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Captain Cook saw flotillas of canoes in Tahiti, on one occasion in 1778 of war canoes (Bellwood 1978a:298), and on another bearing 'Arioi entertainers to adjacent nearby islands, and Maori oral tradition speaks of a "Fleet" of seven canoes that were once thought to have brought the Maori people to New Zealand.But the flotillas seen by Cook were a local development of the Society Islands with no precedents in Western Polynesia, and the idea of a Maori Fleet has long since been discredited. European discovery of the Pacific did not begin until at least half a millennium after Polynesians had conquered the last frontier of this vast ocean expanse by reaching New Zealand. But it soon became apparent to me that it could make a significant contribution on issues that had occupied Pacific scholars for at least a hundred years, including the vexed question of "The Coming of the Maori" as articulated at this time by the ethnologist Sir Peter Buck (Te Rangi Hiroa), and further back still the origins of the peoples of Polynesia, whose remarkable history was equally the subject of debate.Since the Pacific islands were first visited by Europeans there have been many changes of name.Some of the earlier names are so long obsolete as to be barely remembered.Second to be considered is exactly what happened when people ventured beyond the boundaries of their own local regions.
As a result they were constrained by barriers such as sea gaps, and cultural complexes of a regional nature emerged in consequence.
An alternative view that champions Micronesia as a primary area of origin for Polynesians has been in limbo as a result of the prevailing theory, but is reappraised in the present book and found once again to be in contention.
For more than twenty years the standard view among anthropologists has been that Polynesians evolved from a group of settlers known as Lapita people whose characteristically dentate-stamped pottery has been found on numerous mostly Melanesian sites, and who entered Fiji more than 3000 years ago from a starting point in the Bismarck Archipelago.
The end result, which scholars have tried to unravel, is a vast mosaic of criss-crossing lines of influence and communication, some old and some new, which together have led to current distributions of peoples and items of cultural inventory.
As the following chapters will show, to solve the problem of Polynesian origins, some account needs to be taken of them all.
The literature on Polynesian origins and information bearing upon it is so vast it may well be asked why burden the reader with yet another book about it, and, from the author's point of view, why bother to write one?