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Twelve Days at Nuku Hiva

Twelve Days at Nuku Hiva: Russian Encounters and Mutiny in the South Pacific

Elena Govor
Copyright Date: 2010
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    Twelve Days at Nuku Hiva
    Book Description:

    In August 1803 two Russian ships, theNadezhdaand theNeva,set off on a round-the-world voyage to carry out scientific exploration and collect artifacts for Alexander I's ethnographic museum in St. Petersburg. Russia's strategic concerns in the north Pacific, however, led the Russian government to include as part of the expedition an embassy to Japan, headed by statesman Nikolai Rezanov, who was given authority over the ships' commanders without their knowledge. Between them the ships carried an ethnically and socially disparate group of men: Russian educated elite, German naturalists, Siberian merchants, Baltic naval officers, even Japanese passengers. Upon reaching Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas archipelago on May 7, 1804, and for the next twelve days, the naval officers revolted against Rezanov's command while complex crosscultural encounters between Russians and islanders occurred. Elena Govor recounts the voyage, reconstructing and exploring in depth the tumultuous events of the Russians' stay in Nuku Hiva; the course of the mutiny, its resolution and aftermath; and the extent and nature of the contact between Nuku Hivans and Russians.

    Govor draws directly on the writings of the participants themselves, many of whom left accounts of the voyage. Those by the ships' captains, Krusenstern and Lisiansky, and the naturalist George Langsdorff are well known, but here for the first time, their writings are juxtaposed with recently discovered textual and visual evidence by various members of the expedition in Russian, German, Japanese-and by the Nuku Hivans themselves. Two sailor-beachcombers, a Frenchman and an Englishman who acted as guides and interpreters, later contributed their own accounts, which feature the words and opinions of islanders. Govor also relies on a myth about the Russian visit recounted by Nuku Hivans to this day.

    With its unique polyphonic historical approach,Twelve Days at Nuku Hivapresents an innovative crosscultural ethnohistory that uncovers new approaches to-and understandings of-what took place on Nuku Hiva more than two hundred years ago.

    50 illus.

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3751-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Spelling and Translations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Part I From Russia to Nuku Hiva
    (pp. 1-55)

    The first Russian round-the-world expedition, which would inaugurate the anthropological studies of the northern Marquesas, left Kronshtadt in August 1803 on board theNadezhda(Hope) and theNeva, commanded by Adam Krusenstern and Urey Lisiansky. Greg Dening has summed up its primary purpose, but like all expeditions the Russian round-the-world expedition had its own genesis.

    By the end of the eighteenth century Russian expansion to the east had reached the North Pacific and the northwest coast of North America and resulted in the establishment of the Russian-American Company (RAC). Its interest in launching a sea connection with Russia’s European ports...

  6. Part II Nuku Hiva

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 56-63)

      At daybreak on 24 April (6 May) 1804, after three months at sea, they sighted land. This was Hood (Fatu Huku) Island, earlier discovered by Cook. Further to the south they could make out Dominica (Hiva Oa) Island, discovered by Mendana. By noon they were steering along the south coast of Riou (Ua Huka) Island, described by Hergest. The officers and passengers poured onto the deck. The islands they knew from the accounts of earlier voyagers arose from the sea in front of them. Krusenstern, Horner, and Löwenstern took altitudes of the sun to ascertain the islands’ latitude. Tilesius made...

    • DAY 1 ENCOUNTER. 25 April (7 May) 1804
      (pp. 64-90)

      In the morning the fog lifted, and as theNadezhdasailed along the southern coast, Nuku Hiva emerged in all its formidable beauty. Its volcanic mountain chains reminded Tilesius of ‘towers, turrets, spires and the sharp roofs of an old city’. When they approached closer they noticed that ‘the stern bald rocks of black-grey color … were enlivened by numerous snow-white waterfalls shining like silver, falling from high cliffs into the green valleys below’ (1803–1804:63) (fig. 11). Near Comptroller Bay two boats with Lieutenant Golovachev and Kamenshchikov, the ship’s navigator, were sent ahead of the ship to sound the...

    • DAY 2 DISCOVERY. 26 April (8 May) 1804
      (pp. 91-114)

      The next day the idyll continued. The supercargo Shemelin recorded in his journal:

      On the dawn of the 26th, while the sun was still behind the tall peaks of the island and only the birds were beginning to stir, the loud voices of hundreds of kind islanders around the ship awoke us from our sleep and announced their second arrival. We saw with joy much more island produce … and started bartering. The whole day was spent in buying more coconuts, bananas and bread fruit. (1803–1806:121v.–122)

      This activity round the ship became part of the islanders’ routine. Espenberg...

    • DAY 3 IMMERSION. 27 April (9 May) 1804
      (pp. 115-136)

      Meanwhile theNeva, having been separated from theNadezhdasoon after Cape Horn and after waiting a few days for it near Easter Island, was making its way to Nuku Hiva. On the evening of the previous day theNevacame close to Point Matauaoa on the northeast extremity of Nuku Hiva. It spent the night far off shore and in the morning sailed south along the eastern coast of the island, trying not to approach too close to the uncharted shore. They had sighted Ha‘atuatua Bay (south of Point Matauaoa) but could not see any dwellings and did not...

