Véronique Larcade: Lost soldiers of European wars in South Pacific



Véronique Larcade: Lost soldiers of European wars in South Pacific
Fourth European Congress on World and Global History
E.N.S. rue d’Ulm Paris
4-7 September
Panel : Warfare, Soldiers and Military Encounters
09/06 Saturday 1.30-3.30 p.m.
Véronique LARCADE
Université Bordeaux-Montaigne/Université de la Polynésie française
e-mail: [email protected]
Lost Soldiers of European Wars in Marquesas
(French Polynesia) from Napoleon to Bismarck
Considering South Pacific is not so far off, as it seems, from the wars
in 19th c. Europe.
There are three stages in my point: First, I mean to assert the presence
of contemporary European wars in the area with a study case dealing
with Nuku Hiva, one of the Marquesas islands; then to establish what
contemporary European wars (or what in the European wars) are (or
is) actually involved and in fact to question the notion and even its
accuracy; at last, I mean to re-orientate the analysis in a new or at least
in another direction that would consist in reflecting on how effectively
European wars impacted on Marquesas archipelago.
The presence of European Wars in Nuku Hiva: an amazing
[text to add to the map]
Marquesas archipelago is about right in the middle of Pacific Ocean, in the far northern part
of what is today French Polynesia, at three hours and a half by airplane from Tahiti,
southwards, in Society islands (that is nearly the distance between Spain and Scandinavia)
and some 6 200 km away from California: it takes 8 hours to fly to Tahiti from Los Angeles.
Nuku Hiva island itself is located in the northern part of the archipelago whose exact name is
Marquesas de Mendoça Islands owing to their Spanish discoverer in late 16th c. It is the
largest island in all. By comparison it is smaller than the Isle of Man, that you may know, and
a bit larger than Jersey. The population, by 19th c. beginning, probably amounted about 10
000) inhabitants when it is now less than 2 500.
In Nukuhiva, on the 7th of May 1804, took place what could be
qualified as an amazing encounter, that is to say altogether surprizing,
uncanny, baffling and even shocking.
That day, the first Russian expedition around the world arrived at
Taiohae. It consisted of two ships: the Nasheda, under Adam Johann
von Krusenstern, Commander in chief, and the Neva under captain
Yuri Lisiansky who, in fact, caught up with the other ship, three days
later, on May 10th. That was an exploration and scientific expedition
much akin to Bougainville's or Cook's and La Pérouse's ones, few
years before (Despoix, 2005, 35). Therefore among Krusentern's crew
ranked renowed experts such as naturalist Langsdorff and drawer
Tilesius. The expedition was to be anchored at Taiohae for ten days.
The Russians had to face a double surprise: two Europeans were
already living on Nukuhiva where no more than 3 or 4 European ships
had landed before as Nukuhiva was only discovered and mapped by
French captain Marchand in 1790 (seventeen ninety). In fact, as they
arrived the Russians were met successively by an Englishman and a
Frenchman dressed in native fashion and tattooed.
They were here for 5 years. They were Edward Robarts and Joseph
Cabris (or Kabris). The first one, Robarts, had already an experience
as pilot and provider for the few European ships that previously came
to Taiohae Bay and, as the other one, Cabris, he offered to help the
Russians to deal with the island and the islanders. That was the first
The second one was that the pair was enemies and even bitter
enemies: this enmity, that the Russians observed, is also evinced in the
Journal that Edwards Robarts left. Several times, in this Journal he
mentioned the wicked “French boy” whose actions and behaviour are
threatening to him. And, on the other side, Kabris, “the French boy”,
according to the record of his life that he dictated or rather told just
before his death, had no better opinion and intentions towards the
treacherous “English sailor”.
Robarts (no Royal Navy sailor) was 27 years old when he deserted (He declared at the end of
his Journal written between late 1810 and apparently late 1811, that he is 53 years, implying
he could be born around 1757)... All we know of him before this is that he had sailed in the
African slave trade out of Jamaica and Santo Domingo, had visited St Petersburg (that
probably made easier the contact with the Russian expedition in 1804, had unsuccessfully
wooed a Cheshire farmer’s daughter and was born near Barmouth in Wales (but search in the
records of Barmouth has uncovered nothing about Robarts’s birth).
Robarts’s ship the Euphrates had left England in November 1797 and had sailed down the
Atlantic by the Cape Verde Islands, Rio de Janeiro and the Horn. Nearly a year’s whaling up
the west coast of South America and around the Galapagos got them only a hundred barrels of
oil in a twelve-hundred-barrel ship. Small efforts at piracy against the Spaniards were as
unsuccessful. In December 1798 damage from a sudden storm to them and their companion
the Butterworth drove them to the Marquesas. Here Robarts deserted for what at first sight
seems a reason a little too high-minded to be plausible. He deserted, he tells us, because he
wanted no part in a mutiny that was being planned. In fact, we know from Crook’s Journal
that the crew of the Euphrates deserted to a man at Nukuhiva and were only got back when
the captain of the Butterworth held hostages among the Marquesas (Crook, Account: 272-4)...
