Marquesas Islands - History and Cultural Relations

The Marquesas Islands, like the Society Islands, appear to have been settled from western Polynesia by about 200 B . C .; populations spread gradually from the larger and more hospitable valleys on the southeastern coasts of the large islands to occupy more arid and rugged areas throughout the group. There is little evidence for exchange or sustained contact with other eastern Polynesian populations, and it appears that Marquesan societies developed essentially in isolation during the periods preceding European contacts in 1595 and 1774. Marquesan culture emerged as a singular form, but it was still recognizably related to other Polynesian groups; there were numerous correspondences between the traditional institutions of the islands and those in Tahiti, Hawaii, and other eastern Polynesian archipelagoes. Early contacts with European explorers entailed barter and sexual relations, but since most vessels' visits were of short duration, they had little Impact. The first substantial European intrusion into Marquesan affairs was that of David Porter of the U.S. Navy in 1813; Porter fortified a settlement for his operations against British whaling vessels and became embroiled in local warfare against the occupants of Taipi Valley (later made famous in Herman Melville's novel, Typee ). For the first rime, Marquesans were profoundly impressed by the efficacy of firearms and the power of Whites, and chiefs and warriors throughout the group subsequently made great efforts to obtain the former and make friends with the latter. Trade thus developed a more systemic presence in the Marquesan economy. Both Protestant and Catholic missionaries attempted to gain footholds in the group, but they had very little influence in the period up to 1840, a time of severe depopulation. The French annexed the islands in 1842 but subsequently maintained a minimal presence. In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the Catholic mission's influence grew, and by the 1880s most Marquesans were nominally Catholic. The French gave indigenous chiefs no recognition, and the combination of a fluid indigenous hierarchy, disease, and intrusions led to a decline of tribal political forms. By the 1870s, chiefs appear to have been unimportant, and in the twentieth century rights to such titles rarely have been claimed or deployed. While in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries social life was marked by collective endeavors in warfare, ceremonial feasting, and nondomestic production for segregated rank groups, Marquesas society of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries has had a more nucleated character, consisting of immediate families engaged in Production for consumption and some cash cropping. Tribal divisions have ceased to be significant, and public ceremonies are now almost exclusively church or state events (such as Basrille Day). State services were limited until the 1920s, and institutionally the Catholic mission is still very prominent. Major changes followed the establishment of the French Nuclear testing program at Muroroa Atoll; salaried employment: associated with the construction of the test site itself and substantial military and administrative facilities on Tahiti was only part of a much bigger wave of economic expansion that: brought more consumer goods and a marked increase in dependence on imported products. Recent political developments in the territory of French Polynesia have led to greater local representation and consultation on development and political matters, but the history of contact between Marquesans and Whites has generally been marked by the denial of self-determination for Marquesans and this policy has rarely been actively resisted.

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There is one huge inaccuracy here-- the author states "The first substantial European intrusion into Marquesan affairs was that of David Porter..." In actuality in 1595 at the time of first contact with Spaniards, 200 Marquesans were slaughtered and their heads hung from crosses on the beach of Tahuata. I would say that this was a major intrusion and worthy of mention.

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