Volume 110 2001 > Volume 110, No. 2 > Exploding sky or exploded myth? The origin of Papalagi, by Jan Tent and Paul Geraghty, p 171-214
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The origin of the name Papalagi …, cannot be traced with ease. How the name came into existence, who invented or coined it, where and when it began to be used, is purely conjectural; and only through some factual incidents or circumstances could its origin be accepted as true or reasonably logical (Tuiteleleapaga 1980:36-37).

The origin of the Western Polynesian papāalagi~pālagi, and the Fijian vāvālagi~pāpālagi, 1 currently meaning ‘land of white people’ or ‘white people, Europeans’, 2 has been speculated on for at least 150 years. In this paper we review in detail the past and present meanings of the word, evaluate the various theories of its origins, and conclude by presenting our own theory.

The distribution of the word in its modern sense is:


  • Dumont D'Urville 1827(1834 Vol. 15), papa langui ‘Blancs, hommes blacs’[Whites, white men].
  • Churchward (1959), papālangi ‘European, (person) belonging to any white-skinned race’.
  • See also Hale 1840 (1968 [1846]:321), Shumway (1971:424).


  • Sperlich (1997), pālagi ‘European’. var. pāpālagi, papalagi. See also McEwen (1970).

East Uvea:

  • Bataillon 1870 (1932), papalagi ‘Européens. Les blancs en général’ [Europeans. Whites in general].
  • Rensch (1984), papālagi ‘Européen, nom donné aux blancs’ [European, name given to whites].

East Futuna:

  • Grézel (1878), papalagi ‘étranger, Européen; peuple civilisé’ [stranger, European; civilised people].
  • Moyse-Faurie (1993), papālagi ‘un étranger; un Europēen (actuellement)’ [a stranger; a European (nowadays)].
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Samoa: 3

  • Hale 1840 (1968 [1846]:321), papalagi ‘foreign, foreigner (applied to whites)’.
  • Milner (1966), papālagi ‘European, white man’.
  • Hovdhaugen (1987:187), pālagi ‘European, white man. This shortened form of papālagi is very common. Sometimes the reduction of the initial (reduplicated?) syllable results in a geminated p in the beginning of the word’.
  • See also Pratt (1911[1862]), Newell (1893).


  • Hale 1840 (1968 [1846]:363), papalagi ‘foreigner’.
  • Office of Tokelau Affairs (1986), papālagi ‘white man, Caucasian, (also pālagi)’.


  • Vaitupu: Hale 1840 (1968 [1846]:363), papalagi ‘foreigner’.
  • Nanumea: Jackson (1994), pālagi ‘European, foreigner, white person’.
  • See also Ranby (1980).


  • Lieber and Dikepa (1974), baalangi ‘European, American’.


  • Firth (1985), papalangi ‘white person; white man's country. (Prob. loan word but of long usage)’.


  • Lockerby 1809 (Schütz 1985:568), wankey ne pappilangi [i.e., waqa ni papālagi] ‘a ship’ [as opposed to a canoe].
  • Richardson 1811 (Schütz 1985:577-81), Pappelange ‘a white man or ghost’; Goro ne pappelange [i.e., kuro ni papālagi] ‘an iron pot’; Moley ne pappelange [i.e., moli ni papālagi] ‘a lemon’; Callou ne pappelange [i.e., kalou ni papālagi, lit. ‘spirit of white man’] ‘a watch’.
  • Capell 1941 (1968), kai Vavalagi ‘European’.
  • See also Gaimard 1827 (Schütz 1985:595), Endicott 1829 (1923:71), Hale 1840 (1968 [1846]:420), 4 Hazlewood (1850), Neyret (1935).

Although the word papālagi was recorded in the 1773 Tongan word lists of Forster/Anderson and Pickersgill/Anderson (in Lanyon-Orgill 1979), the first textual use that we are aware of dates from 1777, when Captain James Cook wrote in Tonga:

For what reason I know not, but they call our Ships Towacka no papalangie and us Tangata no papalangie; that is cloth ships and cloth men (Beaglehole 1967:178).

The reference to ‘cloth’ we will return to below. 5

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George Vason in Tonga (1797-1801). The next recorded use of papālagi comes from George Vason, a 24 year-old bricklayer from Nottingham, who went as a missionary to Tonga aboard the London Missionary Society's ship, the Duff. During his almost five year sojourn there, he adopted a completely Tongan way of life, even taking two Tongan wives. His narrative states:

The young men, as they passed, would ask, “Whose abbee [house] is this?” Others would reply, “Tongatta pappa langee,” “It belongs to the man from the sky,” or “Moola [i.e., muli],” “it is the stranger's.” As I walked through my plantations, or in the neighbourhood, the people would say, “Oyewa, pappa langee goohou,” “well, see the man from the sky is coming” (Orange 1840:140).

Further on the term is used adjectivally:

Notwithstanding I spoke the language fluently, yet discerning a difference of tone and accent, he turned around and said, “Koe vacca, pappa langee goo he hen, C ahoo tolou [i.e., koe vaka papalangi kuo 'i heni 'aho tolu].” “There is a ship of your's here and it has been here these three days” (Orange 1840:192).

William Mariner in Tonga (1806-1810). Another early use of papālagi is found in William Mariner's account of his four year sojourn in Tonga:

All this Mr. Mariner collected partly by their gestures, and afterwards more fully when he understood their language, and conversed with this man, who always prided himself upon his knowledge of the use of a watch, calling himself a Papalangi (an European) [sic] (Martin 1818 I:59).

In the following citation, it carries the meaning ‘land of the white people’, although this meaning is not found in Tongan dictionaries:

Most on board, however, thought that this was a trick of Mr. Mariner to get them out to some distant land, that he might afterwards escape to Papalangi; and even Finow began to doubt his sincerity (Martin 1818 II:45).

Samuel Patterson in Fiji. At about the same time, the American sailor Samuel Patterson used the word on a number of occasions in the account of his shipwreck in Fiji in 1808:

These people were well shaped, and of comely features in many instances, their hair black and naturally straight, and their skin of a copper colour, - 174 excepting in a single instance we saw one who was white amongst them [i.e., an albino], as Steere and myself were walking out, he was in company with a large collection, and I thinking he was an European and being overjoyed, cried out, How fare you, shipmate? but the savages broke out in a great laughter, saying, taw haw, haw haw, peppa longa Feegee, peppa longa Feegee; that is, white man of Feegee (Patterson 1817:92-93).

While lying in this situation these cannibals would often come and feel of my legs and tell me peppa longa sar percolor en deeni [i.e., papālagi sā bokola dina], that is, white man you are good to eat (Patterson 1817:95).

I then asked them where they thought we came from; and they pointed up to the sun, and said, peppa longa tooranga martinasinger [i.e., papālagi tūraga matanisiga], that is, white men are chiefs from the sun (Patterson 1817:96).

