Week 8 The Meeting of Cultures in the Pacific1 Part 1: The Physical Geography of the Southwest Pacific. In this lecture, I shall try to outline the basic physical geography of the island realm that we are studying, starting with the geology, moving to the climate, and finally touching briefly on the mineral resources.
First, however, I want to deal with the three-fold division of the area into ethnic regions. Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia are names conferred by Europeans, as the Greek roots of the names indicate. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary dates the word, Polynesia, to 1766; a word invented by a French writer, meaning 'many islands'. The word, Melanesia, meaning 'islands inhabited by black people', dates from 1849, long after a distinction between the natives of the two regions, based on differences of skin colour and language, had been recognised by European explorers. Finally, the name, Micronesia, meaning 'region of small islands' was coined in 1896, a rather belated recognition that the islands to the north of New Guinea and Fiji, and west of Polynesia, were inhabited by people
Polynesia is roughly triangular in shape, with the apices of the triangle near Hawaii, New Zealand and Easter Island. It was Captain James Cook, who discovered the Hawaiian Islands and who explored New Zealand and Easter Island, who first commented on the affinities of language, culture and physical appearance between the peoples of this enormous area. He speculated on how they could have established themselves over such a vast and relatively empty expanse of ocean and posed the questions we now refer to as the 'Polynesian Problem': how did they get there, and when? If we regard the base of the Polynesian triangle as the line joining Hawaii and New Zealand, passing between Melanesian Fiji on the west and the Polynesian Samoan and Tongan groups on the east, we may visualise it as an arrow-head pointing into the Pacific. The shaft of the arrow is the line separating Micronesia from Melanesia. On no account should this 'model' be seen as a set of hard-and-fast boundaries. There are a number of island communities scattered through Micronesia and Melanesia that are distinctly Polynesian, and are known collectively, as Polynesian outliers. How they came to be there is part of the 'Polynesian Problem' that I shall discuss in Part II. Note, however, that we do not find outliers of either Melanesia or Micronesia within the Polynesian Triangle.
Continental and Oceanic Islands.
The islands of Melanesia have more in common than the skin colour of their native peoples. They are typically much larger in area than the 'oceanic' islands of Polynesia and Micronesia, whether these be 'high' islands of volcanic origin or 'low' islands of coral sand, perched on coral reefs. We refer to the Melanesian islands, and New Zealand, as 'continental' islands, because the rocks have much more variety, including older sedimentary rocks, such as sandstones, and volcanic rocks other than basalt, which characterises the high islands. Geologists distinguish between acid, intermediate and basic volcanic rocks. An example of an acid rock is rhyolite; andesite is an intermediate type, while basalt is the commonest form of basic volcanic rock. These three examples are all lavas, extruded by volcanoes during eruptions, basalt being noted for the ease with which it flows while in a molten state. Rhyolite, on the other hand, is liable to clog the pipe of the volcano and cause an explosive eruption, with layers of pumice and ash being deposited around the volcano.
These extrusive rocks correspond, in their chemical composition, to three types of plutonic rocks, a term given to rocks that crystallise from the molten state without reaching the surface, though they are often exposed later by erosion. The best known acid plutonic rock is granite; diorite corresponds to andesite, and gabbro to basalt. The acid rocks are rich in quartz, the main component of sandstones (and the sand of the beaches of eastern Australia).
The distinction between continental and oceanic islands in the western Pacific was first noted by a New Zealand geologist, Patrick Marshall, who identified what he called the 'Andesite Line' separating the western margin of the Pacific Ocean, from the central Pacific proper. West of the Andesite Line - sometimes called the Marshall Line - acid and intermediate volcanic rocks are found, as well as basic rocks. To the east of it, only basalt, occurs. The line is characterised by a series of deep trenches in the ocean floor, e.g. the Aleutian and Kurile Trenches in the North Pacific; the Mariana Trench, south of Japan, which includes the Challenger Deep (10 915 metres) the greatest depth known; and the Kermadec and Tonga Trenches in the South Pacific, which also exceed 10 000 metres.
Modern geologists identify Marshall's Andesite Line as a plate boundary, marking the western edge of the very large Pacific Plate, a section of the earth's crust that is moving slowly but inexorably to the north-west from the area known as the East Pacific Rise, where the extrusion of basaltic lavas on the sea floor and a steady movement away from the Rise, in both directions, creates new areas of sea floor. The same process, along the Southeast Indian Ridge, between Australia and Antarctica, impels the Australian Plate northwards. The trenches mentioned earlier lie along the edges of the advancing Pacific plate, and are regarded as subduction zones, where the advancing plate disappears beneath the edge of the adjoining plate, a process that gives rise to earthquakes and volcanic activity. The 'Ring of Fire' - active volcanoes - that encircles the Pacific, is matched by zones where earthquakes are much more common, and violent, than we are used to in Australia.
