Breadfruit, the Bounty and the silent tradition of the women of Pitcairn

Have you ever heard of breadfruit? Would you believe me if I told you that this species of fruit that grows in the Pacific was at the heart of colonialisation during the 18th century? Pitcairn is synonymous with mutiny, breadfruit, cultural reprisal, integration of culture and cultural hybridity. To tell a history of colonization, one must mention the role of breadfruit in accomplishing trade routes and networks of colonies in the South Pacific to the West Indies. The dispersal of breadfruit (a name derived from the Oceania fruits texture and described taste of being like ‘baked bread’!) is strictly correlated to human seafaring activities.
Colonization; the word itself invokes images of ships, immense cargos, rendezvous sailors, exotic islands and flourishing trade routes and networks. Colonization is racial and discriminatory in theory, and cruel in practice. The process involves the idea of settling amongst and cementing control over the lives, cultures and areas of land of indigenous peoples. The repercussions of colonialisation is far and outstanding. In history, trade and colonialisation go hand in hand. Also in this history, the silence of women is apparent.
The Royal Navy vessel HMS Bounty is the catalyst in understanding and researching the impacts of colonization on native indigenous peoples in the South Pacific, especially Pitcairn. Pitcairn is an enigma to historicity, a pivotal marker in understanding the history of slavery and empire, and a crucial case study in exploring hybrid and mixed indigenous and western cultures. Pitcairn is a community of Anglo-Tahitian descendants from the 1787 voyage of the HMS Bounty to Tahiti required to collect and transport a cargo of breadfruit plants to the West Indies. Captained by Bligh and manned by history’s and pop-cultures most infamous Fletcher Christian and his band of mutineers, the tale of the Bounty, a seemingly all man driven narrative, is veiled and empowered by the mutineer genre. This genre, can hinder one’s interpretation on the actions and roles of women, particularly the Tahitian women taken by the mutineers for resettlement at Pitcairn.
I know what you are thinking, why would women be important in telling this mutineer tale on breadfruit and colonization on Pitcairn specifically and more broadly the South Pacific? Essentially, the women are crucial in understanding the impact of colonization on mixed-cultures and in understanding the reprisal of traditional indigenous practice and customs on Pitcairn. These Tahitian women adapted their cultural practices in resettlement resulting in aesthetic innovations of tapa making (bark cloth), that are unique to the island of Pitcairn. As the telling of history can be male dominated the roles and actions of women can take a ‘back seat’ in history. This “back seat” in history ignores the role of these women in creating the foundations of settlement and new culture (I would say, ensuring survival as well); and the generations of female descendants (of these Polynesian women and Bounty mutineers) who have struggled to have an historical representation that is representative of the role of the female Polynesian community on Pitcairn and Norfolk.
To tell the early history of Pitcairn, the Bounty and breadfruit are drivers in this narrative. But to generations of female Anglo-Tahitian Bounty descendants, empowering the role of their foremothers through the language of technology and design are just as important. Thee historian can see markers of cultural movement, communication and legacy between the Polynesian Islands through the silent, yet intangibly loud archaeological record of the tapa.
Breadfruit panel: http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-135498865/view
For more detailed history on Pitcairn: http//www.government.pn/Pitcairnshistory.php

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