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Marquesas Islands

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New Bedford Whaling Museum Benjamin Russell

Music of the South Pacific, "Laulau Siva"

The Marquesas Islands are a group of eleven volcanic islands in French Polynesia, in the southern region of the Pacific Ocean. The highest point is Mount Oave on Ua Pu island. The first recorded settlers of the Marquesas were Polynesians, who arrived from the islands of Tonga and Samoa. Tahiti is 852 miles away and the west coast of Mexico is 3,000 miles away. The islands have a combined land mass of 405 square miles and are thought to have formed by a center of upwelling magma called the Marquesas hotspot. The climate is dry, and subject to drought conditions due to the easterly winds that develop from the Humbolt Current. Some of the islands were uninhabited and described as being beautiful, with velvet jungle, thick with palms, bananas, and mangos. The coastlines do not have coral reefs, so the waves roll uninterrupted. During the 1840s, both Protestant and Catholic missionaries attempted to influence the native population.

By the 1880s most Marquesans held Catholic beliefs and trade developed a more organized economy. As a deserter from a whaleship, American author Herman Melville spent time among the cannibal tribe, Taipi on the Marquesan island Nuka Hiva in the Marquesas. His experiences in the Marquesas formed the basis for his novel, "Typee".

Whalers who arrived there may have heard traditional music such as that found on other islands in the South Pacific. To hear a clip of music from the Samoan islands, click on the "play music" button above.

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