Marquesan society has long captured the interest of European observers, in part because of unfamiliar institutions such as polyandry. However, due to complex and destructive historical changes and the very scattered nature of early source-materials, the distinctive Marquesan developments of Polynesian society have been obscure and at odds with anthropologists' and historians' overall understanding of Pacific societies.
Nicholas Thomas's book, based on a critical study of the fullest possible range of sources, is the first to provide a clear account of early Marquesan social relations and culture, and as such will become a key source for Pacific scholars. However, Dr Thomas's discussion is not restricted to ethnohistoric documentation. His analysis of dynamic and highly fluid society and its encounters with early European visitors and traders encompasses wider debates about the nature of gender relations in Polynesian societies, small-scale hierarchical structures, cultural transformation, and longer-term change.
In linking specific features of early Marquesan society, its contact with foreigners, and the longer-term transformations of eastern Polynesian societies, Dr Thomas offers Pacific studies a distinctive new perspective.