Out on the surface of the Pacific Plate's sea floor, volcanic activity is comparatively rare, despite the evidence of unmistakeable volcanic remnants in islands such as Tahiti, Pitcairn, Rapa, and Rapanui (Easter I.). The exception is found in Hawaii, where craters full of molten lava may be seen, and where basalt flows down the mountain sides and sometimes reaches the sea. The older islands of the Hawaiian chain extend to the north-west of Hawaii itself, which is consistent with the theory that the Pacific plate is passing over a crustal 'hot spot' where eruptions have created a succession of volcanoes, Hawaii being the youngest, Midway I. the oldest. Beyond Midway, however, there is a chain of sea mounts that may represent an earlier phase of the same hot spot's activity, where the volcanoes failed to reach the (present) level of the sea. Similar sea mounts occur in the South Pacific. The movement of the Pacific Plate over other hot spots offers an explanation for the linear arrangement of other island groups.
The Coral Island
Between latitudes 30° N. and 30° S., provided that the sea temperature is above 20° C., the water is clean, well aerated and not fresh, the coral polyp can thrive down to about 60 metres below the surface. This tiny animal secretes calcium carbonate from the seawater and builds it into the variety of coral formations familiar to anyone who has visited the Great Barrier Reef. As coral colonies die, new ones are formed, building on the limestone base created by their predecessors. Because the food supply is greatest where there is a lot of water movement, corals thrive on the seaward edges of the reefs they build, despite the damage done by breaking surf. The fragments are thrown on to the inner side of the reef, and tend to become cemented into limestone. Coral colonies can stand some exposure to the air, and reefs tend to develop a flat upper surface at about the upper one-third mark of the tidal range. The reef is thus covered at high tide and exposed at low tide.
Coral reefs occur as fringing reefs attached to the shores of high, volcanic islands, (or other rocks); as barrier reefs separated from the mainland by a lagoon, from the floor of which a variety of coral formations may grow; and as atolls, where there is a more or less circular set of barrier reefs surrounding a lagoon, but with no evidence of a high island base from which the growth process might have begun. Observing atolls in the Pacific and Indian Oceans in the course of his voyage round the world as naturalist on HMS Beagle (1831-36), Charles Darwin tested a theory put forward by the pioneer geologist, Sir Charles Lyell, that atolls represented the coral-encrusted rims of extinct volcanic craters. He concluded that this was not so; that the fringing reef on the outer slopes of a volcanic island would grow upwards if the island subsided slowly into the ocean, forming a barrier reef around a lagoon, in the centre of which the tip of the volcano would remain as a much smaller island. Further subsidence of the sea floor might drown the volcano's tip but the upward growth of the reef would create the atoll. The accumulation of coral sand and other debris would create the 'cays' where plants might establish themselves.
Darwin was not overly concerned as to why the sea floor should subside. Later workers in the same field found a mechanism of which he was not aware, namely that sea level fell during the ice ages when water was locked up in the enormous ice sheets that covered so much of North America, Europe and Siberia, and then rose again, between 16000 and 6000 years ago, at a rate slow enough for the coral reefs to keep pace. (A rise of 120 m in 10 000 years averages at 12 mm per year.) It follows that during the period of lowered sea level, reefs left high and dry would have been eroded by wind and rain, while new reefs might have begun to grow at the new shorelines, provided that the sea temperature remained warm enough for the corals to survive. If these new reefs grew more or less vertically upward - and the outer face of a barrier reef is notoriously steep - as sea level rose again, barrier reefs and atolls could form , and the islands within the lagoons could be submerged.
There is evidence in some areas that the sea floor and adjoining land masses have risen even faster than the sea itself. On the Huon Peninsula, in New Guinea, there is a famous set of raised coral reefs, so well preserved that they have been dated with great accuracy. Similar rises of the sea floor in parts of the Pacific have created island forms of which we need to be aware. Nauru is a raised atoll, with the limestone of its lagoon floor now well above sea level. The phosphate rock that is the island's principal resource, is quarried from between the pillars of coral that once rose from the lagoon floor. Niue is another example of a raised atoll, as are some of the southern group of the Cook Islands. Swains Island, north of Samoa, is a partly raised atoll, with a partial lagoon (now fresh) surrounded by 'makatea', the cavernous limestone of the former lagoon floor. (The word comes from the name of a raised atoll in the Tuamotu archipelago.) And, just as an island with a surrounding lagoon and cays on its barrier reef is called an 'almost atoll', e.g. Aitutaki, so a similar combination raised from the sea is termed a 'raised almost atoll'. Atiu in the Cook Islands is one example.
