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  • Polynesian Outliers: The State of the Art edited by Richard Feinberg and Richard Scaglion
  • Mark A Calamia
Polynesian Outliers: The State of the Art, edited by Richard Feinberg and Richard Scaglion. Ethnology Monographs 21. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh, 2012. isbn 978-0-945428-15-2 viii + 225, figures, maps, tables, notes, bibliography. Paper, us$25.00.

Polynesian Outliers: The State of the Art will likely be the definitive general reference on Polynesian outliers for years to come. The so-called Polynesian outliers consist of two dozen widely separated and generally small islands that lie outside of the Polynesian triangle and whose inhabitants speak Polynesian languages and display a variety of customs and traits often associated with Polynesian cultural contexts. This volume skillfully brings together fifteen leading experts from varied disciplines including cultural anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, and cultural geography in an exceptionally productive synthesis.

In their introduction, Richard Scaglion and Richard Feinberg present a comprehensive and detailed overview of the “state of the art” in Polynesian outliers that includes sections on “Outlier Groupings and Relations” and “Studies in Polynesian Relations.” The authors recognize that the outliers comprise a residual category rather than a unified group of islands and associated sociocultural phenomena. Complementing the text are a useful table and two maps locating the Polynesian outliers in cultural and regional contexts. Unfortunately, a couple of the outliers described in the text could not be found on either map.

Chapters 2 and 3 concern the prehistory and archaeology of the Polynesian outliers. Together, these two chapters present a comprehensive overview of past and recent archaeological investigations on these islands. In chapter 2, Patrick Kirch reviews the more recent archaeological work performed in the Northern Outlier Atolls, the Southeast Solomon Islands outliers, and the Vanuatu outliers. Using detailed archaeological evidence, Kirch amply shows that the prehistoric sequences of investigated outliers reveal varied and complex settlement histories of these small islands. He goes on to argue that while the outliers are not simply remains of early Polynesian migration, neither are they isolated enclaves of Polynesian drift voyagers who arrived following the settlement of the Polynesian Triangle. Kirch points out some important theoretical concerns: “First, it is clear that outlier culture histories are often as complex as those of major southwestern Pacific archipelagos, and that no single framework or theory can account for outlier settlement as a whole. Each outlier must be investigated on its own terms. Second, the very term ‘outlier’ (while too ingrained to abandon) is misleading, a misnomer. Though they are outlying with respect to Triangle Polynesia, these islands are central to the prehistory of the entire southwestern Pacific, and their sequences mirror major cultural currents that have created distinctive patterns of ethnic diversity in eastern Melanesia” (25). [End Page 571]

In Chapter 3, Mike Carson notes that long-term archaeological research has focused on three main topics: “1) the timing or dating of Polynesian outlier settlement chronology; 2) interactions between outlier populations and other communities; and 3) maintenance or creation of a distinctive cultural identity in an outlier context” (27). His overview of these three topics is replete with detailed discussions of the prehistoric material culture based on currently available data. He uses these data in proposing a useful summary of similarities and differences in regional patterns and chronological trends for the outliers of Nukuoro, Kapingamarangi, Tikopia, Anuta, Taumako, West Futuna, Mele-Fila, and West Uvea.

In Chapter 4, Robert Early presents an extremely comprehensive review of prior Polynesian outlier linguistic research and new trends. After cataloging the outlier languages and offering demographic information about them, he discusses linguistic relationships. The theoretical issue of the extent to which contact between the outlier languages and their non-Polynesian neighbors has had an effect on the languages is addressed in detail. Early also examines other languagerelated issues, especially the current status of outlier languages with respect to their functions, their potential endangerment, and the extent to which they have been studied. The author adeptly marshals a variety of linguistic data that reveal similarities and differences among fifteen outlier languages. He includes an excellent discussion of existing and new information sources, including indexes, for outlier language research.

Chapter 5 on seafaring, by Feinberg...


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