By this time the canoe with the natives came up with us, and they seeing we were white men cried out, taw haw, haw haw, peppa longa na wanka matta [i.e., papālagi ni waqa mate], that is the white men of the ship that was broke (Patterson 1817:103).

William Cary in Fiji. William Cary, who was shipwrecked in Lau in 1825, used the word adjectivally when he wrote:

One day I was in the house casting a lead pipe for the chief [of Rewa], when suddenly he called out “awanker parpalong sarla comy!” [i.e., a waqa papālagi sā lako mai] (the white man's vessel has come)! (Cary 1972[1887]:37).

Captain Jules Dumont D'Urville in Fiji. The Frenchman Captain Dumont D'Urville who visited Fiji in 1827 wrote:

Les habitans de Viti sont des Kaī-Biti, ceux de Tonga des Kaī-Tonga, et les Européens des Kaī-Papaling [The inhabitants of Viti are Kaī-Biti, those of Tonga Kaī-Tonga, and the Europeans Kaī-Papaling] (Dumont D'Urville 1834:426).

The Reverend John Williams in Samoa (1830,1832). During the same period, the missionary John Williams used the word in his account of his two visits to Samoa:

“Can the religion of these wonderful papalangis be anything but wise and good?” said our friend to his naked countrymen, who by this time had filled the deck, and who, with outstretched necks and gaping mouths, were eagerly catching the words as they fell from his lips:…

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Startled with the appearance of the foot with a stocking on, he whispered to Fauea, “What extraordinary people these papalangis are; they have no toes as we have!” (Williams 1842:86).

In a footnote, Williams glosses Papalangis as ‘Foreigners’ and, several pages later, uses papalangi adjectivally:

Everything being prepared, we proceeded to the chief's large dancing house, where we found a great concourse of people waiting to witness this important interview with le alii papalangi, or the English kings (Williams 1842:89).

Williams also records the lyrics of a Samoan song in which the word occurs:

Fua o le toelau nei ê ngalo
la manatua mai le nuu lotu a Sina
Toe ole malo, ma le Atua ua tasi
Sa i mea u ma faiva o papalagni (Moyle 1984:152-53).

In a footnote Moyle (1984:152) offers as a possible reconstruction and translation:

Fua o le to 'elau, 'aua ne'i galo Fruit of the east wind, do not forget [him]
'Ia manatua mai le nu'u lotu a Sina Remember the Christian village of the white [man]
Toe 'o le Mālō, ma le Atua 'ua tasi Still the Victor, with a single God
Sai mea 'uma faiva o papālagi. Everything about the Europeans' jobs is fine.

And further on:

The Tonga people had a laugh at me & said that the papalagni's [sic] were clever at most things but not at chewing kava (Moyle 1984:198).

By the mid-19th century, the word papālagi~vāvālagi was a regular feature of writings in English on Fiji and Western Polynesia.


Numerous etymologies have been advanced for papālagi, almost all of which are based on the assumption that the word is composed of papā and lagi. While the first morpheme has been ascribed diverse meanings (which we review below), most of these etymologies agree that the second morpheme lagi means ‘sky’, ‘heaven’, ‘cloud’ or ‘horizon’. We list some of these below in approximate chronological order of first appearance.

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“People from the Sky” (1797-1801)

Probably the earliest recorded etymology for papālagi is in George Vason 's narrative of his life in Tonga from 1797 to 1801 (see above). Vason spoke Tongan fluently, and would have been familiar with its morphology. He seems to have assumed that papālagi was bimorphemic and “coined” the etymology himself. This etymology was followed by John A. Fraser, an Australian prospector in 1930s Fiji (Fraser 1954:47), and by the eminent historian O.H.K Spate (1988:213).

“Sky-Bursters” (1838-1845)

John Stair, missionary to Samoa from 1838 to 1845, may have been the first to offer what has become perhaps the most commonly cited etymology:

These marvellous visitors they [Samoans] called papālangi [sic] (sky-bursters), for, they said, these people have either burst through the clouds with their ship;… or else, lifting them [the clouds] up, they [the Europeans] have passed beneath, and come to visit us…. It is possible the name papālangi may have been given to commemorate the noise of the ship's guns, as they first heard the dread sound (Stair n.d. [c.1897]:24).

A footnote here indicates: “After recently perusing this MS., my friend, the Rev. Samuel Ella, says, ‘This is also my idea.’”

As pointed out by Tcherkézoff (1999:417-19), this ‘sky-bursters’ translation may have been based on a fanciful interpretation of Polynesian cosmology by fellow LMS (London Missionary Society) missionary William Wyatt Gill, compounded by the fortuitous partial similarity of the Samoan verb (p1. pāpā) ‘explode, burst, hit, strike, crash, bang etc’ It was also followed by their colleague, George Turner:

Tradition says that in former times the people on earth had frequent intercourse with the heavens…. These stories are probably founded on the old idea that the heavens ended at the horizon. They thought that there was solidity there as well as extension; and therefore a distant voyage to some other island might be called a visit to some part of the heavens. When the white men made their appearance, it was thought that the vessel which had brought them had in some way broken through the heavens; and, to this day white men are called Papalangi, or Heaven-bursters (Turner 1884:199).

The subsequent adherents to this theory include the lady traveller Constance Gordon Cumming, who visited Samoa in 1877 (Gordon Cumming 1882:95); the Acting British Consul and Deputy Commissioner for the - 177 Western Pacific, William Churchward (1971 [1887]:226); the missionary V.A. Barradale (1907:133); a former District Commissioner in Fiji, Reginald St Johnston (1921:22); the travel writer Newton A. Rowe (1930:9); author and aeronautical historian Roderick Owen (1955:135); Australian psychologist Ronald Rose (1959:17); Pacific historian and editor of Cook's journals, J.C. Beaglehole (1967:178,n.l); eminent Samoan chief and scholar Napoleone Tuiteleleapaga (1980:36-37); Pacific historian Ian C. Campbell (1981:65); mission historian, John Garrett (1982:121); German author Erich Scheuermann (1982: inside-front cover); Pacific historian Malama Meleisea (1987:42); travel writer Paul Theroux (1992:291); and Meleisea and the anthropologist Penelope Schoeffel (1997:119). Minor variants include “fallen from the skies”, espoused by writer H. Wilfred Walker (1909:50), and simply ‘from the sky’, suggested by the missionary to Tonga, Thomas West (1865:42-43).

Board from the Sky” (circa 1840)

Thomas Jaggar, missionary to Lakeba (Fiji), offers a Tongan origin of the word:

Called 1st vess, a waga vanua compd to a land 'cause of its size—Tonga people in Lak[eba] told them that it was a vaka papalagi—that the country was distant & that they did not understand the peoples language: (Tong: saw vess, sd it was a kind of spirit—others sd it was from the clouds—yes said one—papa-lagi—board from sky) (Keesing-Styles and Keesing-Styles 1988:111). 6

The linguist, Claire Moyse-Faurie (1993:314), follows this etymology for the East Futunan cognate.

