Friday, February 19, 2016

A salacious South Seas post (part 2)

Reverting back to the story of the first European ship to arrive in Tahiti (The Dolphin) in 1767, a review of another book makes it clear that the sailors did not, ahem, waste any time:
Salmond recounts the moment the trade of sex for nails began in 1767 via the landing of a food-gathering party from Captain Samuel Wallis' ship HMS Dolphin, with "a Dear Irish boy, one of our Marins" having sex with a Tahitian woman in front of his companions. He got a thrashing from his fellow sailors for his lack of decency in not going behind a bush; his excuse was that he was afraid of losing the honour of being the first.
The watching Tahitians may have made a different sense of this public display. Their arioi (a largely male religious and aristocratic society, to grossly simplify their multiple roles in Tahitian society) would occasionally perform ceremonial public sex in their symbolic negotiations with 'Oro, a god associated with thunder, power and consequently sex.
In another of the Tahitians' efforts to manage the assumed ancestral power of the arriving strangers, women of the islands would circle the Westerners' boats, stamping their feet, grimacing, exposing their genitals and yelling. This potent display of unrestricted feminine power was meant to demean and work upon the restricted power of men, but the sailors seem largely to have interpreted it as a simple offer of sex.
I'm sort of interested in the matter of whether any English captains actually ever thought they could control their crew's behaviour.   It seems that Cook didn't try, but a bit to my surprise,  at least the Spanish may have tried to keep their sailors on the leash.  From the same link as before, there's this story of cultural differences causing serious issues when played out in front of others:
Vehiatua, a Tahitian ari'i, visits a Spanish ship whose crew have been forbidden to have sex and whose ceremonial cross has already been planted on shore, and he proceeds to have oral sex with his "servant" (possibly a mahu, a man who lived as a woman) in the sergeants' mess. The pair are discovered and roundly thrashed by a common sailor, setting in motion orders and counter-orders of offence. The Tahitians' dignity is assaulted by their leader being beaten by a sailor; the sailor's dignity is assaulted by a male-to-male exchange so differently managed in ship-board life.
What about these arioi?  A description of their rather charmed life (save for the fact that they practiced infanticide - I gather that having kids around would be considered a drag on their lifestyle) is found in a paper with the hi-falutin' title "Getting Nailed: Re-inventing the European-Pacific Encounter In the Age of Global Capital":

Not entirely sure how one got to join this caste.  Invitation only, I guess?

Anyhow, it's worth at least one more post...

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