    • DAY 4 TATTOOING. 28 April (10 May) 1804
      (pp. 137-153)

      In the morning theNevamade towards the entrance of Taiohae Bay. To the joy of the voyagers they soon sighted a yawl, which ‘bore Lieutenant Golovachev and four sailors from theNadezhda, together with one of the islanders, who were all coming to see us’, Korobitsyn wrote (1952:153). Gideon remarked that the islander was ‘of most imposing height’ (1989:22). This may have been Ma‘uhau, who had spent the previous night aboard theNadezhda. As the wind dropped, theNevawas slowly steered to its anchorage. By 6 p.m. it was finally anchored in the middle of the bay, to...

    • DAY 5 HERESY. 29 April (11 May) 1804
      (pp. 154-162)

      At daybreak on their first day at Taiohae, Lisiansky had difficulty in enforcing his ruling on the nonadmission of women:

      As soon as it was light, we were surrounded by a still greater multitude of these people. There were now a hundred females at least; and they practiced all the arts of lewd expression and gesture, to gain admission on board. It was with difficulty I could get my crew to obey the orders I had given on this subject. Amongst these females were some not more than ten years of age. But youth, it seems, is here no test...

    • DAY 6 TENSION. 30 April (12 May) 1804
      (pp. 163-169)

      By the sixth day the islanders seemed to be at ease with their visitors; some of the novelty might have worn off the barter, but it did not become a purely business operation—the typical exuberance of Polynesian socializing ensured that.

      At noon Kiatonui visited theNeva. Lisiansky wrote:

      During this visit, a circumstance took place of a seriocomic nature. One of my midshipmen [Berkh], in examining the oar of a canoe that I had purchased, happened to let it fall, and it struck against the head of the king, who was sitting on the deck. His majesty immediately fell...

    • DAY 7 TEMPTATIONS. 1/13 May 1804
      (pp. 170-194)

      The tension of the previous day could not be set aside at once. ‘Throughout the night we had seen fires in different places,’ wrote Krusenstern, ‘and in the morning no one came on board with cocoa-nuts as usual, from all which we concluded that the public mind was not very quiet’ (1813c:124). ‘Notwithstanding these tumultuous symptoms, I ordered the launch to be dispatched again the next morning for water’, wrote Lisiansky, ‘and I proposed to captain Krusenstern our paying a visit to the king. At eight o’clock we set out, thirty in number, with Roberts for our guide’ (1814:71). This...

    • DAY 8 CATHARSIS. 2/14 May 1804
      (pp. 195-213)

      This day became a kind of catharsis after the tensions of the previous day.

      On theNeva, matters were successfully resolved. As we remember, Gideon on theNevaforbade Lisiansky to tolerate nightly frolics of the kind that took place on theNadezhda. Women were not allowed on board at night. While the sailors, as Löwenstern remarked, could have relationships while ashore with a watering party, theNeva’s officers found themselves deprived of both the opportunity and the environment for any sexual adventures, and may well have envied their colleagues on theNadezhda. The matter of rivalry and prestige attaching...

    • DAY 9 DISLOCATION. 3/15 May 1804
      (pp. 214-226)

      With the conflicts and troubles of the three previous days behind him, Krusenstern returned to the plans he had hatched on hearing Löwenstern’s favorable account of the newly discovered bay lying three miles to the west of Taiohae, now known as Hakatea Bay. They would explore it further, and he had hopes of obtaining more provisions there, especially some pigs. The voyagers from theNadezhdaset off in the launch in a party that included Krusenstern, Löwenstern, Golovachev, and the European scientists Horner, Langsdorff, and Tilesius. They were followed by theNeva’s boat with Lisiansky, Povalishin, the surgeon Moritz Laband,...

    • DAYS 10–12 PARTING. 4/16–6/18 May 1804
      (pp. 227-237)

      The sailing date was set as 17 May, and on 16 May they were to finish sundry shore tasks. ‘On the 16th May we had completed our supply of wood and water,’ Krusenstern recorded (1813c:133).

      But peace did not reign undisturbed; the tensions of the previous days had taken their toll on all of them. Löwenstern wrote:

      After Tilesius and Langsdorff had slept on land, they came to the watering place where Golovatscheff was working. Tilesius immediately demanded of Golovatscheff a boat so that he could go to the ship. Golovatscheff had to deny him his request. As a result,...

  7. Part III From Nuku Hiva to Russia
    (pp. 238-262)

    Although the voyagers had left Nuku Hiva behind, those twelve eventful days dominated their minds for a long time. As Löwenstern wrote on 9/21 May, ‘Everyone is busy catching up on things left undone. Landscapes, plants, animals, fish, etc, are being sketched. Bellingshausen, Horner, and I are charting our angles that we measured and putting them together as best we can. A couple of maps are finished, but there is still enough work left to do.’ Throughout the following weeks Löwenstern added to his diary more Nuku Hivan notes, which he had had no time to record while he was...

  8. Epilogue Nuku Hiva Revisited
    (pp. 263-268)

    In 1817 Langsdorff was entertaining officers from the Russian naval sloopKamchatkaon his Brazilian estate. Her captain, the famous seafarer Vasily Golovnin, was accompanied by several junior officers, including Fedor Matiushkin, Fedor Lütke, and Ferdinand Wrangel (Vrangel), who dreamed of adventures at sea. Lütke, when Golovnin agreed to take him on the voyage, ‘pounced on any and all travel accounts he could find in Sveaborg. [He] had read Krusenstern, Lisiansky, Sarychev, Cook, Anson’ (Shur 1971:83). To join the expedition, the young Wrangel absconded from a naval vessel at Reval and went to Kronshtadt at his own risk. There he...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 269-272)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 273-288)
  11. Index
    (pp. 289-302)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 303-309)