chapter  5
27 Pages

Cults of intrusion

By the year 1601, and through the publication of a crude map (showing the Carolines, Marianas, north New Guinea and most of the Solomons), the Pacific islands had become part of the ‘general history’ of humankind.1 Through their voyages of exploration, even if they seem rather tame beside the extraordinary adventures of the Pacific islanders long before them, the Europeans of the so-called ‘modern period’ created the possibility of a global history and a complete registering of the world’s peoples. By 1610 the Pacific had truly become a ‘Spanish lake’. Guam, Magellan’s ‘discovery’, had been a Spanish colony for forty-five years; de Mendaña had explored the Solomons twice, hitting las Marquesas on his second tour; and de Torres had passed through that crucial strait between Australia and New Guinea which bears his name in 1606. Of our three regions Micronesia was known best first, because the Spaniards tended to converge on it while establishing an alternative route to the Indies. The passing of the seventeenth century saw more of Polynesia known, this time through the Dutch (Tasman to New Zealand and Tonga, Roggeveen to Easter Island and Samoa), while by the end of the next century, especially after de Bougainville’s Melanesian excursions and Cook’s three matchless voyages across the whole face of Oceania, few landfalls of significance remained off mariners’ maps. Australia, of course, was not circumnavigated until 1803, twenty-three years after Cook had claimed it for the British, and its great heart was barely known even by the mid-nineteenth century.