Customer Reviews of On the Road of the Winds: An Archaeological History of the Pacific Islands before European Contact
When my grown son was in grammar school, he had to write a paper about Easter Island. We went to our local library to do the research but there was not much available besides the book Kon Tiki. When I typed the paper for my son I was caught up in the mystery of Easter Island and the story of it's people. This book expands beyond Easter Island and lays the ground work to see how all the Polynesian islands were settled, even to New Zealand. Most interesting reading about the early explorers who, in some cases, braved head hunters to visit and write about those Pacific Islands.
Impeccable synthesis of Pacific Archeology and Prehistory
I was looking for a comprtehensive review of Polynesian societies and archeology of that vital but often-neglected part of the world, and by buying this book got much more than what I assumed it would bring. It is extremely well-written and well-researched, and the author - bless him! - makes no concession to the idiotic assumptions of primeval 'goodness' and 'sustainable living' that plague much of recent writing about ancient societies. The Pacific societies were a cancer for island environments throughout the Pacific, and constituted of cruel, warring tribes for the most part; but also they were extremely inventive, superb navigators and readily adapted to unknown environments. All in all, a fascinating account of easily-underestimated peoples who were subdued and replaced after the 16th century by some others much worse than they were, by any count.
Placing Pacific Islanders in world history
The pacific islands and people who inhabit them have long been viewed as seperate, isolated and somehow different from the rest of the world's civilizations. Patrick Kirch takes this view into contest in this revolutionizing book on the pre-history of Oceania.
He collects a myraid of information about life in the islands before European contact and strives to present it, not as isolated bits of evidence, but as pieces of a cohesive whole. These pieces can be fit together to give a greater understanding of the culture of Pacific Islanders and help place them as an intricate portion of humanities story, not as a group of people untouched and unrelated to the rest of the world.
Kirch shows that the culture and past of the people who came to inhabite the islands of the pacific are unique. But, he also contends that Pacific Islanders do have an important place in the story of humanities past as well as our future. By writing On the Road of the Winds, Kirch has helped make sure that this story gets told.
The People of the Pacific and Modern Exploration
At last the Pacific islands are beginning to take their rightful place in the annals of world history. It is this book that takes a major step to establish that historical perspective.
The Pacific islands are dispersed across one-third of the Earth's surface. All the major island groups have been inhabited for the last two thousand years, some for more than six thousand years, yet a detailed prehistory of the region has been lacking until now. This book, written by a noted Pacific anthropologist and archaeologist who has studied the area for more than thirty years, takes a tour of the diverse islands of the Pacific, beginning in the west in Melanesia, then across the many small islands of Micronesia. The tour concludes in the sprawling area covered by the islands of Polynesia, which extend from New Zealand to Hawai'i and eastward as far as Easter Island. Along the way, the author conveys the personal drama that he experienced in uncovering artifacts that reach back into a deep time. At one place he unearthed a small piece of carved white bone. When he turned it over, he saw the two eyes and the subtle nose of a stylized human face. On another island, while enjoying a beach picnic with his host family, spearing octopus and gathering mollusks, the author took a walk along the beach and discovered, a short distance from where they were camped, a distinct rock layer filled with pottery fragments. Those fragments would prove to be a record of people who had lived on the island more than two thousand years earlier. This book is both a personal narrative of modern-day exploration of the Pacific and an account of the rich prehistory of the region.
The book draws generously from the detailed archaeological work conducted by the author and by others in the Pacific region--most of it done since the Second World War--as well as from studies of language and biology that answer such fundamental questions as where did the Pacific islanders come from and when and how did they settle the thousands of islands at least two millenia before any Europeans entered the Pacific? To most people, the Pacific islands are no more than a place of idyllic scenery and the people of the Pacific are the willing subjects of fanciful tales. Now, through the enlightening text of this book and the many striking photographs that it contains, the Pacific islands take on a fuller meaning. And the many cultures of the Pacific take their proper place in the remarkable story of the development of civilization.
