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Date

4-28-2020

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In the last three decades of the 18th century, Tahiti was frequented by European travelers, exposing Tahitians to various encounters with western visitors. Driven by Orientalist imagination of an idyllic paradise, Western missionaries believed that exotic frontiers required salvation and by 1796, the London Missionary Society had arrived. This paper suggests that despite increasing western interests to influence and convert the islanders, Tahitians nevertheless negotiated their power through the transactions of material objects and appropriated Western goods to their benefit. In this study, the idea of "objectifying power" constitutes how a culture asserts its power through the transaction of material goods upon other peoples. Through the theoretical approach of material culture, analyzing objects transcends the problematic dichotomy between Eurocentric 'modernity' and 'inferior' indigeneity within the early modern world. Therefore, the study of material culture, consumption, and exchange reveals a nuanced discourse about agency and identity. Bartering objects were central to these encounters which posits the question: What changes and continuities did the exchange of objects contribute to the relationship between Westerners and Tahitians? How were power and friendship conveyed? Using 18th-century sources from the National Library of Australia, instructions from the London Missionary Society, illustrations of contact between Europeans and Natives, and accounts from European navigators, this paper seeks to trace three decades of changes and continuities in how material objects highlight Tahitians as active agents in their engagement with European counterparts and how these transactions reoriented the narrative of European and indigenous power dynamics.

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Apr 28th, 12:00 AM

Objectifying Power: Mariners, Missionaries, and Material Mutuality in Early Modern Tahitian Encounters, 1767-1797

In the last three decades of the 18th century, Tahiti was frequented by European travelers, exposing Tahitians to various encounters with western visitors. Driven by Orientalist imagination of an idyllic paradise, Western missionaries believed that exotic frontiers required salvation and by 1796, the London Missionary Society had arrived. This paper suggests that despite increasing western interests to influence and convert the islanders, Tahitians nevertheless negotiated their power through the transactions of material objects and appropriated Western goods to their benefit. In this study, the idea of "objectifying power" constitutes how a culture asserts its power through the transaction of material goods upon other peoples. Through the theoretical approach of material culture, analyzing objects transcends the problematic dichotomy between Eurocentric 'modernity' and 'inferior' indigeneity within the early modern world. Therefore, the study of material culture, consumption, and exchange reveals a nuanced discourse about agency and identity. Bartering objects were central to these encounters which posits the question: What changes and continuities did the exchange of objects contribute to the relationship between Westerners and Tahitians? How were power and friendship conveyed? Using 18th-century sources from the National Library of Australia, instructions from the London Missionary Society, illustrations of contact between Europeans and Natives, and accounts from European navigators, this paper seeks to trace three decades of changes and continuities in how material objects highlight Tahitians as active agents in their engagement with European counterparts and how these transactions reoriented the narrative of European and indigenous power dynamics.