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Pursuing Respect in the Cannibal IslesAmericans in Nineteenth-Century Fiji$
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Nancy Shoemaker

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781501740343

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501740343.001.0001

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(p.14) Chapter 1 Butenam
Pursuing Respect in the Cannibal Isles

Nancy Shoemaker

Cornell University Press

This chapter provides an overview of the sandalwood and bêche-de-mer trades, which brought the majority of Americans to Fiji and through which much of the earliest information about Fiji spread to the rest of the world. The American seafarers who came to Fiji for sandalwood and bêche-de-mer earned a slight share of the wealth generated but derived additional satisfaction from their time in the islands. Their unique experiences granted them a rarefied, socially elevating expertise. Returning home with fantastic stories and curiously wrought souvenirs, they became knowledge brokers whose firsthand observations shaped American perceptions of Fiji and Fiji islanders for decades to come. They produced two kinds of knowledge, one pragmatic and logistical, the other ethnographic and ideological. Practical knowledge made navigation safer and faster, fostered commercial networks and routines, and identified exploitable natural resources. Ethnographic knowledge intersected with pragmatic knowledge but resulted in more than monetary rewards. By reporting on the bizarre customs of Fijians, Americans consigned its people to the opposite end of the humanity spectrum and affirmed for a larger public Americans' cultural superiority.

Keywords:   sandalwood trade, bêche-de-mer trade, Americans, Fijians, American seafarers, Fiji islanders, cultural superiority

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