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Trading Nature

Trading Nature: Tahitians, Europeans, and Ecological Exchange

Jennifer Newell
Copyright Date: 2010
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  • Book Info
    Trading Nature
    Book Description:

    When Captain Samuel Wallis became the first European to land at Tahiti in June 1767, he left not only a British flag on shore but also three guinea hens, a pair of turkeys, a pregnant cat, and a garden planted with peas for the chiefess Purea. Thereafter, a succession of European captains, missionaries, and others planted seeds and introduced livestock from around the world. In turn, the islanders traded away great quantities of important island resources, including valuable and spiritually significant plants and animals. What did these exchanges mean? What was their impact? The answers are often unexpected. They also reveal the ways islanders retained control over their societies and landscapes in an era of increasing European intervention.Trading Natureexplores-from both the European and Tahitian perspective-the effects of "ecological exchange" on one island from the mid-eighteenth century to the present day.

    Through a series of dramatic episodes,Trading Natureuncovers the potency of trading in nature. In the interweavings of chiefly power, ordinary islanders, the ambitions of outsiders, transplanted species, and existing ecologies, the book uncovers the cultural and ecological impacts of cross-cultural exchange. Evidence of these transactions has been found in a rich variety of voyage journals, missionary diaries, Tahitian accounts, colonial records, travelers' tales, and a range of visual and material sources. The story progresses from the first trades on Tahiti's shores for provisions for British and French ships to the contrasting histories of cattle in Tahiti and Hawai'i. Two key exportations of species are analyzed: the great breadfruit transplantation project that linked Britain to Tahiti and the Caribbean and the politically volatile trade in salt-pork that ran between Tahiti and the Australian colonies in the nineteenth century. In each case, the author explores the long-term impacts of the exchanges on modern Tahiti.

    Trading Natureis a finely researched and entertaining work that will find a ready audience among those with an interest in the Pacific, ecological history, and the startling consequences of entangling people, plants, and animals on island shores.

    32 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3767-9
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XII)
    (pp. XIII-XIII)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    A few years ago I met a Tahitian writer at a workshop on contemporary Pacific literature. Celestine Hitiura Vaite had recently published a novel, titledBreadfruit. Breadfruit had a lot of significance in Tahiti, she said. I told her about my research into Captain Bligh’s breadfruit voyages and she told me about the huge breadfruit tree in her mother’s garden on the island, planted by her great-grandfather. It was, like all breadfruit trees, a reliable producer of large, useful fruits. Ever bountiful, it had been bearing fruit, season after season, as her family’s generations passed. In 1983, after a major...

  6. Part I. New Shores

    • CHAPTER 1 “No Country More Capable”: The Provisioning Trade in Tahiti
      (pp. 25-56)

      I met with Robert Langdon, a scholar of Pacific history and ecology, in 1999 to discuss some of the issues raised by my doctoral thesis on ecological exchange.¹ When I described the sudden, high consumption of pigs, other animals, fruits, and vegetables in Matavai Bay whenever a ship pulled in, he shrugged and said, “but so what?” The pigs and chickens would breed again. There were plenty of coconut palms and taro fields and they would continue to produce. This gave me pause; perhaps I was assuming too much. Maybe the Tahitians around Matavai Bay were affected very little in...

    • CHAPTER 2 Conceptual Landscapes
      (pp. 57-88)

      When Europeans came to Tahiti and looked out on the palms, hills, and clouded peaks, the landscape they saw was not the landscape the Tahitians saw. The breadfruit, pigs, and fish the Europeans took on board were different from the breadfruit, pigs, and fish the Tahitians were handing over. The two cultural groups had radically differing ways of conceiving how the world worked, the mythologies and deities that operated within it, and the role plants, animals, rivers, reefs, and storms had in relationship to themselves. These types of conceptions form the bedrock of how human societies operate. The Tahitians’ and...

  7. Part II. Into Tahiti

    • CHAPTER 3 Getting Captain Cook’s Goat: And Other Tales of Ecological Introduction
      (pp. 91-114)

      On the island of Mo‘orea in October 1777, one of Captain Cook’s goats went missing. Several of the animals had been taken ashore to graze, and Cook was sure a chief called Mahine or one of his followers had stolen one. Cook had already given away two goats to a local chief and had intended to keep the others. He sent messages demanding the stolen goat be returned but received no satisfactory reply. Cook told his men to start setting fire to nearby houses and break up the huge, elaborately carved war canoes on the beach. They followed their orders...

    • CHAPTER 4 Chiefly Cattle
      (pp. 115-138)

      It is the path taken by specific historical actors and the effects of specific dynamics coming together in particular places that provide us with the surest views through the dark density of the past. While we need to establish a more overarching synthesis than Morris West’s “millions of small particulars,” it is by starting the process of questioning at the level of particulars that the changes undergone in any historical environment become readable. There are no easy generalizations to be made when every introduced species responds to its new environment in unique ways, no “great generalities” to explain the varied...

  8. Part III. Out of Tahiti

    • CHAPTER 5 Breadfruit Connections
      (pp. 141-170)

      In February 1793, two ships arrived in Port Royal, Jamaica. The deck of the larger ship was crowded with greenery. There were broad-leaved trees more than seven feet tall on the quarterdeck, and ranks of smaller trees in pots. A mass of leaves was visible through the windows of the great cabin, the tops of hundreds of plants stretching back out of view. Locals paddled out in their canoes to investigate “the ship that has the bush.”¹ On board were a tired, sun-browned crew and a captain jubilant in his successful arrival at this island. There were also two Tahitian...

    • CHAPTER 6 Pigs, Muskets, and a New Order
      (pp. 171-193)

      On Sunday morning, 12 November 1815, Pomare II assembled together some one thousand of his supporters, most of them Christian converts, at his place of exile in Mo‘orea. They had been gathered from Tahiti, Ra‘iatea, and Huahine by some pork traders from Sydney who were willing to lend a hand to support their primary pork supplier.¹ On this Sabbath morning they made the provocative step of paddling to a Christian chapel at Pape‘ete on Tahiti’s northern shore to conduct worship. Opuhara,ari‘iof Papara, a chief deeply embittered against Pomare and his Christians, heard news of their arrival. In the...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 194-202)

    Ecological exchange is a common accompaniment to cross-cultural engagement. Bringing together plants and animals from diverse ecologies creates dramatic waves of impact on physical and cultural landscapes. Within and between cultural groups, the many-layered processes of gift giving, barter, haggling, taking, and trade moves around the plants and animals that form the substance of everyday existence, sacred conversation, metaphor, and allegiance. Using plants and animals as the currency of gift and trade creates roles for those species that are especially susceptible to change, because the role and form of exchanges between groups are themselves always in flux.

    Selecting Tahiti as...

  10. APPENDIX A Timeline of Tahiti: Events, Ships, and Chiefs
    (pp. 203-212)
  11. APPENDIX B A Survey of Species Introduced to the Society Islands 1767–1820s
    (pp. 213-224)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 225-266)
    (pp. 267-272)
    (pp. 273-288)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 289-296)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 297-299)