As the island realm we are studying lies within thirty degrees of the Equator, its climate is dominated by the trade wind circulation, i.e. winds from the south-east or east, in the southern hemisphere, from the north-east or east in the northern hemisphere. The flow is strongest and most persistent in the winter season of the hemisphere, and the intertropical front, where these two air streams converge, tends to move north and south with the overhead sun. On the poleward edges of the trade wind belt, westerly winds can occur in winter. Near the Equator, in summer and early autumn, especially in the western Pacific, hurricanes (or tropical cyclones or typhoons) occur from time to time, typically moving westward and then swinging poleward. For example, a storm developing over the Coral Sea might approach the Queensland coast, then swing to the south, running parallel to the coast before veering away towards New Caledonia or even towards New Zealand. If they cross the Australian coast they tend to lose their strength - their energy comes from the warm sea - and they 'deteriorate into rain depressions' as the weather reports like to say. The damage that a hurricane can do to the coconut palms and houses on an atoll is quite frightening. Another hazard of atoll life is the threat of inundation by 'tsunami', the waves set up by submarine earthquakes.
The trade winds bring rain to the windward side of the high islands, while the lee side of the islands may have a much lower rainfall. On Viti Levu, in Fiji, the 'wet zone' and the 'dry zone' are notionally divided by the 2500 mm(100 inch) isohyet! Many atolls, however, lack the height to induce the trade winds to yield any rain, and often suffer long dry spells, even droughts. Some atolls lack the drinking water to sustain permanent settlement. It is the lack of rain that has preserved the soluble phosphate rock on islands such as Nauru.
The meteorological variations that make the weather a topic of conversation in temperate regions have little meaning in the trade wind belts, except that the summer or 'hurricane' season is usually the wet season, and the winter, when the trade wind flow is most persistent, is the dry season. Temperatures rarely exceed 30° C. and as rarely fall below 20° C.
Climates become more complex in Melanesia, as the islands are higher and larger, and are closer to Australia, which draws in 'monsoon' winds from the northern hemisphere in the southern summer. This flow affects New Guinea in particular. Its size, and the existence of extensive areas of highland, not to mention mountains high enough to have carried glaciers in the past, creates a diversity of climatic types.
There is a growing awareness of cyclic phenomena in matters of weather and climate in the Pacific. You may come across references in the literature to the 'El Nino' effect and/or the 'Southern Oscillation'. The two are related: the Southern Oscillation is an 'observed regularity', viz, that when mean air pressure over a period is above average in Darwin, it will be below average in Tahiti, and vice versa. Low pressures are associated with storms and rain; high pressures with droughts. When pressure is lower than usual over the eastern Pacific, there is a higher likelihood of the 'El Nino' phenomenon occurring along the coast of Peru. This is the appearance of a narrow stream of warm water moving south along the coast, inside the north-moving Peru Current. The latter is a cold current, driven by the off-shore S.E.Trade winds, its coldness reinforced by the up-welling of cold water from well below the surface, to replace the water moving off-shore. The up-welling brings nutrients up into the euphotic zone (i.e. the layers penetrated by sunlight) where they can be used by phytoplankton, which in turn are grazed by the zooplankton, on which fish feed. The Peru Current was formerly one of the great fishing grounds of the world, and its fish were also food for a large population of seabirds, who nested on rocky islands along this desert coast, depositing guano that accumulated over centuries to become a 'resource', exploited in the nineteenth century. An incursion of the Equatorial Countercurrent along the coast - an 'El Nino' event, because it typically happened about Christmas time - brought rain to the desert and the guano islands, while the warm water killed the fish, which starved the seabirds. In the same southern summer, Australia was likely to be having a drought. In the majority of years, with no El Nino, the wet season in northern Australia would be as it usually was. This complex interrelationship is being closely studied, as an aid to long range forecasting, and the meteorology of the Pacific is coming to be better understood. Sea surface temperatures - which, when high, are associated with the development of hurricanes - are now monitored from satellite information.
The 'greenhouse effect', in which increases in the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere impedes the escape of long-wave radiation from the earth, thus raising air temperatures, holds serious threats for the inhabitants of the low islands of the Pacific (and other oceans). A rise of only a few degrees is thought to be enough to melt the Antarctic and Greenland icecaps, releasing enough water to raise sea levels all over the world by many metres. Increased storminess is another probable consequence of the rise in temperatures. The prospects for island dwellers, as for the inhabitants of coastal lowlands everywhere, are undeniably gloomy. Experts are divided on whether or not the greenhouse effect is already beginning to be felt. Unfortunately, one can only distinguish between a fluctuation and a new trend with hindsight!
Other than phosphate rock - fossil guano - the mineral resources of the area are confined to the continental islands of Melanesia. They include gold in PNG and Fiji, copper on Bougainville, and nickel and chrome on New Caledonia. There may well be undiscovered resources in the forested highlands of the larger islands, just as there may be resources of oil and/or natural gas in inland or off-shore fields. The importance of imports of petroleum products to island communities so dependent on transport by sea and air is such that a rise in world prices could be a crippling blow to small communities not well endowed with exportable commodities.
