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Saturday, June 11, 2011

TUPAIA - Captain Cook's guiding star

New Zealand Herald features Polynesian navigator

Andrew Stone, veteran feature writer for New Zealand's biggest daily, interviewed me a couple of weeks ago -- an hour which I thoroughly enjoyed.

His story is published today.

It is appropriate that it should be the New Zealand Herald that publishes the first discussion of my biography of this astonishing man.

I first became intrigued with Tupaia when I read an article by Greg Ansley in the New Zealand Herald, on August 5, 2006.  It was headed “Rewriting our history,” and had the grabber line, “Most of the credit for Captain Cook’s remarkable first voyage ought to go to a Polynesian navigator, according to new research.”
The story stemmed from an interview with Dr. Paul Tapsell, who theorized that for the Maori Tupaia was the leader of the expedition, not Captain Cook, and that the prized artifacts taken to England and distributed by Cook and Joseph Banks were most probably presented to Tupaia, the man of greatest prestige on board.

Moved by the powerful argument, I cut the story out, and kept it in a folder.  Obviously, I had heard about Tupaia before, because his painting of a Maori bartering a lobster for a piece of tapa cloth held by Joseph Banks has become iconic.  (As economist Brian Easton points out, it documents some of the earliest trade between Maori and European.)  Up until that moment, however, Tupaia was a shadowy figure for me, a man without personality.  Now that I realized how unjustly history had treated him, I felt a rush of sympathy, and began to think of Tupaia as a fellow human being. 

It wasn't until I delved into the logs, journals, and memoirs of the men who had known him, or had heard first hand gossip about him, though, that I realised what a truly extraordinary man he was.  It has been an amazing privilege to get to know Tupaia, the noble priest-navigator from Raiatea and Tahiti, the man I truly believe changed the history of New Zealand.


Shayne Parkinson said...

Very nice interview, Joan! I hope it leads to even more interest in the book.

Joan Druett said...

Thany you, Shayne!

Robert Schaefer said...

Short and well said - a perfect interview, Joan! Also, I love the cover of your new book! Brava!

Joan Druett said...

Isn't it wonderful? And you should see the inside of the book! WISH you were here!