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About this book

The first comprehensive account to place the Pacific Islands, the Pacific Rim and the Pacific Ocean into the perspective of world history. A distinguished international team of historians provides a multidimensional account of the Pacific, its inhabitants and the lands within and around it over 50,000 years, with special attention to the peoples of Oceania. It providing chronological coverage along with analyses of themes such as the environment, migration and the economy; religion, law and science; race, gender and politics.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Pacific and its Histories

1. Introduction: The Pacific and its Histories

The Pacific Ocean is often thought of as a centre. For its inhabitants — like the Tongan-Fijian intellectual Epeli Hau’ofa — it was cultural, physical and political home.1 For those imagining the Pacific from without — such as the American novelist Herman Melville — this heart-shaped ocean was the very heart of earth itself. For the Islander, the Pacific was the centre of his world; for the American, it was the centre of the world. What, then, is the history of this ocean that is so often perceived as a fulcrum? If it is a pivot around which various worlds turn, what is its place in world history?
David Armitage, Alison Bashford

Periodising the Pacific


2. The Pacific in Indigenous Time

On 9 May 2011 Ratu Tevita Kapaiwai Lutunauga Uluilakeba Mara — otherwise known as Lieutenant-Colonel Tevita Mara — was collected from off the coast of Fiji by a Royal Tongan Navy patrol boat. Son of one of Fiji’s most famous leaders, Ratu Sir Kamasese Mara, Tevita Mara had gone from being a key supporter of Fiji’s military coup in 2006, to being charged with mutiny in 2011. In the context of Pacific Island international relations, the intervention of the Royal Tongan Navy was a startling development. The orders seem to have come essentially from the top, from the Tongan king, Siaosi Tupou V, himself Asked why he would commit such an act of international intrigue, and risk escalation against what is a much larger and militarily more powerful nation, King George offered a simple answer: that Mara was his ‘kinsman’. Few thought that a good explanation, but most Polynesians understood it as a valid one. Tongans could quickly place this in a longer history of Tongan engagement with Lau, an eastern part of Fiji or, more specifically, the history of Ma’afu, or through Mara’s parents whether his famous father, or his equally prominent mother, who was related to the Tongan royal family. None of this needed much explanation for a Tongan or a Fijian, or even a Sāmoan, audience.
Damon Salesa

3. The Pacific before Empire, c. 1500–1800

Bound for China from Peru, a European ship threads the Strait of Magellan and enters the ‘South Sea’. Adrift on the ocean, the mariners are desperate to find land; one-third of them have scurvy. They are overjoyed to come across Bensalem, an island inhabited by a people who — amazingly — are Christian, fluent in multiple European languages and adept in every form of natural science, which they perfect in ‘Salomon’s House’, a learned society plus laboratory. This pointedly named ‘New Atlantis’ of the Pacific Ocean offers so much more than anything Europeans had discovered in the Atlantic. Bensalem is a part of the world entirely unknown to the western travellers and yet, somehow, perfectly prepared for them. Most of the elements of Francis Bacon’s utopian fantasy, The New Atlantis (1627), were too good to be true.1 No one ever discovered Bensalem. And yet Bacon captured quite well European mariners’ hapless state while drifting on the Pacific Ocean, as well as their related desire for natural knowledge. Within the worlds of the Pacific, Europeans were frequently reduced to mere (scorbutic) bodies rather than being the (embodied) vessels of civic identity and functions that elsewhere carried empire outward from Europe. The Pacific was different, and
Joyce E. Chaplin

4. The Age of Empire in the Pacific

If you spend any time at all in the Marquesas Islands, and ask locals where something or someone is, you soon become familiar with directional terms that, you realise, govern life in the islands. You will be told that a person is ‘i tai, towards the shore or sea, or ‘i uta, inland, up the valley, towards the mountain, and you find that almost everywhere you go involves movement seawards, or landwards. Life, places and social relationships are distributed one way or the other, on this axis. In these same islands, a historian or anthropologist might begin by assuming that islands amounted to, or corresponded with, social units. Any one island, you might suppose, would be, or would have been, divided into tribes, yet the populations of these tribes together surely constituted some unity, relative to the peoples of other islands. Obvious this might be, it would also have been false of collectivities in the historic period. The peoples of valleys did constitute social groupings; in larger valleys there were several such groups; but they commonly shared an ancestry with people on another island, while being strangers to, perhaps enemies of, the peoples of the valleys that neighboured their own.
Nicholas Thomas