Tom, a sailor of Hawaiian origin, was the instrument of Robart’s desertion. He provided the
canoe and arranged that a friendly chief would house him.
Robarts was a crew member of one of the first whaling ships to enter the Pacific, the
Euphrates. The Euphrates was not a happy vessel, and when storm damage forced her to take
shelter in the Marquesas Islands to make repairs, Robarts took the opportunity to desert. This
was in December 1798. For about the first year, his main residence was the island of Tahuata,
then he moved to Hiva Oa and later to Nuku Hiva where he spent the bulk of the seven years
of his Marquesan residence... Apart from the brief residence of the missionary William Crook,
left by the Duff in 1797, Robarts was probably the first resident white man... desultory
(décousu) marquesan warfare. The highlight of Robarts’s career as a beachcomber was
performing his pilot and providore role for the Russian exploring expedition that came by in
1804 under the command of the Captains Krusenstern and Lisiansky. These were his most
distinguished guest, and they gave him the later gratification of mentioning him favourably in
the books of the voyage that they published.
Cabris, for him, claimed he was 43, as he was dying in 1822. It means
he should have been about 19 years old, in 1799, as he deserted of the
whaleship “London” (capt Gardner) in Tahuata, a small island near
Hivahoa, southwards Nukuhiva, where he settled some months later
about the same time as Robarts. Cabris had enrolled, as he explained
later on, to escape Portsmouth Prison hulks (made infamous through Louis
Garneray’s (1783-1857) account -both written (Mes Pontons) and “graphic”: see “Portsmouth
Harbour view” c.1814-),
mentioning too he has participated to Quiberon
affair (a bloody failed attempt for French counter-revolutionaries to
land troops in southern Brittany on June 25th 1795.
To the Russians that was clear evidence of the ever-conflicting nature
of English-French relationships. Krusenstern precisely wrote, quote:
“Not content to disturb the peace of the whole civilized world, even
the inhabitants of the lately discovered island of this ocean must feel
the influence of their odious rival-ship without so much as knowning
the origin of it “ (Krusentern, 1813: 111)
To end this disturbing and –as they saw it- appalling situation, The
Russians effected an uneasy reconciliation between the hostile parties
and even got them to shake hands. Indeed, in the end, they solved the
problem completely. Cabris, making a last attempt to score over
Robarts by being last on board the ships, was carried off the island.
Bad weather and sea conditions preventing him to return ashore, he
was taken all the way to Kamchatka.
At Kamchatka, Cabris took a liking to the local governor and stayed there (Nozikov,
1945:24). From Kamchatka he made his way to Moscow and St Petersburg, where he
exhibited his tattoos and Marquesan dancing and played cannibal charades for the curious
great. His ability to swim with the ease of the Marquesans won him a job as swimming
instructor to the marine cadets at Cronstadt. He was examined at times by scientists and
presented to several crowned heads; But in later years he fell on leaner times and ended his
days in the fairs of Brittany and Paris; There are stories of his taking unkindly to the
competition at the Orleans Fair from a famous performing dog Munito and of his
demonstrating his Marquesan skills on the competitor's head. when he died in 1818 or 1822 at
Valenciennes, there was talk of his making a more permanent contribution to science, as the
local museum thought that his hide should not be lost to posterity (Langsdorff, 1813-14: XIIIXIV)
Robarts –for whom no portrait existsBy 1822 Edward Robarts was still alive, but he had long left Nukuhiva. With Cabri's
departure, Robarts' stay had entered its last stage. The wide network of relationships which he
had built up by name exchange had become entangled. In his last years, he had become
involved in property disputes within Keatonui's family. Also, at Nukuhiva, after a period of
reasonable peacefulness from 1799 to 1804, there began a period of quite savage three-way
hostilities between the Teii at Taiohae, the Taioa at Hakaui and the Taipi of Taipivai. By
1813, and even more after Porter's visit in that year, those hostilities became destructive in
ways in which they had not been before. The knowledge of two bays on the southern coast of
Nukuhiva, harbours in which ships could anchor with relative safety, was adding to the
already existing tensions between the valley's inhabitants by encouraging the presence of
Europeans. Except for a short period after Crook's departure, Taiohae was never to be without
the presence of “Aoe” (non-marquesians) from 1799 to the present. neither the Taipi nor the
Taioa had any way of sharing in the bounty that came with “Aoe's” visits to Taiohae except
by victory over the Teii.