A great synthesis on the use of historical (archaeological) evidence to examine the peopling of the Pacific
Patrick Vinton Kirch is renowned for his faith in the multidisciplinary approach to understanding Oceanic and Pacific history and culture before European contact. On the Road of the Winds is his great synthesis on the subject to date based on that holistic perspective, drawing together information from the fields of archaeology, historical linguistics, comparative ethnology and biological anthropology, while emphasising that these disciplines are not bound to co-vary. This is largely a scholarly historical archaeological text (but with numerous photographs and tables listing sites with details replacing tedious description) and arises, as the author explains, as a result of the archaeological aspect largely being ignored until after the war. Anthropologists until then had been constrained by preconceived beliefs of Pacific cultures having been fairly recent and unchanging arrivals; nations without history. The emphasis of research had been placed firmly on ethnology using outdated - even racist - typology mingled with some good and some dubious linguistic analysis. Since then a fascinating narrative of rich historical cultures, some containing extraordinarily elaborate constructions and of complex social structures and hierarchies that we are only now beginning to understand, has been uncovered by archaeological excavations.
It is as well for the reader to familiarise his or herself with some basic concepts at the outset and these are largely outlined in an introduction. Unlike most simplistic nineteenth century anthropological classifications Dumont d'Urville's familiar tripartite categorisation of Pacific peoples into Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian still holds as a useful geographical reference when describing regional differences, though only the Polynesians can be considered a phyletic entity whose languages, cultures and biological similarity point to a common origin. Melanesians in particular are an astonishingly diverse mix of different cultures and linguistic groups. These three groups (Melanesians, Micronesians and Polynesians) make up the peoples of Oceania but exclude the islands of South-East Asia, notably the Philippines and Indonesia, even though the great Austronesian language family (found as far west as Madagascar) spans both regions. All Oceanic peoples except those on New Guinea and some islands nearby such as New Ireland and Bougainville speak Austronesian languages. There, the non-Austronesian or Papuan languages are more numerous and diverse than their Austronesian counterparts thus demonstrating the deeper time span of occupation of this region which is referred to throughout the book as Near Oceania. Near Oceania is a concept introduced to distinguish those long-settled islands (maybe 40,000 years) from those that were to be reached much later in waves of long distance voyages: Remote Oceania.
Human history is effectively the history of migrations. The author begins this odyssey by reviewing the archaeological evidence for the arrival of the first people into Sahul (Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea merged during higher sea levels) and Near Oceania (the islands around and beyond New Guinea) during the Pleistocene. This is the prehistory of "old" Melanesia and constitutes the first great colonising epoch of the Pacific. However, it was the appearance of a distinct ceramic-making culture known as Lapita about 1,500 BC, a culture that had most likely developed in situ in the region of the Bismarck Archipelago by a branch of the Austronesian peoples, that was to have the most profound effect on the region. The seafaring Lapita began to greatly expand their material culture, transform the cultural landscape of the region and to spread ever further eastward into Remote Oceania. This is archaeology's greatest contribution to Pacific research. The peopling of the islands of the Pacific by this new culture truly required a new vision of the world. These would not have been hunter-gatherers wandering in search of something to eat but horticulturalists, who, as populations challenged ability to supply, needed to seek fresh lands. Some of these lands could be seen from where they were living and, as the Lapita made vessels to transport them there, they would have seen more on arrival. Ultimately, planned voyages of expansion would reach as far afield as Hawai'i, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Pitcairn and finally New Zealand.
This book explores the origin and range of cultures throughout the Pacific by examining archaeological, palynological, palaeobotanical and faunal evidence and where appropriate calling upon linguistic and biological co-evidence. (There is some, but little, reference to the molecular genetic analysis of Pacific populations which is increasingly producing powerful new information, much of which backs Kirch's theories based on his archaeological research.) It asks questions about why some cultures built monumental structures, why others degenerated into warfare, and why still others became isolated and excluded from the great grid of trade routes that criss-crossed the ocean. It examines the nature of production and power, considers the pre-European contact demographics of islands and compares the different ecologies and pressures on the different islands, many of which at first glance appear to be very similar. It then puts into context the shaping of different and sometimes distinct cultural differences between these islands without inferring that their must always be an ecological explanation. For me personally, it was most important that the author reiterated throughout that race (human biological variation), language and culture are independent variables (given the sorry history of confusion and subsequent abuse), but he also rightly points out that it has been clear to some anthropologists working in different parts of the world that there is sometimes evidence of some covariance, e.g. in the case of the Polynesians.
This is a large and ambitious work but it was time for such a synthesis. It is a huge task to have brought together all the information and it is greatly aided by over seventy pages of notes and references. However, as the author points out, there are still huge gaps in our knowledge and understanding of Pacific human history and an even larger task remains ahead.