Marquesan society has long captured the interest of European observers, in part because of unfamiliar institutions such as polyandry. However, due to complex and destructive historical changes and the very scattered nature of early source-materials, the distinctive Marquesan developments of Polynesian society have been obscure and at odds with anthropologists' and historians' overall understanding of Pacific societies. Nicholas Thomas's book,
based on a critical study of the fullest possible range of sources, is the first to provide a clear account of early Marquesan social relations and culture, and as such will become a key source for
Pacific scholars. However, Dr Thomas's discussion is not restricted to ethnohistoric documentation. His analysis of dynamic and highly fluid society and its encounters with early European visitors and traders encompasses wider debates about the nature of gender relations in Polynesian societies, small-scale hierarchical structures, cultural transformation, and longer-term change. In linking specific features of early Marquesan society, its contact with foreigners, and
the longer-term transformations of eastern Polynesian societies, Dr Thomas offers Pacific studies a distinctive new perspective.
'Thomas is able to furnish, for the first time, a credible portrait of Marquesan society ... His book, together with the earlier and wonderfully written history of Marquesan-Western relations by Dening ... dramatically advances our knowledge of this most famous but most misunderstood Polynesian group ... a thought-provoking contribution to the development of a historically informed anthropology.'
Current Anthropology, Vol. 32, No.1, February 1991
'Thomas's comparative perspectives are one of the highlights of his work ... he carefully substantiates and fully articulates his comparisons between the Marquesas. Tahiti and Hawaii.'
Caroline Ralston, Macquarie University, Anthropological Forum, Vol. VI, No. 4, 1993
Preface; The islands: geography and prehistory; Part 1: Early Marquesan social and cultural dynamics: Social groups and their chiefs; Property and hierarchy; Disentangling tapu; Gender and hierarchy; Feasting and warfare; Between chiefs and shamans: ritual agency and the diffusion of power; Part 2: Contact history: short-term transformations: The appropriation of an invader: Opoti and the reorientation of chiefly practice; Southern Marquesan transformations;
Part 3: Prehistory and longer-term change: Crises and social transformations; Notes; Appendix A: Sources for the study of Marquesan culture and history; Appendix B: Polyandry and demography;
Bibliography: 1. Unpublished works; Published Marquesan sources; Other works