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Changing Contexts, Shifting MeaningsTransformations of Cultural Traditions in Oceania$
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Elfriede Hermann

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780824833664

Published to Hawaii Scholarship Online: November 2016

DOI: 10.21313/hawaii/9780824833664.001.0001

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Aphrodite’s Island

Aphrodite’s Island

Sexual Mythologies in Early Contact Tahiti

(p.93) Aphrodite’s Island
Changing Contexts, Shifting Meanings

Anne Salmond

University of Hawai'i Press

This chapter investigates changing cultural practices on Tahiti, focusing on sexual encounters, among others, between Tahitians and British seamen in 1767, Bougainville's French crew in 1768, and sailors with the Spanish expeditions of 1772 and 1774. The accounts of the first British, French, and Spanish voyages to Tahiti show that for Europeans and Tahitians alike, sex was highly charged and imbued with mythic implications. It could not be experienced or talked about without these resonances helping to shape what happened or the descriptions of those experiences. The explorers reached for precedents from their own societies—whores and queens for the British; the Greek gods, the Garden of Eden, and literary utopias for the officers on Bougainville's ships. The Spaniards, with their evangelical intentions, censored sexual matters from their journals and experience as far as possible, while the Spanish friars, dedicated to chastity and the Virgin Mary, found the 'arioi's graphic sexual displays so appalling that they could not wait to leave the island. Equally, the Tahitians drew upon their own ancestral precedents to grasp and negotiate these exchanges with the explorers—the 'arioi ceremonies and celebrations, the stories of Ta'aroa and laOro, and the prophecy of the priest at Taputapuatea. These mythic scaffoldings shaped both the Tahitian and the European experience of their meetings.

Keywords:   cultural practices, Tahiti, sexual encounters, British seamen, French, Spaniards

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