Brobdingnag” 7 (1902)

In an account of a visit to Hihifo (Tongatapu), Basil Thomson, a colonial administrator to Fiji and Tonga, recounts a story told to him by the King of Tonga about the origin of papālagi:

When the vessels were seen approaching Hihifo in 1773 there was a heated discussion among the Tongans as to whence they came. The king mimicked the querulous intonation of the old Tongans very funnily. “Whence come they?” said one. “Seuke!” exclaimed the old chief, Eikinaba, a noted wit of his day, “why, from the land of riches—from Babalangi!” (or, as we might say, from Brobdignag [sic]), and the nickname Babalangi has stuck to Europeans ever since (Thomson 1902:205-6).

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Thomson (1902:205-6) offers yet another derivation:“Ba-ki-langi (‘shooting up to heaven’) is the derivation which Fatafehi favours, meaning that the ships' masts reached into the sky”. This etymology may be based on Tongan , meaning ‘to touch; to hit, knock against, collide with’ (Churchward 1959). The idea of ships' masts that appeared upon the horizon and reached up to the sky is used in the form of “sky piercers” in Albert Wendt's poem, “Inside us the dead” (1976:8-9).

“From the Horizon” (1912)

The revered British anthropologist A.M. Hocart appears to have been the first to offer ‘those who came from the base of the sky’ or ‘horizon’ as an etymology: “Vāvālagi: base of the sky, common term for European countries” (1952:194). In this he was followed by the founding curator of the Fiji Museum, Coleman Wall (Tonganivalu 1918:15); long-time Fiji resident and well-known maritime historian, Captain Stan Brown (1973:14); historians Philip Snow and Stefanie Waine (1979:89); Charles Stuart Ramsay, a copra trader on Niuafo'ou (Tonga) from 1912 to 1937 (Ramsay and Plumb [1939?]: 15); and Allen Birtwhistle (1954:84) in his biography of the pioneering Fiji missionary John Hunt.

Ghosts” 1917

Coleman Wal, of the Fiji Museum, believed that papālagi was originally a Polynesian word for ‘ghost’:

… Hazelwood points out that this [vavālagi] is merely the Bauan form of “papalagi”, and if the word is Polynesian, it cannot mean “those who came from the sky-line or horizon”, for lagi or rangi means the sky overhead …

The truth is that the word papalagi was in use centuries before any European entered the South Seas, and was only transferred to them on their arrival, probably Tasman's arrival in Tonga, from which it passed to Fiji….

Rangi (or langi) was the sky father, and papa the earth mother… they begat the lesser gods [which] were called Papalagi, or the children of Papa and Lagi. Centuries after when the white men came into the South Seas, they being white were mistaken for spirits, for all South Sea and Australian ghosts are white…, and so the name Papalagi was transferred to them (Toganivalu 1918:17).

This etymology however did not find much favour among the members of the Fijian Society, immediately eliciting a three-pronged refutation from the Society's secretary G.A.F.W. Beauclerc:

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(1) We have no tradition, legend or myth pointing to such association; (2) We have no account of a practice existing anywhere or at any time, of the names of the father and mother being united to form a name for their offspring; and (3) the name Papalagi, if so derived would have been pronounced with the grave accent on the first and third syllables, or on the second and third, but not on the first and second, nor in coming to Fiji from the east would the portion Papa, with one syllable accented, have changed to Vava, with both syllables accented and also lengthened (Toganivalu 1918:18).

Five years later, E.N. Heycock weighed in:

… it is not easy to understand why the name should have been preserved inviolate for so many thousands of years to be applied only to the white strangers who had never been heard of in all the history of Polynesia up to their appearance a century or two ago. Why were not the demi-gods Maui and Degei and the rest, or even the men of Polynesia itself called ‘papalagi’? (Heycock 1923:7).

More recently, the linguist Albert Schütz (1985:9-10) offered some support for Coleman Wall's proposal, pointing out that papālagi~vāvālagi is glossed as ‘ghost’ in one early Fijian word list (Richardson 1811).

Far-Far Land” (1918)

The outspoken and ever resourceful Beauclerc, after dismissing Coleman Wall's idea about ghosts and the conjunction of the Polynesian gods Papa and Lagi, came up with his own original theory, all in one breath-defying sentence (to which the reader is invited to supply his or her own question mark or marks):

What is more likely than when the first English missionaries began their work in Tahiti about the year 1790, they would tell the natives that they came from a far-far land, and that they would reiterate the expression so often that the natives would adopt it as the name of the country from which those missionaries came; and they would probably pronounce it Fafalani, with a long accentuation on each of the first two syllables; then as the name travelled after, or with, or in advance of, the missionaries to Tonga, Samoa and Fiji, it would easily change, through Fafalangi and Papalangi, to Vavalangi, according to which of the sounds F, P or V the different people were able to produce (Toganivalu 1918:18).

Fellow member of the Fijian Society, George Barrow, subsequently wrote to Beauclerc, reporting that:

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While at Nadroga last week, I was in company with a party who were discussing a paper published in the Transactions of the Fijian Society, recording a debate on the probable origins of the word “Vavalagi”. The consensus of opinion favored your conjecture of its having sprung from early missionaries having described the country from which they came as a “Far, far land” (Barrow 1922:15).

Although this theory still surfaces from time to time in contemporary oral tradition in Fiji, it appears that it has gained no further adherents in print; the only comment we have come across being decidedly dismissive: “I regard the alternative explanation, given by some people, that the word was a corruption of “Far, far land” which the early whites told the natives they came from, as childish” (St Johnston 1921:22).

Sky-Bearers” (1922-23)

The etymology of vāvālagi remained a regular topic of discussion among the members of the Fijian Society in the early 1920s. George Barrow reported that Ratu Joni Vaubula, a 19th century high chief of Lakeba and missionary to Tonga, derived vāvālagi from vava ‘to carry upon the back’ and lagi: “The native idea being that the earth and sky actually come into contact at this point [the horizon], they assumed that the sky there rested upon men's backs—or that they carried it, as a mother carries her child” (Barrow 1922:15).

White Sky” (1923)

Heycock (1923:8) reported to the Fijian Society that in Samoa papālagi was commonly derived from the conjunction of Samoan pa'epa'e ‘white’ and lagi, but rejected this “for various reasons”—none of which he actually gives.

Chiefs from the Sky” (1923)

Heycock did however endorse the idea that papālagi is derived from the conjunction of the Samoan pāpā ‘chief, 'a title of honour’ 8 and lagi (Heycock 1923:8), and went into some detail as to why. Nonetheless, his reasons are unconvincing and based on inaccurate information.

Fire from Heaven” (1923)

Heycock had a third etymology—another Samoan variant of the “heaven burster” theory: “… that when the white man arrived on the shore one fired a musket and the noise of the shot ‘papa’ added to the appearance of the fire and smoke from the gun barrel suggested at once the word ‘papalagi’ or ‘fire from heaven’” (Heycock 1923:9).