There were other, more personal, considerations that would force Robarts to leave Nukuhiva.
In October 1805, 6 sailors of the Leviathan deserted with a ship's boat. It was a dangerous
adventure. On their ships, “Aoe” might protect their property with their guns. On the beach
they came rich at their peril. Robarts probably saved the lives of the 6 by capturing them and
securing their boat for Keatonui. But the presence of a gunner, cooper, cook, boatswain,
landsman and a “useful boy” was a greater disturbance than Robarts and Crook had ever been.
They clustered together, formed a social group, fell to quarelling and strained the resources of
the valley. They viewed the sexual freedom with which Enata women greeted ships as if it
were a permanent characteristic of the land. They did not understand the sexual rights and
obligations Enata knew for themselves. For Robarts, the Land had become dangerous and the
beach crowded. In February 1806 he took a berth on the privateer “Lucy” with Ena, Ellen and
his dog “Neptune”. He was following another fantasy about the fair promise of Botany Bay, a
land, he was told, overflowing with breadfruit and convict labour. He took beach with him. he
continued a life full of crossings and margins, always looking over walls at someone else's
land, always remembering his days of greatness in his association with “blood royal” at
Nukuhiva, always savouring the days when being an outsider to both Enata and his own kind
made him important.
Not many months after the Russian visit, various members of Robarts’s Marquesan family
quarrelled, and although (as he claimed) he was able to smooth it over for a time, clearly
serious trouble was brewing, so serious as to threaten the survival of the whole community.
On the next opportunity to leave, Robarts did not hesitate. Captain Alexander Ferguson of the
ship Lucy agreed to take Robarts and his wife and daughter to New South Wales... he spent
the rest of his life in poverty. Instead of going to New South Wales, he left the Lucy in Tahiti
where he spent a year and a half from early in 1806 to the middle of 1807. . The missionaries
were not much impressed by him, and he was not impressed by the Tahitians, debased as he
thought they were by their contact with Western commerce. He lived by doing odd jobs for
the missionaries and for the traders who called. He salted pork and distilled spirits, and when
war threatened again in Tahiti, he again escaped with his wife and daughters for an
adventurous voyage across the Pacific. His hopes of land in New South Wales were not
realized and he did not settle there but drifted on to the ports of Asia, subsequently finding
small, humble jobs in Penang and Calcutta. In 1813, his unhappy wife died in Calcutta, and
despite a second marriage and more children, Robarts in his old age had only one surviving
daughter... he died in 1832.
G. Dening (1974) suggests that Robarts might have a problem with alcohol (= a neurotic
character ?)
Tom, a sailor of Hawaiian origin, was the instrument of Robart’s desertion. He provided the
canoe and arranged that a friendly chief would house him. Robarts remained nearly a year at
Tahuata, moving about the island. This moving about was the feature of his nearly eight-year
stay in the Marquesas. Not only did he move from Tahuata to Hiva Oa to Nukuhiva, where he
finally settled down for the last six years of his stay as pilot to ships visting Taiohae, but he
travelled from valley to valley on each island. He made this mobility his conscious policy,
thus establishing a widening network of friends with whom he exchanged names, and in this
way enjoyed more independence. For the same reason he kept himself unattached, until 1803
he realised that marriage brought with it land, and land the exclusive rights to food produced
an stored on it...he married into “Blood Royal”, as he is pleased to call it: a chieftain’s
daughter. All his life this would be a source of pride.
He was reduced to beggary in later years, going from one great man to another, and he was
always wistful of his own days of greatness, a chieftain’s son-in-law, adopted son of every
great chief in the Marquesas, a tribal warrior, a pocket Napoleon, a man whose friendship the
great sought after. His Journal ends with the hope that his half noble and only surviving
daughter Ellen will receive the kindly favour of the gentility of England...
The Russians did Robarts the service of publishing the only writing of his that reached print.
This was a letter written in Calcutta to Dr James Hare outlining his career up to 1810....p. 29
Robarts’s Journal written between late 1810 and apparently late 1811. He wrote at the end of
the text that he is 53 years (implying he could be born around 1757).
Robarts’s Journal written between late 1810 and apparently late 1811. Remarkably edited by
ethno-historian Greg Dening in 1974.
II/ What European wars or what in the European wars are or is
actually concerned? Questionable sources and notions
As first sight, things are clear –too clear maybe-: although indirectly
involved in military affairs and very far away from the battlefields (or
seas) this Englishman and this French man show how powerful the
contemporary conflicts (and especially what is sometimes called the
New “One Hundred Years War” between France and England to
describe the persistent warfare between the two nations during a large
XVIIIth century): they are somehow conditioned to hate each other,
including in such a remote and improper place as Nukuhiva.
