Sunday, January 09, 2005

Tupaia - Cross-cultural champion

Like many others, I'd always thought this picture was painted by an English seaman. Today I discovered the truth.

This painting, and several others like it, were the work of an outstanding cultural ambassador: Tuapaia, a high priest from the Tahitian island of Raiatea.

In The Ship: Retracing Cook's Endeavour Voyage I learnt how Tupaia was willing to leave behind everything he'd known - literally - and throw his lot in with the mysterious pale creatures who had arrived out of nowhere.

He became a very important part of the Endeavour crew, serving as interpreter in several other of the Society Islands (Tahiti), and even in faraway New Zealand, where he found the Tahitian and Maori languages close enough to understand. Just imagine what that must've been like for him! Absolutely amazing ... like a science fiction novel where we travel to another galaxy, only to find people just like us.

And the art. At first I didn't believe he painted the above picture. It didn't "look" Tahitian - you know, curly and swirly. But then I realised, he learnt the western way of looking at things, even down to colour.

Sure, it's no award-winning artwork by western standards, but consider: this is a man with zero training in western styles of painting, perspective, or portraiture. (Alliteration, how pretentious is that?)

Sadly, Tupaia died of malaria in Indonesia. He never saw his home again, nor did he get to see Europe. But I see that he travelled - he was willing to travel - a greater distance even than those who had come so far in search of new life, new civilisations.

It's one thing to be the explorer and do what you came for ... but to be like Tupaia, and take the opportunity when it comes ... wow.


At 10:44 PM, Blogger Borscht said...

Now I know there was a good reason to read the King book.

Thankfully, I know exactly who you're talking about...right down to the last detail about Tahitian and Te Reo Maori being the same.

Bravo, matey!


-- AM


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