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Covered Heads” (1923-24)

During a seven month sojourn on Niue, Edwin M. Loeb recorded the words of Eua's (Niuean) version of the tradition of Cook's arrival. He reports, “The head of Captain Cook was wrapped up, and that is the reason that the people of the island call white people ‘covered heads’ or Papalagi” (Loeb 1978 [1926]:30). This etymology is based on the Niuean words: pāpā v.t. ‘to keep in, shut in’ + lagi ‘sky, heaven; thunder; head, hair’ (McEwen 1970).

Sailing Gods” (1930)

The words “sailing gods” in the title of Newton A. Rowe's book, Samoa under the Sailing Gods, refer to Europeans, and reflect the belief that the word papālagi alludes to the arrival of the Europeans as “gods on ships”. The first sentence in the first chapter entitled “Sailing gods” reads: “It is probably for little more than two centuries that Samoa has known us sailing gods” (Rowe 1930:9).

Walking from the Clouds” (1937)

In reference to the meaning of Fijian vāvālagi, the colonial administrator Adolf Brewster wrote:

Va is ancient Fijian for the verb “to come”, or “to go”, according to the context to which it is used. One comes or goes upon the feet, hence vava implies that part of the human anatomy; and langi signifies the heavens. Foreign ships first appeared on the far horizon seeming to burst through, and the mysterious white men who came in them were therefore Vavalang-i, comers from the heavens, or walking from the clouds (Brewster 1937:23-24).

This etymology was repeated by the journalist and erstwhile Fiji resident, June Knox-Mawer (1965:41).

We have classified the above etymologies into three main groups. The first two are the most popular and reflect the idea that the Polynesians believed the first Europeans to visit their islands to be supernatural beings who came from the sky, clouds, or from under the horizon. The third group embraces what we may call “miscellaneous theories”. We list the three groups below.

Lagi ‘Sky, Heaven, Cloud’. In these etymologies, diverse meanings are assigned to the initial element papā, while lagi maintains the ascribed meaning ‘sky’, ‘heaven’, ‘cloud’, or ‘horizon’:

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“People from the sky”


“Board from the sky”


“White sky”

“Chiefs from the sky”

“Fire from heaven”

“Walking from the clouds”


Lagi ‘Horizon’. In these etymologies, diverse meanings are assigned to the initial element papā, whilst lagi maintains the ascribed meaning ‘horizon’:

“From the horizon”

Other Etymologies. In these etymologies, diverse meanings are assigned to both elements of papālagi:



“Far-far land”

“Covered heads”

“Sailing gods”


As mentioned above, almost all etymologies are based on the notion that papālagi is bimorphemic—composed of papā + lagi—which presupposes that the word was actually coined by the Polynesians themselves. The most detailed and scholarly account of papālagi's origin is Tcherkézoff's recent JPS paper in which he reviews the main etymologies put forward, while conceding than an option is borrowing from a non-Polynesian language (Tcherkézoff 1999:424 n.2). We agree with this conclusion and believe that the word is not a Polynesian coinage, but a loanword. However, before presenting our case in detail, we will argue that the existing “etymologies” are in fact folk-etymologies which have been readily accepted because of two basic assumptions we believe to be false.

Folk-etymology (or popular etymology) is a process whereby the structure of a word is re-analysed by identifying parts of it with synchronically attested independent words or morphemes which are (a) phonetically similar and (b) related in meaning. In doing so, it gives the word an etymology it previously lacked. Folk-etymology can apply also to words which simply look like compounds. For example, English carry-all < French carriole - 183 ‘(covered) carriage’, or English woodchuck < Algonquian otèek ‘ground hog’ (Hock 1986:203), and English crayfish < French crévisse (Crowley 1992:233). A nice example from Fijian is vakasisi ‘to give extra (purchases) for free’ (vaka Causative Prefix + sisi ‘to slip [to put stealthily]’), re-analysed from the Fiji Hindi (< Hindi < Urdu < Persian) baksis ‘a tip, gratuity’. According to Hock and Joseph (1996:263),“… borrowings are perhaps the most favoured target of popular etymology, because their structure frequently is opaque to the speakers of the borrowing language.” We feel this has happened with papālagi.

Sornig (1981:13,90) also points out that folk-etymological manipulation sometimes is supported by legend and the need for historicity (i.e., the desire to unravel the event which led to naming some object or phenomenon) is what is at the heart of these legends. We think the evidence we present below will show that many of the previously proposed etymologies of papālagi conform to the legend of European divinity and invincibility upon first contact with impotent and ignorant Pacific Islanders.

The Non-Existent Barrier

The etymologies of our first two listed groups are based on the assumption that the Polynesian world, prior to the arrival of the Europeans, was a limited one, bounded by an unassailable, uncrossable horizon. This notion is expounded by such writers as Meleisea (1987:42): “Samoans envisaged the universe as a dome, ending at the horizon.” Meleisea and Schoeffel (1997:119) also argue that:

Samoans and Tongans conceived of their islands as a complete universe of sea and lands, contained by the dome of the sky and divided into invisible layers containing the living places of gods. Below the sea was the realm of Pulotu, entered by the spirits of the aristocratic dead through the entrance under the sea, off the westernmost shore of the islands.

The idea that the horizon delineated the edge of the world, beyond which lived spirits and gods, was also widespread in Melanesia.

See also Theroux (1992:291): “In the seventeenth century, Tongans and Samoans believed that their islands lay in a great and uncrossable ocean.”

Meleisea apparently derives this information from the missionary John Stair, who writes extensively, and fancifully, on what he was told by the Samoans of the supposed happenings when Europeans first came to their shores. It is worth citing Stair in full:

The Samoans of the day were accustomed to describe in a vivid manner the astonishment of their ancestors at the arrival of the first European vessel. - 184 Until that time they had been accustomed to regard themselves and the inhabitants of the few other groups, as the only human beings in existence. They thought the world was flat, and supported by a pillar ascending from the regions below, or salefe'e, whilst the sky was supposed to cover them as a canopy, forming a junction at the distant horizon. If by chance inhabitants of other islands visited them, they resembled them in person, and came to them in canoes similar to those in use among themselves, so that the arrival of a big ship with sails off their coasts might well excite astonishment and awe.

It is impossible now to say whether the visit of Jacob Roggewein [sic], in 1722, was alluded to, or whether some prior but unrecorded visit of Europeans to their shores had occurred. But whoever the visitors were, they created a profound astonishment, were looked upon with awe, and received with divine honours. The first European visitors are stated not to have landed, but to have remained sailing about at some distance from the shore; whilst many and varied opinions were formed respecting them by the wondering crowd of onlookers who lined the shore, or who, to obtain a better view, climbed the tall cocoanut-trees that grew around, and watched with intense interest the motions of the mysterious ship as she held on her silent way. What can it be? Whence does it come? What does the strange thing contain? were among the many questions asked by the wondering and amazed throng as they looked in astonishment upon the strange visitor before them. It was generally felt that it must be an arrival from the spirit-land, and it would be well to propitiate the gods supposed to be on board by offerings of food. Such were speedily placed upon the beach, in the shape of O le Matini, or offerings to the gods, and petitions offered, praying the supposed spiritual visitors to be satisfied with the offerings presented; but if they had come to take away men for food or sacrifice, that they would mercifully spare them, and go further to other settlements, where the population was greater.