At first sight, Robarts and Cabris seem to embody the intrusion or
interference of European warfare in Marquesas.
They came with fire weapons, guns or “muskets” as Robarts says. Of
course natives have some too, but the very difference is that they wage
war in different ways than the Marquesans who value individual
performance and recklessness rather than group strategy and efficient
tactics. Robarts claims to have organize battle manoeuvrers and
victory as well as Cabris boasts to have somehow modified the actions
of Marquesans warriors.
This is consistent with what we know on the part played by other
deserters turned “beachcombers”, namely in Tahiti with James
Morrisson, one of the Bounty mutineer, who left a Journal and
Hoggerstein or Hagerstein, a Swedish-born sailor and skilful weapons
user and troops leader, as it seems, to help the Pomare to become
dominant above the former chiefdoms of Tahiti (change in power
Polynesians seem to have some fascination for European weapons and
warfare endowing them with special powers and conceiving them as
able to cure an ailing chief. The weapon being as important as a
magical object, as it could be as an effective war tool.
See Turnbull, 1802 (Tahiti) on Pomaré 1st (1751-1803)
...”c’était le moment de distribuer nos présents pour achever de capter leur bienveillance: ils
ne désiraient que des armes à feu, le reste leur semblait des bagatelles. Pomarri reçut une
espingole qui l’enchanta. Otou qui était resté dans la pirogue eut un fusil: cette distribution lui
déplut; étant par son sang au-dessus de son père, il voulut avoir l’espingole et finit par
l’obtenir. Pomarri se contenta du fusil. Aïddi, de son côté, rejeta avec dédain étoffes, ciseaux,
miroirs, et même les haches, en nous faisant entendre qu’elle était aussi capable qu’un homme
de manier un fusil. Les missionnaires nous avaient déjà instruit qu’elle ne se distinguait pas
moins par son courage personnel, que par son influence dans la politique, et que son
ressentiment était bien plus à craindre que celui de Pomarri. On s’excusa donc de lui avoir
offert ce qu’elle dédaignait, sur ce que les dames anglaises l’auraient préféré, et l’on finit par
lui donner un fusil : elle s’en alla très contente. Parmi les questions que me fit Pomarri, et
dont quelques-unes étaient relatives à la guerre, il me demanda à plusieurs reprises si
quelqu’un de nous savait faire de la poudre à canon. Les révoltés du Bounty lui ayant appris
que c’était une composition ; et non la graine d’une plante comme il l’avait imaginé, il
s’informa si les ingrédients se trouvaient à Taïti. Enfin, il voulut savoir si l’armurier du
vaisseau savait fabriquer des fusils. Sa curiosité et celle de sa femme étaient insatiables… La
maladie contractée par Pomarri ds la dernière campagne, prenait chaque jour un caractère plus
grave et faisait craindre pour sa vie. Il imagina comme dernière ressource, de nous faire
demander par les missionnaires de tirer 2 coups de canon pour apaiser la colère de son dieu.
On y consentit, tant pour faire plaisir à Pomarri que pour obliger les missionnaires dont il
nous paraissait important de maintenir le crédit auprès des Taïtiens, en leur donnant des
marques publiques de notre considération …»
This fascination leading to some striking, both ridiculous and pitiful to
European eyes as writers Max Radiguet and Herman Melville point
out the way chief Iotete (grandson of Keatonui, with whom Robarts
was acquainted) insisted on being dressed the day he welcomed
Amiral Abel Dupetit-Thouars and make official a military presence of
the French in (giving them a piece of land to settle an outpost): Kiatonui
(died in 1818) chief of Teii clan Nuku-Hiva from 1798 to his death and grand-father of
Paetini (beautiful lady met by Porter) and of Temoana. NB: Iotete is Tahuata island chief,
he welcomed admiral Dupetit-Thouars and a french garrison for whom he offered a piece
of land, but soon stroke a war against commandant Halley who was challenging his power.
Defeated, he is dismissed of all his charges and exiled in Hapatoni valley. His nephew
Maheono is in charge after him being his successor.)
Melville mocks, later on in 1842 in his novel Typee the incongruity of Temoana, son of
Keatonui who have to subscribe to French takeover the Haka'iki (Lord in Marquesan
language) of Taiohae, in an admiral's uniform whose image Max Radiguet left us.
See Max Radiguet (1816-1899), “Les Derniers Sauvages, la vie et les moeurs aux îles
Marquises (1842-1857), réed. Les Editions du Pacifique, Papeete, 1981.
