Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia


Shortlist year: 2020

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: William Collins an imprint of HarperCollins Publishing

For more than a millennium, Polynesians occupied the remotest islands in the Pacific Ocean, an enormous triangle stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand to Easter Island. Sailing in large, double-hulled canoes, they were the first and, until the era of European discovery, the only people ever to have reached this part of the globe. Today, they are widely acknowledged as the world's greatest navigators.

But how did these ancient mariners find all these islands? A thrilling intellectual detective story, 'Sea People' combines the thrill of exploration, the wonder of pursuit, and the drama of a gripping historical puzzle.

About the author

 Christina Thompson

Christina Thompson

Christina Thompson is the editor of Harvard Review and the author of 'Sea People', winner of the 2019 NSW Premier's General History Prize, and 'Come on Shore' and 'We will Kill and Eat You All: A New Zealand Story', which was shortlisted for the 2009 Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction and the 2010 William Saroyan International Prize for Writing.

Judges’ comments

This book will become the standard account of where the Polynesian people came from and how they settled the Pacific. But that is not its only narrative for Thompson also relates a damning story of how the cultural and racial bias of Western explorers and later scholars led them to misunderstand the origins, nature and occupation history of Polynesians. With a neat sense of irony Thompson demonstrates how Polynesian oral traditions have proven to be more accurate than European discourses on the subject.

Thompson not only relates an important narrative but she does it in a compelling way. This is a book that is difficult to put down. Descriptions of her own travels to important sites of Polynesian migration and accounts of recent voyages duplicating those of ancient Polynesian mariners not only become fascinating stories in themselves but also allow her to reflect on Polynesian achievement, European folly and the tragedies that often resulted when the two civilisations clashed.