This blog accompanies Bronwen Douglas’ and Elena Govor’s Historical Journal article ‘Eponymy, encounters, and local knowledge in Russian place naming in the Pacific Islands, 1804–1830‘.

I wear two historical hats: the history of encounters between Indigenous inhabitants and European incomers in Oceania from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries; and the history of science, specifically the natural history of man and the science of race. They come together because I see changing Euro-American notions of human differences not simply as abstract ideas generated in the metropoles, but as praxis grounded in situated local encounters. I argue that traces of Indigenous presence are imbedded in travellers’ representations of such encounters. Over the past two decades, I have added drawings and maps to the historian’s staple of written or printed documents.

The present article joins this expertise to Elena Govor’s profound knowledge of Russian materials on Oceania. Our umbrella theme is the poorly known contributions of early nineteenth-century Russian navigators and mapmakers to global cartographic knowledge of the far-flung Marshall, Caroline, and Tuamotu archipelagoes. A particular focus is the varied extent to which Russian place names registered local agency during encounters or drew on navigational knowledge divulged by expert Indigenous practitioners.

A powerful Indigenous presence in our article is a Caroline Islander known to members of Kotzebue’s expedition as Kadu, met in the Ratak chain of the Marshall Islands, which he reached several years earlier after months adrift in a canoe. Kadu joined the Russian vessel for an eight-month cruise in 1817. Though ‘not of noble birth’ and not a trained navigator, he had travelled widely by canoe as envoy of the ‘king’ of Woleai, between the Palau Islands in the far west and the Nomoi (Mortlock) Islands in the central Carolines – a linear distance of more than 2,000 km. His wider inherited geographical knowledge, recorded in the ‘songs, in different languages, which he sung’, spanned much of Micronesia, to Guam in the north and the Marshall Islands in the east (see map).[1]

These voyagers greatly valued the information Kadu supplied about the geography, people, and languages of the Carolines, which they did not visit, and his name, portrait, knowledge, and exploits recur in their narratives. He thus won renown amongst educated metropolitan readers and subsequent Pacific voyagers.

A decade later, Kotzebue’s compatriot Lütke inquired assiduously about Kadu on his home island of Woleai, but no one knew him by that name or recognized his portrait. However, the picture displayed by Lütke was not the naturalistic lithograph published in the narrative of the voyage artist Choris, but an appropriation of Choris’s likeness engraved for Kotzebue’s narrative (compare images below). The engraving ‘civilizes’ Kadu with elegant European dress and racializes him with Roman nose and thin lips, befitting a man so admired by urbane gentlemen. It is little wonder that the portrait was unrecognized in Woleai, especially if, as Lütke admitted was possible, the name Kadu was unknown there because he adopted it in Ratak.[2]

Louis Choris, ‘Kadou, habitant des îles Carolines’, lithograph, in Voyage pittoresque autour du monde … (Paris, 1822), plate 17, National Library of Australia, Canberra, PIC Volume 590 #S6736, http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-136173698Clark after Louis Choris, 'Kadu', engraving, in Otto von Kotzebue, A Voyage of Discovery, into the South Sea and Beering's Straits, for the Purpose of Exploring a North-east Passage, Undertaken in the Years 1815-1818 ... in the Ship Rurick ... (London, 1821), vol. 3, frontispiece, National Library of Australia, Canberra, NK 921

Lütke was paternalistically sympathetic to Islanders and admired their navigational expertise. Yet he seemed affronted that a humble Islander, whose portrait graced the widely published narrative of an eminent Russian navigator, should seemingly be unremembered at home. Taking for granted the intellectual superiority of ‘the civilized’ over ‘savages’, Lütke infantilized Indigenous people by attributing this imagined amnesia to the ‘fickle mind of the South Sea Islanders’, who, ‘much more than us’, quickly ‘forgot’ absent persons lost at sea.[2]

Read Bronwen Douglas’ Historical Journal article for free here


Main Image and Image 1: Anon. , ‘Federated States of Micronesia’, (2013), PAT

Image 2: Louis Choris, ‘Kadou, habitant des îles Carolines’, lithograph, in Voyage pittoresque autour du monde … (Paris, 1822), plate 17, National Library of Australia, Canberra, PIC Volume 590 #S6736, http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-136173698

Image 3: Clark after Louis Choris, ‘Kadu’, engraving, in Otto von Kotzebue, A Voyage of Discovery, into the South Sea and Beering’s Straits, for the Purpose of Exploring a North-east Passage, Undertaken in the Years 1815-1818 … in the Ship Rurick … (London, 1821), vol. 3, frontispiece, National Library of Australia, Canberra, NK 921


Composite references

[1] Adelbert von Chamisso, ‘Remarks and opinions, of the naturalist of the voyage’, in Otto von Kotzebue, A Voyage of Discovery, into the South Sea and Beering’s Straits … (London, 1821), vol. 3, pp. 97-8, 102, 106, 110-11.

[2] Frédéric Lütke, Voyage autour du monde …: Partie historique (Paris, 1835-6), vol. 2, pp. 147-8, 301, 322.

 

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