(NB: La “Reine-Blanche”, admiral Dupetit-Thouars’ frégate, arrived in Tahuata, on april
28th 1842. Max Radiguet was, as a secretary or “writer” member of the admiral’s staff)
...”Iotete portait dans cette circonstance le costume qui lui avait été donné par les Français,
costume dont les diverses parties formaient entre elles, le plus bizarre désaccord. C'était un
habit du temps de Louis XV, en peluche rouge, galonné sur toutes les coutures et chargé
d'une massive paire d'épaulettes. Un diadème en carton doré, enjolivé de verroteries,
ombragé de plumes peintes, couvrait sa tête et faisait ressortir sa face bleue. Un pantalon
blanc et une chemise complétaient cet accutrement, à l'extravagance duquel s'ajoutait
encore l'obésité du chef. Près de lui se trouvait son neveu Maheono; Ce dernier pouvait
avoir 25 à 30 ans. La disposition de son tatouage dont les bandes horizontales lui
couvraient le nez et la bouche, sa chevelure noire et frisée, qui, contrairement aux
habitudes du pays, s'éparpillait en désordre autour de sa tête, donnaient à sa physionomie,
naturellement expressive un certain caractère de fierté et d'audace. Il était vêtu d'un habit
rouge et d'un pantalon bleu de ciel; quant aux fils du roi, ils portaient tous une chemise de
matelot en étoffe de laine...”
Precisely Napoleon is known, admired and even appropriated in the
Pacific area in early 19th (nineteenth) century:
See Thaddeus Bellingshausen, Journal (1820) Tahiti on Pomaré II (1782-1821)
(NB: Thaddeus Bellinghausen (1778-1835), Otto von Kotzebue’s friend, young navy officer
in charge of charting and drawing maps for Krusentern, head in 1819 of a polar voyage:
departure: July 19th 1819 from Cronstadt, anchored in Tahiti July 22nd 1820: one of the
first evidence on missionary settlement and action there.
: “nous avons mouillé à peu de distance du rivage et il ne faut donc pas longtemps pour que
les pirogues viennent s'amarrer le long du “Vostok”. Le roi se présente le premier à la
passerelle et m'offre d'abord sa main, puis attend que toute sa famille soit montée à bord. je
les invite à descendre dans ma cabine, où ils s'assoient sur les divans. A plusieurs reprises,
le roi répète “Russes, Russes”, puis prononce le nom d'”Alexandre” et finalement
“Napoléon”, après quoi il éclate de rire. Il a cherché sans doute à nous faire comprendre
qu'il a quelques connaissances des affaires européennes....”
See Marie Giovanni (1847) on Pomaré IV (1813-1877)
Marie Giovanni (1804-1872), author of “Journal d'une parisienne”, pretends to be the
young wife of an Italian merchant, in fact a “nom de plume” for vicomtesse de St-Mars,
author of more than 130 books in the XIXth signed as “ Comtesse Dash” (another alias).
Traveled in Pacific area with her navy officer husband, she gave her notes to Alexandre
Dumas wrote the book...: first published in instalments (or “feuilleton”) in the famous
newspaper “Le Siècle”, from March 31st to November 23rd 1855, this successful text had
several editions and translations in New York and in London (Hetzel coll., Bruxelles and
Leipzig, 1855)
“Marie Giovanni” is questioned by Queen Pomare as she is back from New Zealand: ...
“Did you meet Eki-Eki ?- I have been his guest for dinner. –Great man, great warrior! Eki-
Eki, New Zealand Napoléon ! Then she asked me a lot of details on the war, listening very
carefully, showing strong support to New-Zealanders”
Napoleon son of Tonga
Vave of Kolonga (1904) recorded by Lorimer Fison quoted in Sahlins
(Marshall), La découverte du vrai sauvage et autres essais, Gallimard, 2007 (3rd part of
Culture in practice: selected essays, Urzone Inc., New York, 2000 first published in Donna
Merwick (ed.), Dangerous liaisons: Essays in honour of Greg Dening, Parkville, University
of Melbourne, 1994, “ The Discovery of the True Savage”, p. 198-199)
Napoleoni (Napoléon) mother was a strong and beautiful American woman who came to
Tonga at the peak of whaling campaigns in the area and there she became pregnant (with a
tongan as it were) then she came back to Merikei (Amérique) to bring up the son. Some time
later, men from Faranise (France) came to Merikei ask for help against their plague:
Uelingtoni (Wellington) because their High Priest had predicted that they had to find the son
of a “redskin” (I quote) father to be their leader and to vanquish their enemies... of course
Napoleoni had the right supernatural powers and qualities for that... and as it were he stalked
Uelingtoni in various lands and countries until he caught him in a place named Uatalu
(Waterloo) and banished him on a desert island where he died (Uelingtoni, it seems).
