...as a tracing of Western epistemology, of the ways we have collected knowledge and made meaning out of it, Sea People is a roaring success that addresses observer bias ... Still, and unfortunately, the book's very structure supports the hegemony of European knowledge-making, discovery, and ways of thinking ... Thompson is certainly an engaging writer, deftly weaving her fascinating narrative of European travels and the newcomers' attempts to understand and 'crack' the Polynesian puzzle ... There is much to be fascinated with in these pages ... Sea People is undoubtedly a deeply interesting read, and at points incredibly moving.
Thompson’s intellectual history takes the perspective of Western thinkers ... Respectful of that ownership, Thompson’s project traces the Western metahistory operating parallel to native stories: Rather than describing Polynesia’s history as told by Polynesians, she narrates how modern European, American, and Oceanian thinkers reconstructed this history ... she never lingers too long on any one period or figure ... Is it possible to accurately backdate original landings via remembered genealogical lineages? Thompson takes account of disciplinary advances like philology’s reconstruction of ancient languages and nuclear science’s breakthroughs in carbon dating, while noting the often racist undertones to some of these scientists’ assumptions ... Reading Thompson’s style, though learned and lyrical, can at times feel like being rushed through a museum by a charismatic docent who is also constantly checking their watch ... Along the way, Thompson never fails to note the relevant evidentiary claims and the still unanswered or unaccounted for pieces, pulling this reader, ever-curiously, forward.
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 ... 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 ... Thompson’s book sheds light on a fascinating region. Sea People is a revelatory summation of this vast area steeped in culture and tradition.
One of the frustrations for Ms. Thompson, and inevitably for her readers, is that 'until the nineteenth century, everything Polynesians knew—or, indeed, had ever known—had to be transmitted by word of mouth.' There were no written Polynesian accounts to quote ... Ms. Thompson is at her best in two scenes of this trafficking in separate systems of knowledge ... Ms. Thompson writes well ... Her story lags occasionally during the academic infighting about different theories of Polynesian origin, though Ms. Thompson works hard to explain the contending ideas fairly, even the ones she may disagree with. At times, I also found myself adrift in descriptions of potential routes among some of the more obscure Pacific islands.
An inspired history ... a beautifully woven narrative ... As Thompson smoothly traces the history of the Polynesians and their language and culture through discoveries in anthropology and archaeology, especially radiocarbon dating, she emphasizes the importance of the migrations of the Lapita people from Asia ... Thompson vividly captures the wondrousness of this region of the world as well as the sense of adventure tied up in that history.
...artfully written ... Thompson does not hesitate to point out erroneous thinking ... Along the way, she writes with infectious awe and appreciation about Polynesian culture and with sharp intelligence about the blind spots of those investigating it at different times. This fascinating work could prove to be the standard on the subject for some time to come.