Episode 13: Polynesia, Sea of Islands: with Christina Thompson

John and Elizabeth talk cultural renewal with Christina Thompson, author of Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia, a book that both tells a part of the history of Polynesia, and tells how histories of Polynesia are constructed.

Tupaia’s map

The discussion also ranges to consider different moments of cultural contact between Polynesian and European thinkers and doers. Those range from the chart Tupaia drew for Captain Cook during the “first contact” era (above) to the Hokule’a‘s triumphant reconstuction of ancient Polynesian wayfinding, in which the work of David Lewis, Brian Finney and the Bishop Planetarium (below) served as invaluable background to the navigational achievements of Mau Pialug and Nainoa Thompson.


The conversation then turns to Epeli Hau’ofa’s influential article, “Our Sea of Islands,” and the conditions that arise to separate islands–water, language, or national boundaries. Can these conditions also serve to draw islands together? The discussion turns to the much-celebrated voyage of the Hokule’a, revivals of Polynesian tattooing practice, hula dancing, and oh yes, Moana.

Planetarium at the Bishop Musuem

Finally, in Recallable Books, Christina recommends Nancy D. Munn’s The Fame of Gawa as a book that takes seriously the theories of value developed within Gawan community; Elizabeth recommends Sam Low’s documentary text Hawaiki Rising; and John, thinking broadly and archipelagically, recommends Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea novels.

christina thompson
Christina Thompson (not in our studio)

Mentioned in this episode:

Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia and Come on Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All, Christina Thompson

Ancient Voyagers in the Pacific,” Andrew Sharp

We, the Navigators: The Ancient Art of Landfinding in the Pacific, David Lewis

Our Sea of Islands,” Epeli Hau’ofa

Moana, dir. Ron Clements and John Cusker

The Fame of Gawa: A Symbolic Study of Value Transformation in a Massim Society, Nancy D. Munn

Hawaiki Rising, Sam Low

The Books of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin


Listen to the episode here:


Transcript available here:


Author: plotznik

I teach English (mainly the novel and Victorian literature) at Brandeis University, and live in Brookline.

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