Part II: Historical Geography The 'Polynesian Problem': We have Captain Cook to thank for the earliest formulation of the 'Polynesian Problem'. When he landed in New Zealand in October 1769, he found that Tupaia, the Polynesian priest who had sailed in the Endeavourfrom Tahiti, could understand the Maoris and could make them understand him. When they came on to Australia, however, Tupaia could not communicate with the Aborigines. On his second voyage, Cook visited Easter Island, where he found a language similar to Tahitian being spoken. He posed the problem in memorable words:
...It is extraordinary that the same Nation should have spread themselves over all the Isles in this Vast Ocean from New Zealand to this Island which is almost a fourth part of the circumference of the Globe, many of them at this time have no other knowledge of each other than what is recorded in antiquated tradition and have by the length of time become as it were different Nations, each having adopted some peculiar habit &c., never the less a careful observer will soon see the Affinity each has to the other.
(Journals II, 354-5.)
When on his third voyage he found that the Hawaiians spoke a similar language, Cook marvelled again at the extent of this remarkable dispersion. Earlier on that voyage, he had found some Tahitians at Atiu (in the Cook Islands), survivors of a drift voyage of almost 1000 km. This gave one clue as to how the Polynesian Triangle, as we now call it, might have been settled, i.e., by castaways. Although the overall distances are large - the sides of the Triangle are some 7000 km long - the ocean is studded with islands, and accidental drift voyages could have taken people to many of the islands of central Polynesia, and even to the Polynesian outliers in Melanesia and Micronesia.
There are, however, strong traditions of deliberate voyaging, in large double-hulled canoes, and there seems no reason to believe that fishing canoes always included women in the crew, just in case they became castaways and had to make a home on another island. There is another question, related to that of dispersion within Polynesia: where did the ancestors of the early Polynesians come from? Their descendants differ from the Melanesians and the Micronesians in language, culture and appearance. Their language(s) have affinities with those to the west, but Thor Heyerdahl and others have argued that they could have come from the Americas. Heyerdahl's famous Kon Tiki raft voyage, in 1947, showed that drift voyages on balsa log rafts, such as the Aztec peoples used for fishing and coastwise travel, could reach the Tuamotus; later adventurers managed to cross the entire ocean and reach Australia.
The case for contact of some sort between South America and Polynesia relies on the presence in the islands, before the arrival of Captain Cook, of the sweet potato, a native of Peru, and known there, as in distant New Zealand, as the kumara. Heyerdahl demonstrated the help given to voyages from east to west by the strength and persistence of the south-east trade winds and of the Peru current. His success did not disprove the feasibility of deliberate voyages from west to east. We can still accept that fishermen, lost at sea in a storm, would sail or paddle with the wind, rather than go against it, simply because in that way they would have a greater chance of sighting land, as they would cover more sea miles in a day. Cook noted that the Polynesians could build large, sea-going canoes, with lateen sails, capable of tacking against the wind, and of making speeds of five knots or more under favourable conditions.
To test the theory that accidental voyaging was all that was necessary to explain the peopling of Polynesia, Levison, Ward and Webb devised a computer simulation, described in their book, The Settlement of Polynesia: a computer simulation (1973). They fed into the computer the locations of all the islands in their study area, wind probability data, month by month, ocean current data, canoe speeds at various wind strengths, random factors for swampings and survivals, and a random number system to 'decide' which way the wind would blow each day. From selected islands, they 'started' two voyages on each day of the year, and plotted where they finished up, whether by sailing within sight of an island, or being declared 'lost at sea'. The mapped results showed a cloud of dots over a wide area around each origin.
The experiment showed that it was feasible to settle central Polynesia from the west by accidental voyaging, and from there to disperse, east and west, even as far as the Polynesian outliers. However, it seemed highly unlikely that castaways would have reached Hawaii, New Zealand or Easter Island, by accident, and virtually impossible for them to have reached South America.
However, the computer was then reprogrammed to cope with voyages that instead of going down wind, in order to search as much sea as possible per day, tried to go in a specified direction, e.g. eastwards, so that if the wind blew from the south-east, the canoe would sail at 90° to the wind, i.e. to the north-east. Voyages to the extremities of the Triangle and even to South America, then proved feasible, and the chances of getting from western Melanesia to Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, as the ancestral Polynesians are thought to have done, were much improved.
The ancestral Polynesians, dubbed the Austronesians, are thought to have reached the islands of Southeast Asia about 2,500 BC.By 1,500 BC, their 'Lapita' culture - named for a site in New Caledonia - was established in western Melanesia. The name refers to a style of pottery, dated to 1,500-500 BC, and found from northern New Guinea to Tonga and Samoa. In the archaeological record, Lapitan elements disappear from Melanesian sites about 500 BC, but continue in Polynesian sites further east, down to about 500 AD. All such remnants must have been 'imported' from Melanesia, because there is no clay suitable for pottery-making east of the Andesite Line. Only the continental islands have such clays. They are found and exploited today in New Zealand, but the Maori culture did not include pot-making, nor have Lapitan shards been found there.