5. A Pacific Century?

There are three ways of periodising Pacific (or any region’s) history: national, international and transnational. The national way is to deal with each country of the wider Pacific (including East Asia and Southeast Asia) in terms of its own development. Pacific history would then amount to the sum of all national or local histories. But such nationcentric history would belie the very idea of regional history, such as Pacific history, so we may disregard this approach. Of the remaining two, the international approach is the one that is most frequently used to periodise the history of the world and of its regions. That approach has been supplemented, and at times superseded, by a transnational perspective, and this chapter will pay greater attention to it than the more familiar international history framework.
Akira Iriye



6. The Environment

On 27 January 1700, the usual small waves on the coast of Nakaminato, Japan began building unexpectedly. Residents, long accustomed to the signs of tsunami, fled from the seacoast. This time, the waves soon slackened. Villagers recorded the event in their local history books, wondered at the provenance of waves with no nearby earthquake, and thought little more of it. One day earlier, along the coast from present-day California to British Columbia, on the other side of the Pacific, the earth had shaken violently and gigantic waves more than 30 feet tall rushed upon the panic-stricken people. Oral histories told of the death of thousands.1 More than three hundred years later, on 11 March 2011, inhabitants of the same Japanese villages woke to the ground shaking beneath them before massive walls of water smashed into their houses. All around the Pacific Ocean, from Alaska to Hawai’i to Chile to Australia, people quickly received tsunami alerts, both from buoys placed in the ocean itself and from the satellites positioned above the globe (see Figure 6.1). Residents of the eastern Pacific knew of the waves heading their way hours before arrival. One man, part native Yurok, was swept to sea when he came to the mouth of the Klamath River in Northern California hoping to observe the incoming waves. His body later washed ashore more than 300 miles to the north.2
Ryan Tucker Jones

7. Movement

Historians often depict large bodies of water as contact zones, areas where different peoples and societies have interacted and developed common institutions.1 The Pacific Ocean, however, has largely resisted this kind of framing. The vast distances and great diversity of peoples have foiled most attempts to imagine a coherent Pacific World.2 At best, we have diverse histories of portions of the Pacific, such as the Pacific Rim, the Pacific Islands, the Asia Pacific or the American Pacific. Each of these Pacifics does frame a certain contact zone. But those spaces are each only a part of what could legitimately be considered the Pacific, and they are rarely conceived in ways that have significant interaction with each other.
Adam McKeown

8. The Economy since 1800

This chapter traces the evolution of economic integration in the Pacific region since 1800. Treating the economies of both sides of the Pacific as a single analytical unit is a relatively recent idea. In the late 1960s, Japan, Australia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries had various ideas for regional integration on the western side of the Pacific (through liberalisation measures such as the reduction of tariffs and non-tariff barriers, and of barriers to capital flows), which had direct bearings on the economic integration of the entire Pacific region. By the mid-1980s there was a widespread notion (on various statistical and conceptual grounds) that the Pacific trade had become larger in volume than the Atlantic trade, and East Asia had become the centre of world economic growth. By the 1990s, the Pacific Rim (or basin) had emerged as the key category which captured the notion of the region as the driving force of the world economy, with several concrete expressions such as the establishment of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). The contesting categories at that time were the model of the United States as the single hegemon and the notion of the tripartite engines of growth (United States, EC/EU and Japan).
Kaoru Sugihara



9. Religion

Geographically, this chapter bridges the vast zone of the globe that I call Oceania, stretching from the American west coasts to the Pacific Islands, the Philippines, Maluku, New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand.1 Indigenous religion across this space — whether ancestral, Islamic or Christian — is best understood as local variations on a common pattern, each emergent within mobile historical, social and ecological settings. From this anthropological, rather than theological perspective, past and present Oceanian religions are not detached from worldly existence in a transcendent domain, as with much modern Christianity. Rather, religion is an embodied experience, encompassing human beings, gods or God, spirits, fauna, plants, places, rocks and other things within complex webs of relationship.2 Tenacious but not unchanging, this pervasive practical religiosity supplies truths (ontology), knowledge (cosmology), explanations (aetiology) and ways of celebrating, influencing or controlling the world (ritual). In such contexts, there is neither justice nor logic in persistent evolutionist dichotomies which consign most of the world’s populations to the ‘non-West’ and brand them negatively as ‘backward’ and ‘superstitious’, in opposition to the supposedly ‘western’ qualities of the ‘modern’ and the ‘rational’.
Bronwen Douglas