What mattered really for Vave was to restore the truth on Napoleni’s birth, as it was hidden
by the Faranise. They say that he was born on the island “where their royal blood came”
(Corsica to be sure), but they lie because Napoléon is Tonga-born
As I hinted before, we have to scrutinize and even to question these
first and hasty, too hasty assertions.
What is prevalent in Tahiti with Morrisson and Hagerstein is not in
Nukuhiva. Fire weapons are scarce and badly functioning. It is not
easy to specify what type of “musket” is used, nevertheless one infer
they were slow to arm with powder much sensitive too high humidity
(a frequent condition in tropic areas) and so very often ineffective.
Fergus Clunie, Fidjian Weapons and Warfare (1977) authoritative thesis on the part of fire
weapons in fidjian History.
He demonstrated that muskets were scarce until late 1820es. Before (between 1804 and 1814)
very few in possession of foreign sailors and beachcombers such as Charlie Savage, studied
by Marshall Sahlins.
Fergus Clunie evinced the minor importance of muskets in fidjian battles then because these
muskets were a type slow to load by the barrel that left a long time for the adversary to attack
with more traditional and efficient weapons), moreover as humidity is high in tropical zone
powder quite often was useless and besides homemade powder charges were, as a rule,
inadequate and the shots most imprecise.
Such things are testified in Tahiti by Frederick W. Beechey , “Relation de Voyage” 1826
See Frederick W. Beechey, Relation de voyage (1826: Tahiti)...
(NB : Beechey is a Royal Navy captain, commanding the Blossom (16 guns, 100 crewmen):
exploring Pacific Ocean especially Pitcairn where he is one of the first to anchor (dec. 1825).
Arrival at Tahiti, on March 18th 1826, stayed there for 40 days.)
“les habitants ne songent aucunement à mettre leur île sur un bon pied de défense bien qu’ils
aient eu souvent à souffrir des incursions de leurs ennemis. Ils ont tout à fait abandonné les
armes dont ils se servaient autrefois dans les combats, et perdu l’adresse nécessaire. Pour les
manier avec avantage. Un certain nombre de mousquets distribués parmi la multitude crée
dans l’île une sécurité imaginaire; mais le mauvais état de ces armes d’Europe, et le manque
de poudre, les rendraient complètement inutiles”...
For instance as late as 1880, Commander Bergasse Dupetit-Thouars,
nephew of the admiral, won a decisive battle against Marquesan
insurgents because their weapons didn’t fire.
Then, in this respect, as far as we can see, it is not exactly the
introduction of new, European weapons that destroyed Marquesan
warfare and fighting capacity, but more profound change that
undermine the very core of their values and social organizing.
Muskets were not an item of trade with Enata (Marquesans) before about 1813. 20 years later
there were several thousand muskets in the islands and musket, ball and powder were the
principal currency for provisioning Aoe (foreign) ships, organizing labour for sandalwood,
finding crew. Almost every warrior had a musket. Haka'iki (lords) at Vaitahu and Taiohae
owned small arsenals. Wanting muskets so much, Enata were willing to adapt their behaviour
to acquire them. This included organizing labour without the usual exchange feasts. It meant
selling pigs which were almost exclusively the currency of Tapu and Koina (Traditional
Marquesan customs and value system). It meant growing crops like sweet potato and
replacing traditional activity such as canoe building with the collection of sandalwood.
Entrepreneurial activity by Enata who were willing to go away as crew on the promise of a
musket, or who owned productive land or who were willing to do constant physical labour
broke the line of authority to the haka'iki. The haka'iki's own entrepreneurial activity broke
the lines of exchange which bound him and his people together by losing for him the capital
of these goods to Aoe (Foreigners). While wars and martial spirit thrived with the muskets,
Koina died away.
We have to bear in mind that our sources are biased and we have to
consider them cautiously: in a few words the national antagonism in
the facts related might be exaggerated, at least some hues have to be
The German-Estonian born Commander Krusentern belonged to a
generation of Russian naval officers who benefited from a British
Royal Navy training that certainly made him especially sensitive to
Robarts condition.
Then but as the relation of Krusentern World Tour was published in
1805, when Tsar Alexander the 1st, grandson of Catherine II “the
Great” was still wavering in the involvement of Russian Empire in the
anti-Napoleonic coalition, the denunciation of the absurdity of FrenchEnglish antagonism was fashionable.
At last, Cabris seemed to be prone to fabrication. He was Bordeauxborn, from Gascony, and probably had exaggeration in his genetic
code. More seriously, during his last years, he earned his life as a
showman and needed to be sensational to draw attention to him from
the public and the powerful ones. As the reactionary Restoration
Regime then ruled and as he had been introduced to king Louis
XVIIIth it was rather smart to claim he was a Quiberon survivor, as
well as to inspire pity pretending he had escaped the horrific English
“pontons” or Prison hulks, made then familiar in all their horrors by
Louis Garneray’s memoirs published in 1810.
