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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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Mata ki Bau

Mata ki Bau

Respect Vakaviti

(p.47) Chapter 2 Mata ki Bau
Pursuing Respect in the Cannibal Isles

Nancy Shoemaker

Cornell University Press

This chapter recounts runaway Nantucket whaleman and beachcomber David Whippy's first few years in Fiji as he established himself in the islands. Among Fijians, who deserved the most respect was determined at birth. Turaga inherited their high rank from their mothers. Foreigners should not even have been eligible, or recognizable, as turaga. But since the sandalwood era, Fijians had observed an equivalence between their highly stratified social system of elite men and commoners (turaga and kaisi) and the hierarchy aboard foreign vessels that granted officers more authority and status than common seamen. Whippy was particularly adept at learning how Fijian society worked and at carving out a place for himself in that world. Fijians did indeed grant him the status of a turaga, and by 1834 if not earlier, he had attained the political position of Mata ki Bau, variously translated as a messenger, herald, or ambassador to the Bau matanitu. Thus, in a twist of irony, what was by some reckonings the most barbarous place on earth afforded Whippy social advancement.

Keywords:   beachcombers, David Whippy, Fiji, Fijians, turaga, elite men, Fijian society, Mata ki Bau, social advancement, foreigners

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