In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • Voyagers: The Settlement of the Pacific by Nicholas Thomas
  • Richard Feinberg
Voyagers: The Settlement of the Pacific, by Nicholas Thomas. New York: Basic Books, 2021. isbn hardcover, 9781541619838; e-book, 978154162005; 203 pages, notes, acknowledgements, further reading, illustration credits, index. Hardcover, us $25.00; e-book, us $15.99.

Several recent books designed for nonspecialists offer a broad outline of Pacific voyaging, navigation, and settlement. John Huth's 2015 volume, The Lost Art of Finding Our Way, is an encyclopedic volume on non-instrument navigation. That was followed in 2019 by Christina Thompson's Sea People. Nicholas Thomas's 2021 contribution largely follows Sea People's objectives and strategy of avoiding technical academic debates while providing "an overview of chapters in human history that are unlike humanity's collective experience in any other part of the world" (6). It addresses the questions "Who? From where? [and] How?" with the objective of exploring "What was it, and what is it, to be an Islander?" (6).

Thomas is not an Islander, but in other respects, he is well qualified to take on this task. He is a respected anthropologist with historical and archaeological interests, and his books include the 2011 Wolfson History Prize winner, Islanders: The Pacific in the Age of Empire (2010). Voyagers does not attempt to break new ground; rather, it synthesizes current understandings in a readable, engaging manner. As such, it provides a useful introduction for those seeking knowledge of Pacific Island peoples and how they arrived at their historic homelands.

The book is divided into five substantive chapters, plus an introduction, an epilogue, acknowledgements, endnotes, a nine-page index, and many illustrations, including a half dozen maps on unnumbered pages prior to the introduction. Rather than a list of references, it offers three pages of suggested "further readings" (177–179).

The introduction provides a sense of the region, its geography, and its history. Chapter 1, "The Same Nation," recaps early European contact with Pacific Islanders, Europeans' contact with Pacific Islanders, Europeans' impressions of the people they encountered, and European observers' conclusion that, despite the region's vast dimensions, its peoples share a common origin. Thomas introduces [End Page 509] readers to Tupaia, the Society Islander who profoundly impressed Captain Cook with his remarkable geographic and navigational knowledge and who is discussed later in the book in a variety of contexts. Toward the end of the chapter, Thomas brings us into the twentieth century by citing contributions from Te Rangihiroa (Sir Peter Buck), Bronislaw Malinowski, Raymond Firth, and others.

Chapter 2, "First Crossings: From Sunda to Sahul," reviews the archaeological evidence for movement of non-Austronesian-speaking people from Asia to New Guinea, Australia, and the Bismarck Archipelago. Chapter 3, "Making Connections: Lapita and Beyond," outlines the movement of Austronesian speakers from their homeland on Taiwan into—and, eventually, throughout—Oceania, as well as parts of Southeast Asia and the island of Madagascar, located off Africa's southeastern coast. He also explores some common themes that run through Oceania's social, political, and spiritual organization.

Chapter 4, "The Best of Any Boats in the World," examines the design, construction, and use of the voyaging canoes that allowed Islanders to settle every habitable speck in the tropical and subtropical Pacific (and, to some extent, beyond). It includes appreciative descriptions by early European visitors, as well as diagrams and photographs, a few dating to the nineteenth and early twentieth century. This is also where Thomas considers and rejects Andrew Sharp's influential but flawed "drift voyage" theory of Pacific settlement and pays homage to the work of Hawai'i's Polynesian Voyaging Society.

The theme of interisland travel continues in Chapter 5, "Knowing the Ocean," where Thomas discusses the navigational knowledge and techniques on which Islanders have long relied. In doing so, he draws on the work of early missionaries, modern anthropologists, and Islanders themselves. The epilogue once more calls attention to Tupaia and offers lessons from the foregoing chapters' excursion through space and time.

Voyagers examines prehistoric migration more extensively than Sea People. Both works review European perceptions of Pacific Islanders, emphasizing Oceanic people's geographic and navigational understandings. Both consider canoe design, seafaring techniques, and navigation. For...