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Polynesian Researches during a Residence of Nearly Six Years in the South Sea Islands
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From humble origins, and trained by the London Missionary Society in theology, printing and rudimentary medicine, William Ellis (1794–1872) sailed for the Society Islands in 1816. He found himself at the cusp of major cultural change as Western influences affected the indigenous Polynesians. During his time there, Ellis became a skilled linguist and able chronicler of the traditional yet rapidly shifting way of life. He succeeded in capturing vivid stories of a leisured people who, without written language, had developed a rich oral tradition, social structure and belief system. Published in 1829, this two-volume collection proved to be an important reference work, notably for its natural history; it soon accompanied Darwin aboard the Beagle. In Volume 2, Ellis moves between Huahine and Raiatea, giving further background on the existing customs and polytheistic rituals, contrasted with the introduction of Western religion, dress, schools, housing, medicine and law.

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