Jean Cabris was met by or heard by a number of people who thought him interesting enough
to make some record (Porter 1809, Chaix 1959, Denis 1861, Leroy 1828, Leroy and Dineaux
1829). Bibliog: Porter (Robert Ker), Travelling Sketches in Russia and Sweden During the
Years 1805, 1806, 1807, 1808, 2 vols., 1809./ Chaix (Paul), “Joseph Kabris, matelot bordelais
et prince de Nouka Hiva”, Bulletin Mensuel des Musées et Collections de la ville de Genève./
Leroy (Aimé), Promenades au cimetière de Valenciennes, Valenciennes, 1828./ Leroy (Aimé)
et Dineaux (Arthur), Les hommes et les choses du nord de la France et du midi de la
Belgique, 1829 (Langsdorff, 1813-14: XIII-XIV; Vincendon-Dumoulin and Desgraz, 1843:
357. Robert Ker Porter met Cabris during his travels in Russia. Cabris filled Porter's evidently
willing ear with much romantic fiction, and they both wept copious tears over his sad story.
Porter's account (1809, II: 40-50) is inaccurate on almost all points.
There is some “britannization” of Robarts as well: reduced to beggary
at the end of his life in Bengal, expecting some aid and care from
British authorities, he was, for sure, rather prone to insist on his
Nevertheless there are some reasons to persist on being convinced of a
real impact of contemporary European wars
III/ How effective an impact for European wars? A substance
A connection has to be made with a case rather similar to Cabris and
Robarts’ one. It took place at the turn of 20th century in the
neighbouring island of Ua Uka staging on the one hand...
Joseph-Napoléon Fournier (1860-1918)
A gendarme whose post had been cut out and chose to stay there in Ua Uaka where he had
bought lands.
He is on bad (even on worse) terms with another colon
Théodore Lichtlé (1858-1922)
He left his native Alsace taken over by Prussians after 1870, forgetting to ask for french
citizenship. This is the reason why he was treated as a « boche » (a very pejorative way as you
know for French to name Germans). Nevertheless French administration had enough
confidence on an orderly and well-famed Litché to entrust him with the island registry office);
for this reason out of anger Fournier refused to register the birth of one of his children
(BAILLEUL (Michel), LES ILES MARQUISES, histoire de la Terre des Hommes Fenua Enata du XVIIIe siècle
à nos jours, Cahiers du Patrimoine [Histoire], Ministère de la Culture de Polynésie française, 2001, p. 140.)
This last case leads me not exactly to dismiss the relevance of the
impact of contemporary European wars. For Cabris and Robarts and
for Lichtlé and Fournier, the conflicts and tensions existing in Europe
actually mattered, counted and weighed as identity construction
levers. The two of them were virtual « nobodies » in the social and
cultural organization of the overwhelming Marquesan population
around, as people from France and Europe were exceptions. Fournier
was married to a Tahitian and not to a Marquesan woman. Neither of
them were probably churchgoers (I still have to verify the point)
Fournié, as a “libre-penseur”, rather atheist let us say, former
gendarme and Lichtlé because he was protestant-born and educated in
a strongly catholicized archipelago. In such circumstances, fighting
each other theatrically was a way to assert their existence and to resist
to the un-settling and anxiety-inducing situation, both of them had to
This is somehow consistent with the conclusions drawn on the field of
clinical psychology by studies such as Maurice Duval’s one: Ni morts,
ni vivants, marins ! (Duval (Maurice), Ni morts, ni vivants, marins ! Pour une
ethnologie du hui-clos, Controverses ethnologies, P.U.F., 1998) that displayed the
mechanisms with whom the crews, owing to tradition and necessity,
succeed in managing satisfactory relationships and avoiding or
limiting conflicts in very small communities living and working in a
dangerous and stressful conditions. That was precisely not the case for
Cabris and Robarts in Nukuhiva and for Fournié and Lichtlé, later on,
in Ua Uka.
As a conclusion, I mean to emphasize 3 (three) items
1-Rather obviously, as early as the beginning of the 19th c. the world is
already global and we have to think Europe and European conflicts
somehow as planet-wide in their impact, far beyond the sole colonial
2-A major stake for today historians in Pacific area is to understand
the pace and the very nature of the change induced by this
globalization, especially as war is concerned. It is really a major
challenge, because these historians face entangled actual multicultural societies and, at the same time, active renewed or re-shaped
native identities, native awareness and, of course, grievances.
