History of the Pitcairn Islands

The history of the Pitcairn Islands is a hidden tale waiting to be told. Its history tells of a great intertwining clash between Pacific and Colonial cultures. The famous movie ‘The Mutiny on the Bounty’ dramatizes the 1790 colonisation of the Pitcairn Islands by nine British mutineers, including Fletcher Christian, Ned Young, John Adams, Matthew Quintal and William McCoy, with nineteen kidnapped pacific islanders including one young female child. The Pitcairn Islands had been inhabited briefly prior to 1790 as a trading port but when the Bounty arrived there were no inhabitants and seemed to have ceased to be a working trading port.
The unique colony soon came upon many issues including division of the land, violence and disease. Various accounts detail that the land was divided up by only the mutineers resulting in the islander men being forced into the role of servants. This produced many tensions between the colonial and islander men. This combined with the low number of women resulted in violence and an attempted massacre in 1793. This attempted massacre resulted in the population of Pitcairn being made up of Young, Adams, Quintal and McCoy and ten islander women with their descendants. By 1800, the Pitcairn Islands were made up of one colonial (John Adams) and ten pacific islander women as well as many children.
Despite the women outnumbering the men on Pitcairn much of Pitcairn’s history is written from a male colonial perspective. Even the names of the women were very much unknown. For the first ten to twenty years the Pitcairn Islands had little to no contact with the outside world. When the Pitcairn Island colony finally came in contact with various European and American ships, the crew only interacted with the lone colonial remaining. Much of the writings praise the lone colonial and his deceased crew. Many of the writings also, both fiction and not, focused on Fletcher Christian’s forbidden love with an islander woman as well as the mutiny and overthrowing of the Bounty.
This massive silencing of the female voice is only recently being discussed. Their voices are now being heard through the various pieces of tapa cloth scattered across the globe. The tapa cloth was given by the women to various visiting ships and crew. Hidden within them was the secret of their history. The tapa cloth represents a combination of continuing traditional islander culture and an adaption to a new environment. This representation can also be said to reflect the society of the Pitcairn Islands. Its inhabitants and surviving culture is a hybrid of islander and colonial cultures with unique adaption to the environment of the Pitcairn Islands.

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