After a time, some more courageous than others ventured off to the vessel in their canoes, when their astonishment was even greater than before, on finding the strange object to be the abode of living men, but of white colour, speaking an unknown tongue, and presenting a most extraordinary appearance. This party of visitors returned to their countrymen on shore to describe their astonishment at what they had seen and heard. The big ship, with her tall masts; her sails, her rooms, or rather caves below; but above all, the wonderful people who dwelt there, with their white colour, their feet not divided into toes, and their skin provided with bags, into which they were accustomed to put various articles as they wished.

These marvellous visitors they called pāpālangi [sic] (sky-bursters), for, they said, these people have either burst through the clouds with their ship; or else, lifting them up, they have passed beneath, and come to visit us. It is possible the name pāpālangi may have been given to commemorate the noise of the ship's guns, as they first heard the dread sound. [A footnote here indicates: After recently perusing this MS., my friend, the Rev. Samuel - 185 Ella, says, ‘This is also my idea.’] The strange visitors were described as man-eaters, from the fact that portions of a pig had been seen hanging up on the ship, and these were supposed to be human flesh. This led them to think that the visitors had come to get fresh victims to eat; and hence they endeavoured to hasten their departure … (Stair n.d. [c.1897]:22-24).

There is much in Stair's account that is patently fanciful and ridiculous, such as the implication that Samoans could not distinguish between pork and human flesh, but we shall restrict ourselves to refuting the idea of the horizon circumscribing the Polynesians' minuscule world. The notion is hardly compatible with the well-known fact that the Polynesians were very accomplished ocean travellers (D'Arcy 1997:75-76, Dening 1962, Geraghty 1993, 1994, Irwin 1992). We know from Cook that the Tahitians knew of Rotuma (Dening 1962:135), and that the Tongans knew of Kiribati (Geraghty 1994:235), and from the 16th to the 18th centuries Micronesians from Kiribati and the Caroline Islands were often found in Melanesia and the Philippines (Quanchi 1993:45). We therefore doubt that the horizon was seen as a conceptual barrier; nor is there any evidence to suggest that it was of any great importance in Polynesian culture.

Gods They were Not

The etymologies we have catalogued above show it was not until the 20th century that writers claimed that the first Europeans to arrive in Polynesia were considered “gods” or “spirits” by the Polynesians. While this implied divinity has almost become a sine qua non of the modern popular etymologies for papālagi, none of the 19th century etymologies attribute divinity to Europeans, alluding only to them coming from heaven or the sky. There is no conclusive evidence that Polynesians considered the first European visitors to be divine beings.

What is the reason for this misconception? We believe there are several. One is the misinterpretation of the lagi element of papālagi, variously translated as ‘horizon’, ‘clouds’, ‘sky’ or ‘heaven’. Indeed, Tcherkézoff (1999), even after questioning and rejecting various etymologies for papā, still maintains lagi refers to the sky. It is not true, however, that lagi means ‘heaven’, since Polynesians did not believe the sky to be the abode of the gods—this is a Christian extension of the original meaning. The so-called divinity of Europeans may, therefore, be due to lagi being interpreted in this way.

Another reason is the European presumption of superiority. The idea that prior to European contact the Polynesian world was a limited one, bounded by an unassailable, uncrossable horizon is also founded on just this view. - 186 Many European accounts of first contact and early dealings with the inhabitants of Polynesia are full of self-importance and arrogance. Europeans often assumed they understood the actions of the Islanders perfectly well; and in giving trinkets which they deemed of little or no value, they assumed that Polynesians lacked any conception of the true or European value of things. With such attitudes, it is perhaps not surprising that Europeans eventually bestowed divinity upon themselves. Moreover, Europeans were probably quite happy to go along with their apotheosis; it stood them in good stead, and it would certainly do them no harm to perpetuate it.

A case in point is Captain James Cook. He arrived at Kealakekua Bay (Hawai'i) in 1778 during the Makahiki festival—the celebration of the annual return of Lono (god of peace, fertility, crops and rain) from Kahiki. 9 It is commonly held that because of the resemblance of his ships' sails to the tapa of Lono, and his arrival during the Makahiki, Cook was ceremonially received as an incarnation of Lono (Beaglehole 1979, Malo 1951 [1898], Badger 1988, Scarr 1990, Sahlins 1982, 1995) and, therefore, had to be killed. However, the circumstances of and reasons for the killing of Cook have been the subject of much debate. Kennedy (1978), Bergendorf et al. (1988) and Obeyesekere (1992) all argue that Cook being an incarnation of Lono is a Western-inspired myth, promoted largely by Christian missionaries and chiefly converts after 1820.

Finally, the claim that early European visitors were deified may also have been based on a misunderstanding of early accounts of European persons and manufactures being designated by words, such as Fijian kalou, that subsequently came to be used as translations for the one, supreme God of Christianity. The pre-Christian meaning of kalou, however, was far broader, covering many kinds of supernatural being and much besides. The missionary John Davies was told by the Tongans that there were “nearly as many gods as men” in Fiji (im Thurn and Wharton 1925:156). The word kalou referred not only to the thousands of supernatural entities, but was also used sometimes for priests, and all manner of persons and things that were odd or unfamiliar, including cripples (im Thurn and Wharton 1925:44), oversized eels (Erskine 1953:434), and strangely shaped stones (Wallis 1851:366, Pritchard 1866:363, Waterhouse 1866:403). European visitors, then, clearly could qualify as kalou; but it is misleading to translate this simply as ‘gods’.

The deifying of Europeans is also challenged in Fernández- Armesto's recent book on Philip II of Spain's empire. Fernández-Armesto (1999:11) emphatically ridicules the oft-repeated claim that Europeans were received as gods in the Americas: “These godlike and heroic self-perceptions…, I suspect, explain the tradition in conquistador literature which so often and so implausibly claims that Spaniards were received by their victims as gods ….”

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Because there are no contemporary first-hand Polynesian accounts of their first contact with Europeans, we are forced to rely on Europeans' accounts, which are replete with 18th and 19th century Eurocentric views. This issue is addressed by Campbell (1981:64), who fittingly concludes:

… the islanders generally did not make a habit of recording their present to make a more intelligible past for historians in the future. Getting inside the minds of Polynesians of the past necessitates reliance on European sources which frequently provide evidence only of an anecdotal kind. Such evidence often lacks the sympathetic imagination on which the historian relies so heavily in the effort to cross the frontier of culture and mind….[W]hile European perceptions of other peoples frequently attract attention, the reciprocal observation has usually been ignored.

