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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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Inventing Polynesia

Inventing Polynesia

(p.123) Inventing Polynesia
Changing Contexts, Shifting Meanings

Serge Tcherkézoff

University of Hawai'i Press

This chapter explores the various meanings the idea of “Polynesia” has acquired in changing scientific contexts. It is usually assumed that the naming of the Pacific regions, at least for Melanesia, Micronesia, Polynesia, was invented by the French navigator Dumont d'Urville in the early nineteenth century, as the expanded knowledge of the Pacific, or Oceania as it began to be called at the same time in France, required more detailed maps and hence new names for subdividing a vast expanse that appeared to be composed of so many different islands. However, such a view, found in most textbooks and school manuals, is oblivious to two historical dimensions. First, d'Urville's proposal was not so much a cartographic progress, a simple addition to universal geography with new maps, but was the outcome of a racial agenda. Second, the word “Polynesia” had already been in existence for seventy-five years, with a different geographical extension.

Keywords:   Polynesia, Dumont d'Urville, racial agenda, Pacific regions, Oceania

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