The spread of the early Polynesians into eastern Polynesia - they are thought to have reached the Marquesas by 300 AD or even earlier, 200 BC, perhaps - may be likened to the Atlantic voyages of their near- contemporaries, the Vikings, except that the Polynesians would have had the confidence, from generations of island-hopping, that the Pacific was well provided with islands. (All things are relative! By comparison with the North Atlantic, the Pacific, at least between Pitcairn and the Philippines, is positively crowded, but when I flew from Mexico to Tahiti to Fiji to Sydney, I was vividly reminded of Professor Cumberland's striking phrase describing the islands of the Pacific as being 'lost over its blue expanse like a handful of confetti scattered on a lake!')
The atolls in particular are so small that each one, when first settled, would have reached its population carrying capacity within a few generations. There is some evidence of expeditions of 'boat people' being equipped for colonising voyages and setting off from over-crowded islands. There is evidence, too, of survivors of such voyages landing on islands already occupied, and being promptly killed by the inhabitants. Such anecdotal evidence comes from nineteenth century European 'sojourners' in the islands.
Those who made landfalls in Hawaii, Easter Island or New Zealand could count themselves lucky, for if they had sailed past those outposts they would assuredly have been lost at sea, for the North Pacific, the eastern Pacific, and the Southern Ocean are almost destitute of islands. Polynesians had reached Easter Island by about 400 AD, the Hawaiian Islands by about 800 AD and New Zealand, somewhere between 400 and 1200 AD, probably between 600 and 1000, and hence the usual citation, 'about 800 AD'.
The Polynesians are divided into Western and Eastern Polynesians on the basis of language and culture, and the Marquesas are thought to be the group in which the Eastern Polynesian culture developed. It spread later to the Tuamotu and Society Islands, as well as to the extremities of the triangle mentioned earlier. It does not follow that New Zealand was necessarily settled directly from the Marquesas. The identity of the homeland of the Maoris, known as 'Hawaiki', is much debated, but the concept of a 'Great Fleet' of double-hulled canoes, landing on the North Island of New Zealand in or about 1350 AD, has been demolished by research carried out over the last twenty years. The date, 1350, five centuries or twenty generations before 1850, was arrived at by counting the number of generations back to an ancestor who arrived in a particular canoe - the Maoris took pride in being able to recite their genealogies back to such an ancestor. The names of eight canoes are well known to most New Zealanders, and at least four more are cited. When the number of generations back to a particular canoe was averaged from the recorded genealogies and multiplied by 25 years, an estimate of the date of arrival could be made. The dates for the various canoes ranged over several centuries, from the 13th to the 16th. S. Percy Smith took the quite unjustifiable step of averaging the canoe dates to arrive at1350 as the date for the arival of the 'Great Fleet'. This was widely accepted, to the point where the 600th anniversary of this fictitious event and date was solemnly celebrated in 1950.
Recent research has produced a startling alternative explanation for the voyages of the ancestor-bearing canoes, viz, that they were built and despatched from the northern end of the North Island, and made relatively short journeys to points further south on the coast of the island. The basis for this claim is that the mild and virtually frost-free climate of that northern peninsula offered the only place in temperate New Zealand where the kumara could have been successfully grown by the first group to bring it from a tropical homeland, where it was propagated by transplanting shoots from living plants, and where plant growth was continuous throughout the year. In New Zealand, frosts in winter would kill any plant tissue left above the ground. The Maori learned to store tubers in pits over the winter months and to plant them out in the spring. The kumara needs five months of growth for the tubers to develop, and the growing season ranged in length from eight months or more in Northland down to five months around Banks Peninsula, the southern limit of horticulture. A second argument is that the canoe names mentioned in the legends of the tribes in the far north differ from those remembered elsewhere. It is therefore possible that the number of voyages from 'Hawaiki' to 'Aotearoa' may have been as few as one, provided that on that voyage the kumara, taro, and other plants, dogs and rats were transported successfully. Any voyagers who landed further south would have had to depend on a hunting-and-gathering economy.