The vast majority of recorded Polynesian history, beginning with the first contacts, has been dictated by Europeans. Seed (1992:10) puts the point most succinctly and eloquently: “To the victor belongs the right to write history; his empowerment is even greater when he controls the weapons— the pen and paper—with which history is written.”

We offer here two examples of recent authors who comply with and promote the apotheosis of Europeans. The first, David Howarth's recounting of Wallis's visit to Tahiti in 1767, is full of pure conjecture:

Even now, when we understand the Tahitians a little better, one can surmise what they thought when they first saw the frigate [HMS Dolphin]. To them, the Dolphin was literally supernatural, something that had never existed in their experience of the natural world. It would not be surprising if some of them had tried to fit it into their concept of the spiritual world. But they did not make the mistake—or not for long—that the Californians made with Drake or the Haitians [sic] with Cook, of treating the ship's leaders as gods (Howarth 1983:19).

However, several pages further on Howarth admits: “So the Dolphin discovered Tahiti; but she discovered almost nothing about the Tahitians…. [T]hey still knew nothing about the way the island was governed, what religion it had, what laws and conventions” (1983:25). This would certainly be true of most, if not all early European contact with Polynesians.

The second example comes from a paper entitled “Polynesian Perceptions of Europeans in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries”, in which Campbell (1981) strongly advocates the theory that Polynesians initially considered Europeans to be gods, and as we saw in the quotation above, draws a direct link between this perception and the name papālagi. In making - 188 this inference, Campbell neglects some crucial facts. Firstly, he forgets that the first Europeans to visit Western Polynesia were the Dutch in the first half of the 17th century. Secondly, Europeans came very sporadically with decades or generations separating visits. If, as Campbell (1981:65) implies, the word was coined in the 18th century when all the “strikingly majestic vessels” came in “such numbers”, we must assume it was the late 18th century, for it was not until at least that time that Europeans came so often and in “such numbers” (albeit still in small numbers compared to the 19th century) as to have the impact, and create the necessary conditions, for the word to be coined. However, the word papālagi cannot have been coined in the late 18th century, because it was already in use in Tonga in 1773 (see Forster/Anderson 1773 and Pickersgill/Anderson 1773) when Cook visited.

There has been considerable discussion on early Polynesian-European encounters, the type of reception the Europeans were given, and the perceptions each side had of the other (see Davidson 1966, Pearson 1970, Howe 1977, Campbell 1980, 1981, 1994, McLachlan 1982, Dutton 1987, Kuschel 1988, Paxman 1988, Linnekin 1991, Chappell 1992, Adams 1993, Quanchi 1993).

Quanchi (1993:47), for instance, reports that the initial reaction of Islanders to the arrival of Europeans was certainly not uniform. It ranged from “trembling and shaking at meeting the ‘ghosts’ of their ancestors”, unwillingness to show themselves, immediate friendship and willingness to trade, to hostility. Quanchi points out that even when Europeans were initially regarded as gods or spirits, this belief soon changed when the Islanders saw that Europeans were mortal, bled, and “demonstrated [the] quite familiar habits of toilet and sexual liaison”. This last point is echoed by Kofe (1983:104):

Just what the people of Tuvalu first thought of the palagi is not known. Possibly, as was the case in a good many other groups, they thought they were some form of atua [god]. If so it was a belief that was quickly corrected by experience, although in the beginning the people were cautious in welcoming the pale-skinned beings who came in strange vessels. This is clear from Lazarev's report of his visit to Nukufetau.

In a survey of first contacts between Europeans and Polynesians from Mendaña in 1568 to Wilson in 1797, Pearson (1970) concludes there were three types of Polynesian initial contact behaviour: (a) immediate hostility, or what seemed to be hostility to the Europeans, 10 (b) fear and caution, and the most common (c) ceremonial reception by the chief. It may be that the great humility, veneration and generosity shown towards Europeans, as well - 189 as the elaborateness of these traditional Polynesian welcoming ceremonies for strangers and honoured guests led Europeans to overestimate their own importance.

Campbell's research (1994) shows there is a very wide range of interpretations of contact relationships, and offers 11 reasons why it is difficult to interpret them. These include divergent cultural practices, assumptions and expectations; lack of comprehension of languages; lack of Polynesian records of initial contact; observer's paradox; reliability of observers and informants; and general ethnocentric biases. Quanchi (1993:46) is more specific:

Most European officers, crew, artists and scientific observers retained the values and opinions of their shipboard life or of their European intellectual, agricultural and industrial background. Most early European visitors “discovered” in the Pacific what they had already thought was there. Their attitude towards Pacific Islanders was based on a vision of romantic, idyllic freedom later to become cemented in the form of two theories, of the good or noble savage and of fatal impact.

Modern historians suggest that these early European visitors had adopted an exploitive, dominant and culturally superior relationship with the island people they met, an attitude perhaps set before they arrived in the Pacific. This suggests that Europeans tended to maintain a set of preconceived attitudes throughout the period of initial contact.

Finally, there is the eloquent silence of the Islanders themselves. While many Polynesian cultures are rich in historical traditions dating back hundreds of years, there is rarely any recollection of first contact with Europeans. Generally, it seems to have been a non-event. For instance, less than 100 years after the first European contact in Fiji, Basil Thomson (1908) struggled to find any recollection of it, ending up with one very brief and enigmatic rhyme. Yet many other historical traditions recorded at the same time, such as the history of Bau (Anon. 1891), recall in great detail events that must have taken place well over a century previously. Some 130 years after Tasman's visit to Tonga, a Polynesian nation particularly noted for retaining detailed historical traditions over hundreds of years, Cook enquired “if any memory of Tasman's ships had been preserved among them” and was merely told that their ancestors had mentioned two ships staying for a few days at a particular place (Beaglehole 1967:178). If the Tongans had been impressed by the visit, they would surely have had more detailed recollections to offer, and Cook would have recorded them, but he did not. Our conclusion is that, overall, the arrival of Europeans in Polynesia was not as momentous as some would have us believe.

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We believe papālagi is most likely derived from a Malay word which was brought to Tonga by Tasman and Visscher and their crews during their visits to Tongatapu and Nomuka in January 1643. 11 From Tonga it was spread throughout Western Polynesia and Fiji, to the Marquesas in Eastern Polynesia, to Tikopia (Solomon Islands), and to Micronesia. The introduction of this word (and its referent) to Tonga is in line with the Dutch loanwords (and their referents) also introduced to Polynesia by the Dutch explorers (see Geraghty and Tent 1997a, 1997b).

It is our contention that the Malay word was introduced by either the Dutch themselves or Malay-speaking crew members. There are no extant muster rolls of Tasman's 1642-1643 voyage, so we are not in a position to claim that East Indians were on board the Heemskerck and Zeehaen. But since Tasman's point of embarkation was Batavia, it is not unreasonable to assume that they might have been. It was a common practice for the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (V.O.C.) (United Dutch East India Company) to employ Malay speakers on board ships departing Batavia as interpreters, especially on its many voyages of exploration (Wildeman pers. comm. 4/4/1997). Such voyages were for reconnaissance to find new, more direct and more efficient trade routes, and to find new markets. Tasman's voyage was such a voyage—his brief was to find a new trade route to Chile via the south-east (Slot 1992:15).

