean linkages. The book’s final sections detail the life of the modern Pacific seafarer. Most Pacific sailors in the global maritime labor market return home after many months at sea, bringing money, goods, a wider perspective of the world, and sometimes new diseases. Each of these impacts is analyzed, particularly in the case of Kiribati, a major supplier of labor to foreign ships.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-6423-1
    Subjects: Anthropology, Transportation Studies

Table of Contents

    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-5)

    Writing in theAmerican Historical Reviewof June 2006, Kären Wigen reminds readers that the sea is “swinging into view” and is “being given a history, even as the history of the world is being retold from the perspective of the sea.”¹ When we consider the millennia of exploration and settlement of the islands of the Pacific, and the continuum of maritime activities in the region, it would not be much of an exaggeration to define the history of the Pacific as “a history of seafaring.” It is the role of indigenous seafarers and related traders in Pacific history that...

  3. CHAPTER ONE Sailors, Myths, and Traditions
    (pp. 6-21)

    The Pacific sailor who is waiting for a jumbo jet at Nadi International Airport in Fiji has been in transit for almost three days. He has travelled by local boat from his home island of Nanouti in Kiribati to Tarawa, the principal island of Kiribati, and from there by small plane to Fiji. He is bound for Townsville, Australia, via another flight from Sydney to rejoin a large bulk carrier as an AB (able-bodied seaman). The ship will probably be heading next for the United States. It is owned by a German company in Hamburg and flies the Liberian flag....

  4. CHAPTER TWO The First Pacific Seafarers
    (pp. 22-42)

    The peoples of the Pacific have a history of early long-distance seafaring unequaled anywhere in the world. As far as can be determined, their ancient ancestors were the first ever to make use of the open sea for large-scale migrations. Sometime before 40,000 BC they entered the western region of the Pacific from Southeast Asia. Sea levels were rising in this period of the late Pleistocene ice age, but still stood about fifty meters below those of today. This exposed dry areas of continental shelf, reefs, and islands, interlaced by waterways.¹ The migratory Asia-Pacific hunter-gatherers followed these stepping-stones and channels...

  5. CHAPTER THREE Settlements, Territories, and Trade
    (pp. 43-59)

    Once ships, people, animals, plants, and seed crops were brought to the beach of an unoccupied island, the accounts by explorers of bountiful resources would be tested. There would be plentiful water supplies on high islands, but low islands lacked surface water. On some islands there would probably be coastal coconut trees, the seed nuts having been carried there by winds and currents over many centuries.¹ Birdlife in all would be profuse. The variety of species decreases from west to east across the Pacific Islands, but the quantities of birds and eggs would be high everywhere in dense colonies that...

  6. CHAPTER FOUR The Arrival of Foreign Ships
    (pp. 60-74)

    Until the voyages of Byron, Wallis, Carteret, and Bougainville, all in the years 1764–1769, and under Cook between 1768 and 1779, the arrivals of foreign ships at Pacific islands were few and sporadic. Some voyagers merely sighted islands, but when landings did occur, they were of short duration, although often traumatic for the inhabitants. The early European explorers were mainly naval. Most of them knew little about, and cared even less for, the cultures, religions, or achievements of the island societies they encountered. Their attitudes toward local people were, with few exceptions, imperious and predatory.

    Magellan, in his sixteenth-century...

  7. CHAPTER FIVE Pacific Commercial Shipowners
    (pp. 75-99)

    The government-sponsored voyages to the Pacific in the eighteenth century were motivated by European rivalry, scientific inquiry, and public appetite for the exotic. The expeditions were conducted by naval vessels whose commanders were given specific instructions on behavior toward native peoples and were required to report on the resource potential of island areas. They carried articles for use as gifts and as barter for victuals, but they did not carry goods of a commercial nature. Care had to be taken to ensure that firearms were not stolen, lost, or traded, although some were, and other items from the ship and...