10. Law

Many and diverse peoples have clung to the shores of the Pacific Ocean casting their laws seaward. Indigenous North Americans, Pacific Islanders and the peoples of the Indonesian archipelago all created complex legal regimes governing coast-dwellers and regulating the harvesting of resources in their proximate seas. Few, however, imagined legal regimes that spanned the Ocean. Ocean-faring Polynesian peoples shared trade routes and rules in vast seas bounded by invisible markers, by proximate archipelagoes, and, sometimes, by distant continental shores.1 The vast tributary empire of China claimed jurisdiction over all the world including its oceans, but it exercised suzerainty no further into the Pacific than Japan.2 If the polities that crowded around the rim of the Indian Ocean understood the sea to be a ‘common’ or free space linking trading ports, then most Pacific peoples saw the ocean as a border, as interwoven smaller seas or as coastal fisheries.3 Accordingly, legal histories of the Pacific have been many and disconnected — determined, variously, by the geography of its continental coastlines and archipelagoes and by the myriad political, cultural and material technologies produced by their inhabitants.4
Lisa Ford

11. Science

There is a consensus about how to interpret the history of science in the Pacific. Accordingly, the vastness of the ocean has served as a scientific opportunity, presenting the possibility of testing the newest scientific ideas ranging from astronomy in the eighteenth century by James Cook to the relation of species in the nineteenth century by Charles Darwin and on to nuclear physics in the midst of the Cold War. This scientific opportunity has lain in the alleged isolation of each of the constituent tracts of land which are found within this vast ocean. The Pacific island has been a productive terrain for the scientific thought of intruders: it has been possible to calibrate peoples, animals, fauna and the Earth itself in these spaces, because of the smallness of islands and their supposed lack of interest in the strategic games of empire and decolonisation. The historiographical consensus is well expressed as follows: the Pacific Ocean has been ‘a laboratory for scientific methods and mentalities’, ‘a veritable school for science, and a vast classroom for educating the European mind’.1
Sujit Sivasundaram



12. Race

Historically meaningful oceanic ‘worlds’ require a human filament to connect their islands and beaches. The Pacific first became such a world with the voyages of the Polynesians, beginning several thousand years ago. Polynesian long-range voyaging had declined by 1500 CE, but at its peak it linked most of the great ocean, from the sub-Antarctic Auckland Islands in the south to Hawai’i in the north. Research is now confirming that Polynesians reached South America too, and one might add that a cousin culture reached East Africa — a staggering Neolithic globalisation.1 A second Pacific world was inaugurated soon after 1500, when Iberians appeared on the eastern and western Pacific coasts, and connected the two from 1571 with the annual voyages of the Manila galleon from the Philippines to Mexico. Over the next three centuries, the islands and beaches of the Pacific were increasingly linked together and to the rest of the world. Europeans instituted these linkages, but Asians, Amerindians and Pacific Islanders used them too. Did Europeans bring racism into this Pacific world, like a snake into the garden? Was it with them when they arrived, or did it emerge thereafter, perhaps with the help of their Pacific experience? How important was the Pacific to racism, and racism to Pacific history?
James Belich

13. Gender

Gender — culturally constructed identities, roles and sexualities for men and women — is vital to understanding the cultural kaleidoscope of the Pacific. Gender deepens understandings about how Pacific peoples were impacted by the waves of historical forces and events following the region’s incorporation into a global economy of commerce, ideologies and humanity from the sixteenth century. The Pacific’s ‘European era’ commenced along the cultural and commercial highways of Southeast and East Asia and, after the Magellan voyage, from the Americas. The frontiers of European contact continued to be forged through to the 1930s when peoples in Highland New Guinea became the last to be ushered into the European era following the intrusion of Australian gold-seekers. Through centuries of exploration and commercial contact, of resource harvesting and mining, of plantation and pastoral economies, of colonial governance and settlement, and of war and travel, gendered systems shaped Pacific history.
Patricia O’Brien

14. Politics

The states of the Pacific, island and littoral, display dramatically varying political institutions and ideologies. On the marches of the Pacific, an emperor reigns in Japan, Thailand and Cambodia enthrone kings with a semi-divine status, Malaysia has a rotating monarchy; in Tonga, too, a crowned head of state rules. In Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as several island nations, the Westminster system of government represents a British imperial legacy. The People’s Republic of China, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos espouse a Marxist ideology. The United States forms a federal republic, with most of the Central and Latin American states unitary presidential republics. France, the United States, New Zealand and Australia administer non-contiguous territories in Oceania. Such diversity results from centuries of change during which indigenous forms of politics were challenged by colonialism, reacted to it, and eventually blended with ideas and institutions from outside.
Robert Aldrich

Afterword: Pacific Cross-currents

Afterword: Pacific Cross-currents

The challenge of Pacific History has been fundamentally straightforward: ‘the Pacific’ cannot be written about as a subject. Rather, the Pacific is a subject that needs to be defined. What are its boundaries? What are the ranges of spatial — and temporal — extension? In many ways, PacificHistories: Ocean, Land, People has been about these questions.1
Matt K. Matsuda
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