This essay focuses on the political, economic, and cultural history of six countries or dependencies in Polynesia – Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, French Polynesia, Pitcairn Island, and Rapa Nui (Easter Island). I wrote these talks for programs, operated between 2004 and 2013, by Stanford Travel/Study and Clipper, Seabourn, and Silversea Cruise Lines.
I begin with the Polynesian diaspora – the origins of the Polynesian people and how they settled the Pacific islands. I next discuss Western Polynesia (Samoa, Tonga, and Melanesian Fiji) – trade wealth, colonial rule, and current economies. I continue with Kiribati – its formation from 34 tiny islands, Britain’s colonial interest, and its fragile economy. I then look at French Polynesia – French imperialism in five archipelagos in Eastern Polynesia and the structure of its economy as a dependency of France. I digress to tell the story of the mutiny on the Bounty and the evolution of Pitcairn Island since 1790. I move on to Rapa Nui – its sources of wealth, cultural bases, and societal crash in the 18th century. I close by describing the Pacific explorations of Captain James Cook – his skills, discoveries, and death in Hawaii. I append a time line, a bibliography, and a description of the sites that I visited in Polynesia.