There is archaeological evidence that such an economy flourished in southern New Zealand for several centuries. The people who left elaborate burials for modern archaeologists to discover and analyse, are known as the 'Moahunters'. The food resource from which they take their name was the population of large flightless birds, akin to emus, cassowaries, ostriches and rheas, known as moas. (This set of related 'ratites', all flightless, forms part of the evidence for the existence of Gondwana.) Using fire as an aid to hunting, the 'Archaic Maori' exterminated the several species of moa in less than 1000 years. They also relied on the seals of the southern beaches, on fish and shellfish, and on the root of the bracken fern. The Moahunter population probably never exceeded 10 000 to 15 000 people, who lived mostly along the east coast of the South Island. Moas were less plentiful in the forested North Island. When the 'Classic Maori' culture developed, based on kumara growing, the population was concentrated in the North Island, especially in the coastal regions between Wanganui and Hawkes Bay. It was characterised by a highly developed art form in wood carving and tattooing, and by the building of elaborately palisaded fortifications, called pa , of which over 4000 have been identified.Tribal warfare, accompanied by cannibalism, became common in the period leading up to contact and European settlement. This was also true of other parts of Polynesia. The myth of the 'noble savage' propagated by European idealists, was just that, a myth.
Melanesia and Micronesia: The culture of the other island groups will be discussed by later speakers. I shall close this part of my lecture by noting that agriculture was the basis of settlement in both areas, supplemented by fishing, notably in Micronesia. The development of agriculture, or rather horticulture, as the basis for the support of the considerable population of Melanesia, and the high population densities of the island communities, is in marked contrast to the absence of any domestication and cultivation of plants by the Australian Aborigines. We have to remember that Torres Strait was flooded by rising sea levels about 8000 years ago, after being dry land since c.120 000 years ago. Whether agriculture had been introduced to New Guinea by then is debatable, but the sea need not have prevented the spread of the innovation into Australia. Some writers argue that the Aborigines may have rejected the option and preferred their traditional way of life.
European Exploration of the Pacific.
The impact of European culture, economy, colonial rivalry and political control on the islands of the Pacific has been profound. Alan Moorehead has called it 'The Fatal Impact'. My task in this lecture is to sketch the story of European exploration up to the end of the 18th century. This put the islands 'on the map' - European maps - and paved the way for the exploitation that characterised the 19th century.
The story begins with the rapid development of ship-building skills in Europe in the 15th century, especially in the countries bordering the Atlantic Ocean, from Portugal and Spain to England and the Netherlands. The abandonment of galleys and reliance on sails enabled fishermen to venture far out into the Atlantic. As their skills increased, the Portuguese began to explore the west coast of Africa. In 1488 Diaz discovered the southern tip of that continent, thus opening the way for Vasco da Gama in 1498 to round the Cape of Good Hope and sail on to India. Later expeditions pressed on into the East Indies, trying to reach the Spice Islands. Their success broke the Arab monopoly of the spice trade, and challenged the dominance in the Mediterranean of the Venetians, Genoese and Pisans, who carried the spices from the levant to Europe.
The voyage of the Genoese, Columbus, in 1492, in ships provided by the King and Queen of Spain, was an attempt to forestall the Portuguese in their bid to reach the Spice Islands. The theory was that the islands could be reached more easily by sailing westwards; all that was wrong was the estimate for the distance, and the lack of awareness that the Americas blocked the way! Spain found compensations in New Worlds to conquer, in the gold-rich civilisations of Mexico and Peru, but never lost sight of the original goal of reaching the Spice Islands. In 1513, Balboa crossed the Isthmus of Darien and claimed the 'South Sea' for the King of Spain. In an epic voyage, 1519-22, Magellan found the straits at the southern end of South America that took him into the 'South Sea', sailed across it (renaming it the Pacific Ocean) on a diagonal line that gave him the sight of only two atolls before he reached Guam. He sailed on to the Philippines, where he rashly intervened in a local war and was killed. His crew, led by Juan Sebastian de Elcano, brought the one remaining ship, the Victoria, home to Spain via the Spice Islands - the Moluccas - and the Cape of Good Hope. The circumference of the earth had to be revised, but in the absence of a reliable means of calculating longitude, the true dimensions of the Pacific were not appreciated for some time to come. We now know that
'From Singapore to Ecuador,
Is half way round the world.'
When the conquests of Mexico and Peru had been completed, and ports established on the shores of the Pacific, the Spanish sent ships across it, to pursue their rivalry with Portugal in the East Indies. In 1565, they colonized the Philippines and discovered the westerly wind belt of the North Pacific, which helped their ships return to Mexico. The route west, in the north-east trade wind belt, was almost without islands, until the Marianas were reached, and Guam was garrisoned as a way station. Neither going nor returning did they discover the Hawaiian Islands.
From Peru, in 1567, Mendana led a voyage westward in the belt of south-east trade winds. After eighty days, with only one atoll sighted, in Tuvalu, the two ships reached the Solomon Islands, so called because they were thought to be the Biblical Ophir, whence King Solomon received shipments of gold. The Spaniards landed on Santa Isabel, and stayed six months. In that time they built a small brigantine in which a party explored Guadalcanal, Malaita and San Cristobal. In August 1568, the return voyage began, the route being to the north through Micronesia and across to California.
