Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tupaia: Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator by Joan Druett

Tupaia: Captain Cook's Polynesian Navigator by Joan Druett 2011

This book is why I prefer to read non-fiction, because you just can't make this stuff up. This book brings to life a Tahitian who is largely forgotten in the history of early South Pacific exploration but actually made a huge impact.

The large amount of research shines thru in this book but doesn't weight it down. I actually found the book quite humorous, though usually at the expense of the ignorant Europeans.

I am amazed at what she pulled together of early Tahitian life since they had no written record.

In a nutshell, Captain Cook's first voyage goes to Tahiti where they offer Tupaia a ride to Europe. Along the way he pretty much keeps the local Maoris and Aborigines from killing them. And sadly, he dies a painful death in Indonesia/Batavia. I always find it so tragic that these boats will make it thru cannibal infested waters of Melanesia but then so many people die in the malaria and cholera wasteland that was the Dutch owned Indonesia of the 1800's.

Tupaia was a master navigator, high priest, artist, politician and translator. The cover of the book depicts one of his watercolors from the trip and he also drew a famous map of Polynesia.

I just wonder if the Maori's minds where blown when he showed up and they could communicate. It is very telling that their legends speak of Tupaia rather then Captain Cook.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in exploration of that area, it is a quick read and not too long either.