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Power and Taboo: sacred objects from the Pacific
Polynesian islanders were immensely skilled boat builders and equally accomplished navigators who travelled great distances across the Pacific Ocean in sailing canoes.
This canoe is one of the earliest documented surviving artefacts to have been brought to Europe from the eastern Pacific and was the first object from the region to be acquired by the British Museum. It was collected at Nukutavake in the Tuamotu Islands archipelago in June 1767 by Captain Samuel Wallis, just before Captain James Cook's first Pacific voyage.
The Tuamotus are low-lying islands with few forests, or trees large enough for a hull to be crafted from a single trunk. Instead the hull is composed of forty-five wood sections bound together with continuous lengths of plaited coir, a coarse fibre made from the seed of the coconut palm. It probably had an outrigger (a parallel hull) to balance it in the waves.
A single plank seat survives to suggest the manner of its use and on the upper edge of the left side there are burn marks made by fishing lines.
Wallis brought it back to England lashed to the deck of his ship, HMS Dolphin. Given this treatment it is in remarkably good condition.