Mendana was still only 26, and wanted to try again. However, it was not until 1595 that he was able to sail, with four ships, accompanied by his wife, Dona Isabel, and with Pedro Fernandez de Quiros as chief pilot. It is typical of the difficulty of estimating distances travelled with a following wind and current, and with no way of measuring longitude, that when the expedition sighted the Marquesas, Mendana believed that he had reached the Solomons. They were in fact only halfway there! Acquaintance with the Polynesian inhabitants revealed the mistake, and Mendana named the group in honour of the Viceroy of Peru, Las Marquesas de Mendoza. After a series of encounters in which many natives were killed, the expedition sailed on, sighting only a few islands before reaching the Santa Cruz group, just in time to witness an eruption of the volcano on Tinakula. A settlement was attempted on Ndeni (or Nendo), but there was dissent within the party, trouble with the natives and then Mendana died. Quiros took the survivors to Manila and eventually back to Mexico and Peru.
Quiros made another voyage, in 1605, reaching Vanuatu, where he tried to found a colony on the island he named Austrialia del Espiritu Santo. After less than a month, however, the project was abandoned, and the ships sailed. In the night they parted company. Quiros sailed north and returned as Mendana had done to Mexico; Torres, the pilot of the expedition, sailed for Manila. He took a new and different route, crossing the Coral sea and following the south coast of New Guinea. He thus passed through the Strait that now bears his name, in August 1606. This discovery remained a Spanish secret until the Seven Years War, 1756-63, during which a British expedition captured the Moluccas and Manila, and seized a map that showed Torres' route. Knowledge of the strait was thus available to Captain Cook in 1770, when he made the second known passage through the strait, and was relieved to find the report correct. It seems probable that Torres did not actually sight the Australian shore of his Strait.
The location of the Solomon Islands remained a mystery until Carteret and Bougainville separately rediscovered them in 1768, but neither recognised them for what they were. Similarly, Bougainville had earlier sailed through the Vanuatu chain, and had wrongly thought he had found Quiros' Espiritu Santo. It was left to Cook to make a positive identification of 'the land discovered by Quiros', on his second voyage.
In the early years of the 17th century, the Dutch wrested control of the spice trade from the Portuguese, and began their colonial rule in Indonesia, with Batavia, commanding the Sunda Strait, as their main base. The Portuguese always approached the Moluccas via India or Sri Lanka, the Straits of Malacca and the Java Sea. The Dutch established a base at Cape Town, from where they sailed east on the 'roaring forties' for 4000 nautical miles, turned north, and sailed across the S.E.Trade winds to the Sunda Strait and Batavia. If they left the left turn too late, they were in danger of hitting the west coast of Australia. Some did. By 1630, the west coast from Cape Leeuwin to N.W. Cape was roughly mapped, and the coast of the Great Australian Bight was known as far as Ceduna. The name Nova Hollandia appeared on Dutch maps. The Gulf of Carpentaria had been explored as early as 1605-6. Another expedition, led by Carstenz, in 1623, extended Dutch knowledge of the south coast of New Guinea, the Gulf and Arnhem Land.
In 1642, an important voyage of exploration was sent out from Batavia, under Abel Tasman. He went first to Mauritius, then east, further south than previous voyages, discovered Tasmania, which he named for the Governor of Batavia, Van Diemens Land. Sailing further east in the same latitude, he encountered the west coast of New Zealand and followed it north. Rounding Cape Farewell, he anchored in Golden Bay. A rowing boat passing between his two ships was attacked by Maoris in a canoe, and four men were killed. Tasman sailed north and named the tip of the North Island, Cape Maria van Diemen, and the Three Kings group. Sailing on to the north-east, he reached Tonga, where at last, water and supplies were obtained without any trouble. From there Tasman went N.W., skirting the Fiji group, passing east of Vanuatu and north of the Solomons,and coasting the northern shores of New Ireland, New Britain and New Guinea, unaware of the straits separating the three. And so to Batavia. On a second voyage in 1644, Tasman charted the north coast of New Holland, to complete the map as it was when Cook arrived in 1770.
We need to take note of two other Dutch voyages, which entered the Pacific by way of Cape Horn, in defiance of the monopoly of the VOC, the Dutch East India Company. The first, that of Schouten and Le Maire, in 1615-16, discovered the Strait of Le Maire, named Cape Hoorn (Horn), sailed through the northern Tuamotus, the northern islands of Tonga, called at Futuna and Alofi, (dubbed the Hoorn Islands, now spelled Horne) and then took the cautious route north of New Guinea to the Moluccas and Batavia.
