Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia

THE POLYNESIAN TRIANGLE is an area of ten million square miles, defined by the three points of Hawai‘i, New Zealand, and Easter Island. All the islands inside this triangle were originally settled by a clearly identifiable group of voyagers: a people with a single language and set of customs, a distinctive arsenal of tools and skills, and a collection of plants and animals that they carried with them wherever they went. They had no knowledge of writing or metal tools and yet they succeeded in colonizing the largest ocean on the planet, occupying every habitable rock between New Guinea and the Galapagos, and establishing what was until the modern era the largest single culture area in the world.

Sea People tells the story of these remarkable voyagers and of the many people—explorers, linguists, anthropologists, navigators, folklorists—who have puzzled over their astonishing history for more than three hundred years.

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Advance Praise for Sea People

I loved this book. I found Sea People the most intelligent, empathic, engaging, wide-ranging, informative, and authoritative treatment of Polynesian mysteries that I have ever read. Christina Thompson’s gorgeous writing arises from a deep well of research and succeeds in conjuring a lost world.
— Dava Sobel, author of LONGITUDE and THE GLASS UNIVERSE
Who hasn’t stayed up late reading South Sea tales? Sea People is a South Sea tale to top them all—the exploration and settlement of the vast Pacific Ocean by stone-age Polynesians—and every word is true. It’s a compelling story, beautifully told, the best exploration narrative I’ve read in years.
— Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of THE MAKING OF THE ATOMIC BOMB
I have rarely read so exciting and companionable a narrative as Christina Thompson’s Sea People. In her capable hands this saga of Polynesia’s scattered islands becomes a comprehensive and dramatic history of our planet and the ways its peoples, creatures, vegetation, land forms, and waters interacted over the centuries and eons since the world began.
— Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of MARGARET FULLER: A NEW AMERICAN LIFE
To those of the western hemisphere, the Pacific represents a vast unknown, almost beyond our imagining; for its Polynesian island peoples, this fluid, shifting place is home. Christina Thompson’s wonderfully researched and beautifully written narrative brings these two stories together, gloriously and excitingly. Filled with teeming grace and terrible power, her book is a vibrant and revealing new account of the watery part of our world.
— Philip Hoare, author of THE SEA INSIDE
The ten-million square miles known as Polynesia was the last area to be settled by humans and is still the least understood chapter in history. With a flair for making the past live again, Christina Thompson give us a comprehensive story of Polynesia and of those who have studied it. Sea People tells the story of a unique geographic, cultural, and intellectual voyage across water and through time. Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand Polynesia, the Pacific, or the spread of humanity around the globe.
Sea People teems with compelling insights as it explores the age-old mysteries of Polynesian origins. We don’t just visit the turreted cliffs of the Marquesas with Mendaña, the cloud-wrapped peaks of Hawaii with Cook, or the treacherous reefs of Raroia with Heyerdahl. We envision the whole panorama of European exploration and colonization against the even greater grandeur of Polynesian inventiveness, dignity, and self-determination. Thanks to Thompson’s vision, we encounter an authentic global mystery that proves as vast and luminous as the Pacific itself.
A luminous, beautifully rendered account of Polynesian navigation and exploration, and the lives and knowledge that built and populated an astonishing Oceanian civilization. Thompson captures the remarkable deep history of a world shaped between land and sea.
— Matt K. Matsuda, author of PACIFIC WORLDS
Thoroughly researched and engagingly written, Thompson’s account shows how the science of human history, despite occasional wrong turns and dead ends, slowly but steadily advances. A must read for anyone fascinated by the Polynesians or interested in the history of science.
— Patrick V. Kirch, author of ON THE ROAD OF THE WINDS