Boxer (1988:86), however, does not believe East Indians were on board the V.O.C. ships, and claims that the recruiting of “coloured mariners [by the V.O.C.] was never sanctioned in the seventeenth century”, and “very few Asian hands [were] aboard even their ‘country’ ships' [i.e., V.O.C. ships trading in Southeast Asia].” This view is supported by Bruijn and van Eyck van Heslinga (1980:16-17), Ketting (pers. comm. 19/2/1997) and Gaastra (pers. comm. 24/6/1997). However, the 1643-1644 Dagh-Register gehouden int Casteel Batavia vant passerende daer ter plaetse als over geheel Nederlandts-India (Journal kept in Batavia Castle of the traffic/shipping passing there as well as throughout the whole Dutch East Indies) (Colenbrander 1902:42) contains a table that gives a breakdown of the crews on board Hendrik Harousé's fleet of five ships sailing to Cambodia from Batavia. 12 While the ships' soldiers and sailors would have been almost exclusively Dutch or other northern European nationals (Bruijn and van Eyck van Heslinga 1980:16), and comprised 93% of the 431 men in the fleet, 24 of the men are listed as swarten [lit. ‘blacks’]. Although this term was generally applied to Indian slaves brought to Batavia from Malabar, Coromandel or Bengal (Barend-van Haeften 1992:137), it was also used in reference to East Indians. This can be seen in a 1693 letter from Jacob van - 191 Elstland (a coppersmith in Batavia) to his cousin. The letter claims that women in the East Indies are categorised into three groups: whites, coloureds (bontjes) and blacks (cited in Barend-van Haeften 1992:146). Bontjes refers to Eurasian women, and “blacks” can only refer to Asian women in general, including East Indians. It is, therefore, not at all impossible that the swarten who comprised 5.5 percent of the crews on Harousé's ships could have comprised or included East Indians. This conclusion is also drawn by Gaastra (pers. comm. 24/6/1997).

Since Harousé's voyage was contemporary with Tasman's voyage into the Pacific, these figures offer some support for the view that East Indian hands may have formed a component of Tasman's crews. 13 It may also be that the absence of reference to East Indian hands on V.O.C. ships was due to their not being considered important enough to be recorded.

Even if there were no East Indian hands on Tasman's ships, Malay words could have been introduced to the Tongans by the Dutch themselves. Malay words began to find their way into the Dutch language right from the establishment of the V.O.C.'s trading colony in Batavia in the opening years of the 17th century. Some of these words are regularly used (without gloss) in the journals of the early Dutch explorers in the South Pacific (Le Maire, Schouten, Claeszoon and Tasman), indicating the speed with which they had become nativised into the Dutch language. Common examples from these journals include: Baley~Baleije ‘house, hut’ (< balai), Oubas~Ubas~Oubis ‘yam’ (< ubi), Pinange~Pinangh~Pissangh~Pizzangh ‘banana’ (< pisang), Clappus~Clappes ‘coconuts’ (< kelapa), Bamboezen ‘bamboos’ (< mambu), Prauw~Prau~Praeuw ‘proa’ [kind of boat] (< perahu) (Engelbrecht and van Herwerden 1945, Claeszoon 1646, Meyjes 1919).

A further consideration is that V.O.C. personnel in the East Indies signed up to serve the company for five to ten years, surely long enough to learn some Malay. As cases in point, before Tasman and Visscher's 1642-43 voyage, Tasman had lived in the East Indies for some seven years, Visscher for about 13 years, and Isaack Gilsemans (the supercargo of the Zeehaen) for some eight years. Moreover, many V.O.C. personnel stayed on in the Indies after finishing their terms with the company, as did Tasman. After his retirement from the V.O.C. in about 1652, he remained in Batavia until his death in 1659—living a total of about 24 years in the East Indies. Men who married East Indian women were forced to stay in the East because they were forbidden to return to Holland with their wives. Naturally enough, there were numerous children born in the Indies of either one or two Dutch parents. These children spoke a mixture of Portuguese, Malay and Dutch (Vlekke 1945:169), and many of the male children became employees of - 192 the V.O.C. (Ketting pers. comm. 19/2/1997, Gaastra pers. comm. 21/10/ 1997).

There is some disagreement over the amount of Malay the Dutch knew and used. Vlekke (1945:133), Blussé and de Moor (1983:166) and Barendvan Haeften (1992:136) report the language best known to all inhabitants of Batavia was Portuguese, which had been introduced by the slaves brought from the Coromandel and Malabar coasts and Ceylon, where the Portuguese had been established for a century and a half. Vlekke (1945:111) specifically comments upon the Dutch knowledge of Malay, or rather lack of it, in the early years of the V.O.C.: “The difficulty which the Dutch and Indonesians had in understanding each other—there were very few Hollanders who learned to speak Malay ….”

So while there may be doubt that Malay speakers were present on V.O.C. ships, and that the Dutch V.O.C. personnel knew Malay, there is no doubt that Malay words were rapidly nativised into the Dutch language in the East Indies during this time. Nativisation of lexical items from a substrate language is a common phenomenon in languages of colonisers.

The following are the Malay words we believe to be possible sources for papālagi. Given their meanings, it is not unreasonable to assume that they had become nativised and were, therefore, in common use by the Dutch. They are listed in order of what we judge to be the likelihood of each being the true donor word.

A Word for ‘Goods’

We believe the most likely source of papālagi is the Malay word barang‘thing, object, goods, article, commodity, luggage’ (Winstedt 1957:33, Hairul and Khan 1977:67). We know it was current in 17th century Malay because it is cited in the Malay-Dutch dictionaries of de Houtman (1707 [1603]), Haex (1707 [1631]), and Loderus (1707). For instance, the entry in the Wiltens and Danckaerts (1707 [1623]) dictionary says:

Bárang. Eenigh wert oock ghebruyckt voor alderhande / ofte van wat soort sy….oock voor alderhande roerende goederen. [‘Something’ used to refer to ‘anything’ / or ‘of whatever sort/kind’….also for all sorts of movable goods/movables/things].

Tasman's journal records that nails, mirrors, beads, knives, dungaree, cups, plates, copper wire, clothing, sail cloth, several fathoms of linen, pieces of canvas, a piece of printed satin, a hat and a shirt, and some flags were either traded with or given to the Tongans in 1643 (Meyjes 1919, Roest n.d.). The most common commodity traded or presented, however, was cloth of various types.

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It is quite conceivable that barang (and its plural barang-barang) was used by the Dutch, much as the word yaya ‘goods, furniture, luggage’ (< Fijian iyāyā) is commonly used today in Fiji English (even in the English of expatriates in Fiji). The term barang is still used in modern informal Malaysian English (Benson 1990:21).

