When Captain Samuel Wallis became the first European to land at Tahiti in June 1767, he left t only a British flag on shore but also three guinea hens, a pair of turkeys, a pregnant cat, and a garden planted with peas for the chiefess Purea. Thereafter, a succession of European captains, missionaries, and others planted seeds and introduced livestock from around the world. In turn, the islanders traded away great quantities of important island resources, including valuable and spiritually significant plants and animals. What did these exchanges mean? What was their impact? The answers are often unexpected. They also reveal the ways islanders retained control over their societies and landscapes in an era of increasing European intervention. Trading Nature explores - from both the European and Tahitian perspective - the effects of 'ecological exchange' on one island from the mid-eighteenth century to the present day. Through a series of dramatic episodes, Trading Nature uncovers the potency of trading in nature. In the interweavings of chiefly power, ordinary islanders, the ambitions of outsiders, transplanted species, and existing ecologies, the book uncovers the cultural and ecological impacts of cross-cultural exchange. Evidence of these transactions has been found in a rich variety of voyage journals, missionary diaries, Tahitian accounts, colonial records, travelers' tales, and a range of visual and material sources. The story progresses from the first trades on Tahiti's shores for provisions for British and French ships to the contrasting histories of cattle in Tahiti and Hawai'i.
Jennifer Newell is a historian and curator of the Pacific. Formerly at the British Museum, she is currently a research fellow at the National Museum of Australia.