The isolated islands of the Polynesian Triangle have been a source of fascination since European explorers first sailed into their harbors in the 16th century and discovered thriving communities previously unknown to the rest of the world. But much of their lore still remains a mystery. Where did these people come from, when did they arrive, and how on earth did they manage to traverse the mighty Pacific and settle these remote locales?
In Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia, Harvard Review editor Christina Thompson weaves together history, science, folklore and the islands’ ancient oral traditions, archeology and genealogy, creating a mesmerizing, page-turning account of Polynesia. Thompson includes an intriguing cast of characters ranging from Captain James Cook and Tupaia, the Tahitian navigator he befriended, to modern explorers such as anthropologist Ben Finney and his Micronesian master navigator, Mau Piailug, who together sailed from Maui to Tahiti in 1976 in a traditional 60-foot canoe using only ancient navigation tools to prove it could be done.
Thompson’s personal interest in the subject was piqued by her Maori husband and sons, who are direct descendants of Polynesians. This deep curiosity shines through in the meticulous background and details she provides such as diary entries, maps, Polynesian chronologies, geological topographies and weather patterns.
While much of the Polynesian puzzle is still a mystery (and may never be completely solved), Thompson’s book sheds light on a fascinating region. Sea People is a revelatory summation of this vast area steeped in culture and tradition.