3-Viewing war as exclusively destructive or devastating may be
wrong. As far as we can see in Cabris' and Robarts' case it has a
constructive -although not exactly positive- capacity. For them, who
were placed in a remote and stressful environment, the reference to
European conflicts might have provided to both of them (who were
expatriated and somehow outcasts among Marquesans) a purpose and
a behaviour pattern transforming their marginal status and making it
less un-bearable and less psychologically challenging, I think.
Bailleul (Michel), LES ILES MARQUISES, histoire de la Terre des Hommes Fenua Enata du XVIIIe siècle à nos
jours, Cahiers du Patrimoine [Histoire], Ministère de la Culture de Polynésie française, 2001.
Clunie (Fergus) Fidjian Weapons and Warfare (1977)
Denoon (Donald) dir., The Cambridge History of The Pacific Islanders, Cambridge U. P., 1997, p.147
sur “perversion” paradis, p. 188-90 (sur influence Européens ds evolution guerre) p.190 (sur
connaissance Napoléon)
Despoix (Philippe), Le monde mesuré, Dispositifs de l’exploration à l’âge des Lumières, Droz, Genève,
Duval (Maurice), Ni morts, ni vivants, marins ! Pour une ethnologie du huis-clos,
Controverses ethnologies, P.U.F., 1998.
Guéhennec (Constant), « NukuHiva-Terre des hommes-Langage des hommes-Le document
Langsdorff », Bulletin de la Société des Etudes Océaniennes, n°311, Décembre 2007, pp. 474.
Kabris (Joseph) and Terrell (Jennifer), “Joseph Kabris and his notes on the Marquesas”, The Journal of
Pacific History, Vol. 17, n°2 (Apr., 1982), pp. 101-112.
Blais (Hélène), Voyages au Grand Océan, geographies du Pacifique et colonisation 1815-1845, CTHS
géographie 4, Paris, 2005. 254-59 sur prise de possession, 257 sur Iotete)
Bourguet (Marie-Noëlle), « L’explorateur » dans Vovelle (Michel) dir., L’homme des Lumières, Seuil,
1996, pp.285-346.
Thomas (Nicholas), Marquesan Societies, Inequality and Poltical Transformation in eastern Polynesia,
Oxford U.P., 1990 (Kabris, 122; Robarts, 38, 44-6, 52-3, 122, 141, 169, 172, 189.
Thomas (Nicholas), “Le roi de Tahuata”, Iotete and the Transformation of South Marquesan Politics,
1826-1842”, The Journal of Pacific History, vol. 21, n°1 (jan., 1986, pp.3-20.
Duval (Maurice), Ni morts, ni vivants, marins ! Pour une ethnologie du huis-clos,
Controverses ethnologies, P.U.F., 1998 p. 36 Marc Augé distingue un « lieu » qui « peut se
définir comme identitaire, relationnel et historique » d’un « espace » « qui ne peut se définir
ni comme identitaire, ni comme relationnel, ni comme historique » et qu’il qualifie de « nonlieu » (Non-lieux. Introduction à une anthropologie de la surmodernité, Paris, Le Seuil,
1992). P ; 76 élaboration d’un tps affectif du souvenir , bulle étanhe ds temps de travil en
promiscuité ave ouverture d’un espace autre de plus p. 79 : « …le danger, on pourrait dire
« le mal », ds les représentations, permet d’identifier les problèmes que se pose un groupe, et
peu importe d’ailleurs ds ce cas leur degré de réalité… (auj. l’Autre, l’étranger) p.80 … pour
les marins, le danger vient de la mer, ce qui les incite à s’enclore et fait d’eux des hommes
d’intérieur… » sur le danger des états de transition (M. Douglas, De la souillure. Essai sur les
notions de pollution et de tabou, Paris, Maspero, 1981) p.100 différences culturelles
territoriales mis en avant alors que stratégies évitement de la polémique pq huis-clos par
ailleurs : on évite constitution équipages mixtes septentrionaux/ méridionaux mais //
affirmation identités intra-bretonnes par Bretons. p.101 « Les plaisanteries centrées sur le
rapport aux épouses, leur autorité et le sexe unifient le groupe en mettant l’accent sur les traits
culturels partagés par tous. Au contraire, les plaisanteries portant sur les différences
culturelles mettent en évidence les dissensions ds le registre de la différence, sans pour autant
mettre en danger la solidarité grâce à la nature même de la plaisanterie. En remplaçant la
notion de « drame » par celle d’opposition », on pourrait appilquer ici la formule de C ;
Bromberger : « Moyen corrosif de disqualification de l’Autre, la moquerie consacre et atténue
tt à la fois l’intensité du drame » (Bromberger (Ch), « La moquerie, dires et pratiques », Le
monde alpin et rhodanien, n°3-4 .p. 136 huis-clos modifie les limites de l’intimité =>
proximité : échange mais // génératrice de conflits.

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