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Journal of World History 12.2 (2001) 498-501

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Book Review

Voyages and Beaches: Pacific Encounters, 1769-1840

Voyages and Beaches: Pacific Encounters, 1769-1840. Edited by ALEX CALDER, JONATHAN LAMB, and BRIDGET ORR. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1999. Pp. 352. $45.00 (cloth).

Voyages and Beaches: Pacific Encounters, 1769-1840 seeks to deepen readers' understandings of the varied interactions between Polynesians and Europeans in voyages of early contact in the Pacific. Edited by Alex Calder, Jonathan Lamb, and Bridget Orr, this volume consists of an introduction and eighteen chapters, the works resulting from presentations at a University of Auckland conference in 1993. Half of the works concern encounters between Maoris and British in New Zealand, while the others focus on a variety of cross-cultural exchanges in Samoa, Tonga, Tahiti, and Australia.

The editors assert that this book seeks to "disclose the analogies, overlaps, and to-ings and fro-ings that entangle the Polynesian and European senses of the past" (p. 1). Acknowledging that islander understandings of their past have been marginalized in the frequently Eurocentric written accounts, Calder, Lamb, and Orr aspire to bridge the gap between differing Pacific and European modes of historical representation.

Part of the challenge, writes contributing author Nicholas Thomas, is to provide "a more critical cultural history of the European motivations, interests, responses, and conflicts around the voyages, and their subsequent representation in national histories" (p. 132). In a direct criticism of Subaltern studies, the authors of this work maintain that the heterogeneity of European interests and actions has not been adequately explored. Rather, claim the editors of this book, Subaltern studies too frequently assumes that the West has been embroiled in a conspiratorial, supremacist plot to colonize the Pacific.

The editors also explicitly challenge what they perceive to be the "globalizing tendency of postcolonial discourse theory" (p. 7). Calder, Lamb, and Orr argue against any notion of a homogenous colonial [End Page 498] hegemony. Instead, they maintain that not only were colonial modes of representation frequently ambiguous and incoherent, but also that the power that presumably authorized them was dispersed. By examining an eclectic variety of historical encounters between Europeans and Pacific Islanders, the editors demonstrate the heterogeneity of the colonial experience.

Ironically, however, despite expressing concerns for the marginalization of Pacific Islander understandings, the authors continually retreat to the very Eurocentricity that they so criticize. The first paper, by J. G. A. Pocock, discusses "European Perceptions of World History in the Age of Encounter." Additionally, many of the other essays revolve around European, particularly British, actors and agents such as Captain James Cook, medical doctor John Hunter, artist Augustus Earle, and colonial translator H. T. Kemp.

As far as insights into Pacific Islander experiences of colonialism, these are too few. Most of the Pacific Islander contributors to this volume discuss mythology and its relationship to history. I. F. Helu, Malama Meleisea, and 'Okusitino Mahina all examine particular Polynesian myths. Helu studies the Maui canon in Tongan society; Meleisea discusses the Samoan pre-Christian war goddess, Nafanua; and Ma¯hina surveys two Tongan myths relating to the political ascendancy of Tu'i Tonga. But while engendering an appreciation of the social and political significance of Polynesian mythology, the editors run the risk of marginalizing Pacific Islanders' histories to the confines of prehistoric speculation by placing so much emphasis on the Pacific as a place of "mythology" rather than of "history."

The analysis of European discursive and visual representations of Pacific encounters takes up the bulk of this volume. Under examination here are not only the written accounts of explorers, writers, scientists, missionaries, and translators, but also artistic representations and architectural sketches. Stephen Turner, Nicholas Thomas, and Ian Barber examine different aspects of Captain James Cook's voyaging accounts, attending closely to the textual records of his voyages. P. G. McHugh examines common-law language in New Zealand as part of the discourse of colonialism, particularly in the context of the Treaty of Waitangi and wide-scale dispossession of Maori lands. Paul Turnbull's article on Australia examines Enlightenment anthropology...


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