Further to our posting on our Adventures of Triple P website featuring the lovely, but slightly overdressed, Miss Tahiti, Hinatea Boosie, we feel that, as the snow starts to fall outside we can do with some more summery loveliness from the South Seas.
Much (if not all) of the image of Polynesian girls as smiling, beautiful, willing innocents, living a life of uninhibited free love in their tropical paradise, comes to us from the first European accounts of contacts with the islanders in the eighteenth century.
The importance of the fact that many of these first contacts were made by the French mustn’t be underestimated. Compared with British explorers accounts the French writers uninhibited descriptions of the women they discovered focus much more on the local girls’ charms than their stuffy British equivalents.
Bougainville’s two ships anchored off Tahiti
Travelling with Bougainville was Charles Orthon, Prince de Nassau-Siegen who had had an exciting encounter with a jaguar during a stop in South America. An even more exciting encounter awaited him on Tahiti.On April 7th 1768 Nassau-Siegen recorded the following experience:
“These Indians offered us women as being the objects they most cherished, undeniably these well deserved this distinction. They each in turn used all their charms to please us. Here is one example. I was strolling in a charming place, carpets of greenery, pleasant groves, the gentle murmur of streams inspired love in this delicious spot. I was caught there by the rain. I sheltered in a small house where I found six of the prettiest girls in the locality.
Other European ships found similar enticements but many of the British officers refused to be tempted (or else failed to write about it!). The same could not be said of the sailors, who were delighted to find these young girls being offered to them from canoes or have them swim out to their ships. The effect on sailors who had been on board ship for months having young, topless or naked girls greeting them can be well imagined.
These actions changed the nature of the islands and the lives of their women. Initial reports seem to indicate that girls were offered to the captains and officers by the elders as a sort of welcome gift (like a basket of fruit in your hotel, perhaps). The Tahitians soon worked out western hierarchy.
The sailors, however, wanted the same treatment as their officers and the locals quickly realised that by using the girls to provide sexual favours they could elicit goods in return. The frigates of the time must have seemed like magical vessels compared with the locals outrigger canoes and they were stuffed with previously unseen items. The effect would have been very like an aliens paceship landing on earth today. Their knowledge of what the wider woirld was changed in an instant.
“A much determined hand guided by love made its course towards two upright and burgeoning fruits as deserving as those of Helen’s of serving as models of the highest sort and this because of their incomparable shape and beauty of their form. By fortune’s gift, the hand then travelled onwards and fell upon hidden lures under the covering of a band of their cloth, which soon was removed by the girl herself who revealed herself to our eyes as naked as Eve before the fall.”
After nine days on this paradise the French moved on to Samoa and what would become known as the New Hebrides. The expedition returned to France on March 16th 1769 and the accounts written of the voyage essentially created the reputation of Tahiti and Polynesia as a paradise of beauty, abundance and sensuality.
There was an interesting footnote to the voyage. The botanist Philibert Commerçon was with the expedition and his valet and assistant, Jean Baré had been helping him take samples whenever they made landfall. In Brazil they discovered a flowering vine which they named Bougainvillea, after the captain.
However, when Baré landed on Tahiti he was immediately surrounded by locals who declared that he was a woman. Back on board Baré confessed that he was really Jeanne not Jean. She, therefore, went on to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. How the Tahitians could spot this immediately whilst a shipload of Frenchmen, who had been cooped up with her for over a year did not, is an interesting question.
Polynesian princess Poedooa from one of Captain Cook’s voyages by John Webber 1777
Many of the crew formed relationships with the local girls and there was so much promiscuity among the crew that no less than eighteen officers and men, including Fletcher Christian, needed treatment for venereal diseases. Christian, a friend of Bligh’s family from England, formed a particularly close relationship with a local girl called Mauatua who he christened Isabella, after an old girlfriend.
Marlon Brando, who played captain Bligh in the 1962 film was not so resistant and fell for his Polynesian co-star, Tarita, during the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962). She became his long term girlfriend and the mother of his children.
Shortly after leaving the island the crew of the Bounty mutinied against Captain William Bligh (who had been Cook’s sailing master) and many returned to their local women on Tahiti. Another group kidnapped local women and took them to Pitcairn Island where their descendants live to this day. Although leaving their women was not a direct cause of the mutiny it is arguable that the crews relaxed attitude as they enjoyed their bucolic time on Tahiti contributed to Bligh’s increasingly aggressive and inflexible behaviour.
However, if you had sailed half way around the world in terrible conditions and had probably never seen a naked woman in your life (even if you were married – houses were cold and people dressed up for bed) then being confronted with women arriving by canoe like this was going to change your priorities somewhat.
In 1904 French photographer Lucien Gauthier went to live on Tahiti and his photographs of the charms of the local girls were popular souvenirs for the increasing number of tourists to the islands
Here is an early French postcard of a lady from Papeete, which is the capital of not only Tahiti but the whole of French Polynesia.
Even before the end of the war the appeal of Polynesian women was being fixed inyo the consciousness of those at home: particularly the girls left behind. Esquire’s 1943 calendar carried this illustration by Vargas and the accompanying verse.
This June I would have married
but an ocean stepped between,
I hope no sultry so and so
has landed my marine.
Other pin up artists of the time latched onto the Polynesian girl too and in 1949 Al Moore produced this fine not not very ethnic example.
Two years later he produced this black haired (but blue eyed) grass-skirted lovely for the 1951 Esquire calendar.
In 1954 Life magazine photographer Eliot Elifoson travelled around the South Seas and took a series of pictures that appeared in a January 1955 pictorial entitled Voyages to Paradise.
Although most of the pictures were reportage or landscapes, needless to say Life used one of his shots of a naked Polynesian girl for their cover picture.
Inside there were several more shots of naked Polynesian girls too. This one, including the exposed profile of a dark nipple, is pretty bold for a magazine in 1955 but Life could get away with it due to the documentary nature of the piece and the fact that the girl was ethnic.
Other pictures he took on this trip subsequently appeared elsewhere and offer us more gratuitously undressed island girls.
Polynesian girls remained a favourite of mens’ magazines in the sixties, seventies and eighties as well. Here from 1966 Playboy’s December issue featured the Girls of Tahiti. Many of them were Caucasian but we got a few striking ethic girls too. You can find some more of them in another post here.
Ocean liner operators and airlines were well aware of the key attractions of Polynesia to their potential clients in the golden age of travel from the thirties to the sixties. Some of them even showed the landscape but not many!
Even today half dressed, smiling, long-haired beauties feature disproportionately in tourist advertising. Tahiti being French, half-naked girls on postcards are also popular!
A rather effective modern postcard from Tahiti
Another postcard you can buy on Tahiti
One of the strongest cultural images of Tahiti today is the ōteʻa dance often, these days, performed by lines of girls in grass skirts (or, more likely, synthetic ones) with the only musical accompaniment being drumming. In the old days of course, there was no need to wear an inauthentic bikini top.
It is a faster, more aggressive dance than the more stately Hawaiian Hula and features rapid hip movement contrasting with graceful arm movements.