  8. CHAPTER SIX Under Foreign Sail
    (pp. 100-117)

    The aphorism of Samuel Johnson reflected perceptions shared by people in Britain and America of life at sea in the late 1770s. Even in the reforming “rights of man” postcolonial United States, a new federal law of 1790 sanctioned the arrest of merchant seamen who deserted, and a law of 1835 still in effect conceded “beating, wounding, imprisonment, withholding suitable food and other punishments inflicted by the masters justifiable, if done with cause.”¹ In 1874, a century after Samuel Johnson wrote, a surgeon in the US Marine Hospital Service was moved to complain: “No prison, certainly none of modern days,...

  9. CHAPTER SEVEN Dangers, Mutinies, and the Law
    (pp. 118-135)

    Pacific seafarers, in common with all mariners, faced dangers at sea. Many ships were lost with all hands in bad weather and on reefs. Sailors were also drowned when washed overboard, were killed by falls from rigging and other occupational accidents, and were exposed to violence and diseases in some trading areas. Periodically they were victims of physical and mental abuse under unscrupulous masters. Many of these situations were considered inevitable components of seagoing. These negatives were compensated for by the mobility and freedom of a temporary seafaring life, and if all went well, the accumulation of money by young...

  10. CHAPTER EIGHT Companies, Colonies, and Crewing
    (pp. 136-149)

    The commerce, technology, and imperial politics of the mid-nineteenth century transformed seafaring generally and had major repercussions for the sailors of the Pacific. The period was one of increasing industrialization of merchant shipping in Europe and America. In contrast to the near merchant adventuring voyages of past centuries, ships now became parts of a structured world system for the distribution of manufactured goods from the centers of industry, and for the transportation of massive tonnages of raw materials and foodstuffs from peripheral areas of the world. In turn, ocean passenger ships of the period, in both sail and steam, moved...

  11. CHAPTER NINE Island Protests and Enterprises
    (pp. 150-164)

    The First World War saw the removal of German colonial power. The Japanese, under a League of Nations mandate, eventually occupied all the islands of Micronesia except Guam (US) and the Gilberts (Britain). Britain acquired responsibility for Nauru, Australia took over German territory in New Guinea, and New Zealand acquired Western Samoa. The opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 gave added impetus to French commerce in Polynesia through more direct links with metropolitan France. There was rising resentment over the almost total control of commercial trade and transport by foreigners, and the wealth apparently derived from this.

    By the...

  12. CHAPTER TEN Contemporary Local and Regional Shipping
    (pp. 165-185)

    This chapter provides an account of local and regional shipping from the 1960s onward. Many political, technological, and significant social changes in the maritime sector of the islands have taken place within this period.

    The first part of the chapter deals with local shipping, which is the lifeblood of islands where some communities have depended on inordinately small quantities of cargo being delivered to their beaches (figure 10.1). It would be impossible to examine the changes that have, and still are, taking place within this and other practices over several island territories. On the other hand, generalizations for the Pacific...

  13. CHAPTER ELEVEN The Global Pacific Seafarer
    (pp. 186-206)

    The economic crisis after 1973 brought a fall in ocean freight rates and fierce competition within an overtonnaged world merchant fleet. This was followed by increased shifts in the recruitment of seafarers from western Europe and North America to the lower-labor-cost countries of Asia and the Pacific and, more recently, to Russia and eastern Europe. Of the one and a quarter million merchant seafarers supplied to international shipping in the year 2005, more than half a million came from the Philippines, Indonesia, China, Turkey, and India. The Pacific Islands supplied only about 7,300 officers and ratings (table 9). However, this...

    (pp. 207-208)

    The dependence of the Pacific Islands on sea trade has continuously increased over time, and multiplicities of social and economic activities are related to the cargoes and the people flowing through island ports. The sailors who are engaged in regional and international shipping are now less visible, as the old “sailor town” enclaves have given way to tourists. Apart from cruise ships, most vessels berth at distant secure terminals, and many sailors travel overseas to and from their ships by air transport. Nevertheless, island people are aware of maritime links and of numerous aspects of maritime history and heritage. Several...