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Polynesia: Great Anthropological Debates


Anthropology 240, Spring 2005                                                        Matt Tomlinson mtomlins@bowdoin.edu

Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1:00-2:55 PM                                                       Riley House 206





Anthropologists working with Polynesian cultures have generated some of the discipline’s most provocative and productive debates.  Major topics such as identity, agency, and performance have been investigated, argued about, and continually rethought through Polynesian ethnography.  In this class, students will read and participate in some of these debates including: arguments over Captain Cook’s “divine” status for Hawaiians; interpretations of sexuality, power, and violence in Samoa; long-distance voyaging and settlement; ritual cannibalism; and ethnographic representation.  All of these topics will be discussed with reference to their contributions to anthropological understandings beyond Polynesia itself.





Texts: There are four books for purchase.  Articles are available online at http://library.bowdoin.edu; all readings will be on reserve at the library and at Riley House.


     Flenley, John, and Paul Bahn.  2003.  Enigmas of Easter Island, 2nd ed.  New York: Oxford University Press.

     Mead, Margaret.  2001 [1930].  Coming of Age in Samoa.  New York: Perennial Classics.

     Obeyesekere, Gananath.  1997 [1992].  The Apotheosis of Captain Cook.  Princeton: Princeton University Press. 

     Silva, Noenoe K.  2004.  Aloha Betrayed.  Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.

     [There will also be a choice of novels to read at the end of the semester—see below]


Grading: Grading will be done on the following basis:

• 35%: Final project (a research proposal, due on last day of class)

• 20%: Contemporary politics projects (February 15)

• 20%: Reading reports (May 3 and 5)

• 15%: Geopolitical quiz (February 3)

• 10% Class participation


The scale is: 93-100=A; 90-92=A-; 88-89=B+; 83-87=B; 80-82=B-; 78-79=C+;73-77=C; 70-72=C-; 65-69=D; below 65=F


Policies: Plagiarism in any assignment will result in automatic failure.  Three points will be deducted from the final grade each day for late assignments. The class participation grade is based not only on attendance, but also on being prepared and participating in class discussions.


Reading Schedule



Date Topic                      Assignment


25   Introduction to the Class


27   Oceania                   Kirch, “Introduction”



1    Polynesia                  Kirch and Green, “Polynesia as a Phylogenetic Unit”


3    Debate 1: The Settlement of          Heyerdahl, Kon-Tiki selections (“A Theory,” “To the South Sea Islands,” “Appendix”)

     Rapa Nui (Easter Island)        Bahn and Flenley, Introduction and chapter 1

     Plus: Geopolitical Quiz        


8    Easter Island, continued        Bahn and Flenley, Parts 1, 2, and 3



10   Easter Island, continued        [No reading, but please play the Polynesian Voyager game before class]

     Guest Lecturer: Leslie Shaw


15   Contemporary politics projects: presentations


17   No class during the day, but at 6:00 p.m. we will have the Oceania Film Festival


22   Debate 2: Cannibalism in Fiji         Arens, “The Mythical World of Anthropophagy” and “The Mythical World of Anthropology”

Obeyesekere, “Cannibal feasts in nineteenth-century Fiji”


24   Cannibalism in Fiji, continued       Sahlins, “Artificially Maintained Controversies: Global Warming and Fijian Cannibalism”



1    Special class on Fiji coups: in-class reading of Raymond Pillai


3    Fijian kava session


8    Debate 3: Captain Cook in Hawai‘i    Sahlins, “Captain James Cook: Or The Dying God”


10   Captain Cook, continued         Obeyesekere, chapters 1-6


29   Captain Cook, continued         Obeyesekere, chapters 7-8

                                Sahlins, How “Natives” Think selections (“Preface,” “Introduction,” “Cook after Death,”

   “Historical Fiction, Makeshift Ethnography”)

Borofsky, “Cook, Lono, Obeyesekere, and Sahlins”



5    Debate 4: Hawaiian Sovereignty  Silva, chapters TBA


7    Hawaiian Sovereignty, continued Silva, chapters TBA

                                Linnekin, “Defining Tradition: Variations on the Hawaiian Identity”


12   Hawaiian Sovereignty, continued Hartwell, “Louis Robert ‘Moon’ Kauakahi: Mele/Music”

                                Kauanui, “Off-Island Hawaiians ‘Making’ Ourselves at ‘Home’”


14   Video: “Act of War”


19   Debate 5: Sex and Samoa         Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa


21   Sex and Samoa, continued        Freeman, Margaret Mead and Samoa excerpts (pp. 113-278)


26   Sex and Samoa, continued        Shore, “Paradox Regained”

                                Shankman, “The History of Samoan Sexual Conduct and the Mead-Freeman Controversy”


28   Special class on Samoa              

     Guest Lecturer: Ilana Gershon



3    Reading Reports, Groups 1 & 2 (Alan Duff’s Once Were Warriors, W.S. Merwin’s The Folding Cliffs)


5    Reading Reports, Groups 3 & 4 (Sia Figiel’s Where We Once Belonged, John Pule’s Burn My Head in Heaven)


10   Video: Paradise Bent

     Final projects due today


Images on page 1 from Kauai Fine Arts, http://www.brunias.com/cat-cleveley.html (accessed November 3, 2004)

Upload: 11/15/2004

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