The other Dutch voyage may be seen as a precursor of the voyages of 'scientific' exploration of the late 18th century. Roggeveen sailed in 1721, passing through the Strait of Le Maire and well south of Cape Horn, north to Juan Fernandez, (where Alexander Selkirk had been marooned), thence west to discover Easter Island on Easter Sunday 1722, where he stayed a week. One of his three ships was wrecked in the northern Tuamotus, but the crew were rescued. Passing close to the Society islands, Roggeveen found the Samoan Group, and sailed on, between Tuvalu and Kiribati, north of New Guinea, through the Moluccas to Batavia.
Another precursor of the scientific era was William Dampier, whose buccaneering voyage in the Cygnet took him across the Pacific, and down to the Kimberley coast of Western Australia, where the names Cygnet bay and the Buccaneer Archipelago recall the visit. After many adventures, Dampier returned to England, where he wrote his famous New Voyage Round the World. (1697). It was an instant success, and was to be very influential. His notorious opinion of the Aborigines would colour English perceptions of the Australian native well into the 19th century. Dampier was put in command of the Roebuck and in 1699 he visited Western Australia again, and New Guinea. He discovered Dampier Strait between New Guinea and New Britain (which he named), but mistook the strait between the latter and New Ireland for a bay, which he called St George's Bay. The Roebuck 'foundered through perfect age' on Ascension Island on the voyage home, and Dampier was lucky to save some of his papers and specimens. He made other voyages, of no significance for exploration, but serving as pilot to Woodes Rogers on the famous privateering voyage that captured a Manila silver galleon. He died in 1715, but his writings kept his fame alive. They inspired Defoe to write Robinson Crusoe, and Swift to write Gulliver's Travels. His observations on a wide range of natural phenomena, from the variation of the compass to new species of plant - he brought the first specimen of any Australian plant, a wattle, to Britain - make him a true precursor of Banks and Darwin, and of the scientific era opened by his contemporary, Isaac Newton.
The Eighteenth Century
Newton's laws of planetary motion revolutionised astronomy, and paved the way for a solution to the problem of fixing longitude at sea. The Board of Longitude was set up, and offered a large prize for a practical solution to the problem. This led to the publication of the first Nautical Almanac in 1767, which provided predictions of the positions of the moon and many stars. A method devised by Dr Nevil Maskelyne, the Astronomer-Royal, was used by James Cook and the astronomer, Charles Green, to fix longitudes from observations of the moon. A clockmaker, John Harrison, was finally awarded the prize for his invention of the chronometer, designed to keep very accurate time, despite changes of temperature and the motion of a ship (which made pendulum clocks useless). Cook took a copy, 'Mr Kendall's Watch', with him on his second and third voyages, and was delighted with its accuracy. It was to be many years, however, before all ships carried chronometers, or all skippers knew how to use them.
At the end of the Seven Years War, Britain had secured Canada and India, at the expense of France, and both nations were looking for new fields of endeavour. Britain was first to enter the Pacific, sending three expeditions in quick succession through the Straits of Magellan or round Cape Horn. The first, under Commodore John Byron, 1764-66, was to survey the Falkland Islands and explore the west coast of North Anerica in search of a passage to Hudson Bay. He did the first, but abandoned the second task even before he had passed the Straits, in favour of his own plan, to search for the Solomon Islands. Sailing north to reach the trade winds, and to avoid the adverse westerlies that made the rugged coast of Chile a dangerous lee shore, he passed north of the Tuamotus, trading for coconuts where he could, to relieve the scurvy that was afflicting his crew. Abandoning hope of finding the Solomons, he headed for the Ladrones, or Northern Marianas, to refresh. He found water and fresh food at Tinian. From there he went north of the Philippines, down to Batavia, and so home round the Cape of Good Hope.
Byron's ship, the Dolphin, under Captain Samuel Wallis, with the Swallow, under Philip Carteret, was again sent to the Pacific, this time to search for the supposed southern continent in the South Pacific, west of Cape Horn. They sailed in August 1766, and took an interminable time to get through the Straits of Magellan. As soon as they were in open water, they parted company, and perforce completed their circumnavigations separately, Carteret taking exactly a year longer than Wallis. Wallis's principal achievement was to discover Tahiti, and to bring news of it to England in time to inform Cook of its position. He also discovered Walis Is., before heading for Tinian, as Byron had done.
Carteret, in a small and wretched sloop, was a good deal more persistent than his senior. Passing south of Easter Is., he discovered Pitcairn Is., passed south of the Tuamotus, turned north to find the trade winds and sailed west in latitude 10° S., the reputed latitude of the Solomons. Having passed their supposed longitude, and with scurvy rife, he came upon Santa Cruz. After a brush with the natives that cost the lives of several of his men, he sailed on, sighting the Solomons and not realising what they were. He was able to refresh and repair the ship in St George's Channel, New Britain, before sailing on to Batavia. After more tribulations, Carteret reached England in May 1769.
1 Derived from Adjunct Professor at Bond, Pacific geographer Dr Stuart Duncan, now retired.