Claire's Reviews > Sea People: In Search of the Ancient Navigators of the Pacific

Sea People by Christina Thompson
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it was amazing
bookshelves: around-the-world, history, nonfiction

Growing up in rural/coastal New Zealand and being immersed in Maori culture from the age of 5-12, the myths, legends, stories, cultural practices have always resonated with me, perhaps because I was so young, or because there was a clear connection to the landscape and environment that rang true, the geography of New Zealand was part of the mythology, that curious blend of enchantment and reality.

I read Sea People not so much out of that European curiosity to discover where people originated from, but for the familiarity of that "way of seeing" through the oral tradition of storytelling, of describing things from where I see and what I see around me, not from the lofty heights of above looking down. My curiosity in all honesty lay too in wondering if a woman's perspective and approach might be different.

I loved it. Like her own mixed family, the author straddles the masculine/feminine, Polynesian/European aspects and shares something that goes back over all the approaches to Polynesia from the earliest eyewitnesses of 1521 to the brilliant modern day reconstructions of Polynesian canoes, that set sail with a crew of experimental voyagers, trained in the old non-instrument methods of navigation, to re-enact the voyages of the ancient Polynesians.

Written in six parts, chronologically, we follow the thinking of the different eras, immersing in the exploration and research studies of the time, travelling through all the speculation, attitudes, reverence and mystery of a very Eurocentric enquiry, until recent times when those of Polynesian heritage themselves, as decolonisation and indigenous rights movements were gaining strength worldwide, demanded representation and respect.

For me that was the highlight of the literary journey, when Nainoa Thompson, a young Hawaiian, did all he could to learn the old ways, studying the stars, the winds, the waves, the swell, the imagined island, all the techniques known that had been passed down, to navigate like the ancient mariners, with nothing but what nature offered. And in the face of disbelief by all the European sceptics who'd come before, unable to embrace the paradigm of this ancient skill, they succeeded, using practical sea voyaging, no computer simulation or dusty pottery or annals of research, a brilliant touch of reality and reaching back through the generations of ancestry.

A wonderful history and beautifully accessible read. Highly recommended.
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Quotes Claire Liked

Christina Thompson
“As the number of oral cultures in the world has diminished, interest in them has grown, and one of the most intriguing questions is whether there might be such a thing as an ‘oral way of seeing’, a worldview common to oral peoples that might be different in some generalizable way from the worldview of people in cultures with writing.”
Christina Thompson, Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia

Christina Thompson
“There is a reason the remote Pacific was the last place on Earth to be settled by humans: it was the most difficult, more daunting even than the deserts or the ice.”
Christina Thompson, Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia


Reading Progress

January 1, 2021 – Shelved
January 1, 2021 – Shelved as: to-read
January 1, 2021 – Shelved as: around-the-world
January 1, 2021 – Shelved as: history
January 1, 2021 – Shelved as: nonfiction
June 8, 2021 – Started Reading
June 10, 2021 –
page 165
42.97% "I do love it when a nonfiction history book becomes a page turner. I like the way Christine Thompson looks at the subject in a non-linear way and comes to the Polynesian way of thinking in a humble, open-minded way, without that white European explorer mentality that automatically assumed they were superior."
June 10, 2021 –
page 182
47.4% "Part IV the rise of science and anthropology in the pursuit of a desire to discover who the ancient navigators of the Pacific were. Their myths were great on the why and where but European intellectuals and scientists were intent in uncovering the who and how of their existence."
June 13, 2021 – Finished Reading

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Jimmy I just finished this book too, and loved it! Great review.


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