Topical Issue "Captain Cook, divinity and the Papalagi"
related topic: Archives on Cannibalism (data and controversies)
Gananath Obeyesekere’s strategy for deconstructing cannibalism in the South Seas (see the preceding entry) is the same strategy that he employed in his earlier attempt to deconstruct Marshall Sahlins’ analysis of the fate of Captain Cook in Hawaii. Was Cook viewed as the Hawaiian god Lono? How on earth could Hawaiians have made such a childish mistake? As Obeyesekere would have it, Sahlins’ hypothesis only serves to reveal the persistence of the European paternalistic and colonialist stance towards all indigenous people.
What Obeyesekere and his supporters have failed to see is that Europeans were considered as super-human images of super-human entities, and not just "as gods". The controversy resurfaces when we are dealing with the ethnolinguistic history of the words that have been applied to Europeans by Polynesians, such as "Papala(n)gi", where the base "la(n)gi" can refer to the "sky". Did the Polynesians say that Europeans came from the "sky"? Yes and no! We need to look again more closely at the limited ethnographic data that refers to Polynesian linguistic practices both past and present. Ethnography is not all "imagination".
These web pages provide additional ethnographic data on this topic (more files will be added later) and a forum for discussion. We welcome commentaries as well as proposals for additional ethnographic files relevant to the topic.