Most significantly, the earliest recorded meanings of papālagi were rather different from its modern meaning:


  • Forster/Anderson 1773 (in Lanyon-Orgill 1979:63), pālāngho ‘cloth, English, or any piece of our dress’.
  • Pickersgill/Anderson 1773 (in Lanyon-Orgill 1979:65-66), palangee ‘cloth, English, or any piece of our dress’, babba'langa ‘cloth’.
  • Samwell 1777 (in Beaglehole 1967:1045), papalangee ‘our cloth (‘their cloth’ ngadoo)’.
  • Malaspina 1793 (in de Viana 1958:224), papaa-Iangui ‘vestidos (los nuestros) [clothes (ours)]’.
  • Labillardiére 1793 (1800 Appendix 21), papalangui ‘Cloaths [sic] (our)’.
  • Mariner 1806-10 (in Martin 1818), papalagi ‘white people; Europeans: also European manufactures, such as cloth, linen etc.’
  • Dumont D'Urville 1827 (1834 v. 15), papa langui ‘object d'industrie européenne [object of European manufacture]’. 14


  • Pratt (1911[1862]), apapalagi ‘foreign cloth’.
  • Newell (1893), āpapālagi ‘foreign cloth’. 15

Reference to European goods is also found in early Marquesan and contemporary Rotuman, Tuvalu, Mokilese, Nukuoro and Kapingamarangi:


  • Anderson 1773 (Lanyon-Orgill 1979:58), papa'annēē ‘nail (an iron)’.
  • Crook et al., 1799 (1998:41), páppá áne ‘a part of the sky, a term applied by them to iron, whence it is usually called pappā’.
  • Hale (1968 [1846]:321), Nukuhiva papa-ani ‘a part of the sky;—also a term applied by them to iron (i.e., a foreign substance)’. 16


  • Churchward (1940), papalạgi ‘beads’. 17


  • Jackson (1994), pāpālagi ‘a sharp object, broken glass’


  • Harrison and Albert (1977:66), pahrang ‘metal’.


  • Lieber and Dikepa (1974:9), baalanga ‘metal pot, metal’.
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  • Carroll and Soulik (1973:16), baalanga ‘metal (any kind) [from trade Malay?]’.

We presume that the contemporary Tuvalu meaning is derived from an earlier meaning ‘glass bead’. Regarding the Mokilese form, although a detailed study has yet to be done, the loss of the final vowel does conform to the phonological adaptations found in some other Polynesian loans in Mokilese, for example, odol ‘kind of large mackerel’ from Tongan ‘otule (Geraghty 1994:244), and while the realisation of /l/ as /r/ is not otherwise found in the small corpus available, it is not unmotivated, since Tongan /l/ has an r-like intervocalic allophone (Churchward 1953:1). We presume also that the Nukuoro and Kapingamarangi forms are loans from Mokilese—or perhaps the closely related language of Pohnpei, historically a more likely source of loans to Nukuoro and Kapingamarangi, though the word is not recorded in the standard dictionary (Rehg and Sohl 1979)—with the final vowel added to conform to the usual Polynesian open-syllable structure.

If we were to reconstruct papālagi as if it were a directly inherited lexical item we would be obliged to assign to it the meaning ‘European/foreign manufactures’, since this is the common denominator of the three geographically distinct meanings: ‘cloth’, ‘beads’ and ‘iron’.

Beads were a common trade item for early European explorers with Pacific Islanders. During his visit to the Manu'a group (Samoa) in 1722, Roggeveen noted that a girl on the island of Nu'u (off Ofu) wore “a string of oblong blue beads” and that she “asked the Mate by signs if he had any such, pointing to the string, whereupon the Mate, by nodding his head, said yes, but indicated by his hand towards the ship that the beads were there, and he would bring them to the land” (Sharp 1970:152). In reference to Roggeveen's remark, Sharp notes the following: “If the blue beads which the girl wore round her neck were of European make, they could have come from Tonga, various islands in that group having been visited previously not only by Le Maire and Schouten but also by Tasman” (Sharp 1970:153). 18

As to how each reflex became thus restricted in meaning, we can only speculate. An obvious possibility is that, of all European goods obtained by Tongans, only beads found their way to Tuvalu and Rotuma, and only iron made it to Micronesia and the Marquesas. The meaning ‘foreign cloth’ in Tonga and Samoa is perhaps explained by the amount of cloth Tasman presented to the Tongans. Moreover, the following story recounted by Basil Thomson indicates that European cloth was very highly prized:

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On another occasion he [the King of Tonga] brought out the piece of hand-made red cloth which I was to take home as a present to the Queen. This had been given by Captain Cook to the Tamahá, the noblest lady in the land, and had been preserved by the family of the Tui Haatéiho. It was a large piece of hand-made woollen cloth, rather loosely woven and of a rusty red colour, with a black selvedge edge, and it smelt strongly of sandal wood oil, having been worn on great occasions by chiefs anointed with that precious essence. It is now, I believe, among the curiosities in the royal collection at Windsor Castle. He then told me some native traditions of Cook's visit (Thomson 1902:205-6).

There is some evidence too that papālagi~vāvālagi meant ‘European cloth’ not only in Tonga (and possibly Samoa), but also in 18th century Fiji. In 1800, the Vūnivalu of Bau, Bānuve, the most influential chief in eastern Fiji, died during an epidemic of what is believed to have been an imported disease. The sickness, which the Fijians called lila balavu (lit. ‘long thinness’), has never been positively identified, but it was most likely cholera or some form of dysentery. After his death, Bānuve was given the title Baleinavāvālagi, which has usually been translated as ‘dead by foreign disease’.

The epidemic and Bānuve's death are mentioned in Ko Via Kila's meke (a Fijian poetic dance): A meke ni cokadra—Ka mate kina ko Ratu Banuve na turaga mai Bau, ka sa yacana kina ko Bale na Vavalagi (The meke of dysentery—That caused the death of Ratu Bānuve the chief of Bau, and his being named Bale na Vāvālagi) (1893:121-22), as well as by the missionaries Hunt (1861) and Waterhouse (1866):

The first white people with whom the Fijians had any intercourse were four or five shipwrecked mariners, one or two of whom were dressed something like ministers of religion: probably the master and a passenger. The vessel was wrecked on a reef near Oneata called Bukatatanoa, and the party referred to were either killed at Oneata or Lakeba, and, I fear, eaten also. Shortly after their death a dreadful distemper scourged the natives (Hunt 1861, cited in Anon. 1896:33).

About the year 1800 pieces of broken plates and a variety of buttons, the produce of a vessel wrecked near Lakeba, revealed another world to the inhabitants of Fiji. A quantity of this imported wealth reached Bau. At the same date, the group was visited with the Asiatic cholera. The inhabitants of Bau were decimated, and the dead were buried in one common grave. The Vunivalu king of Bau fell victim to its virulence …. Commemorative of the manner of his decease, he is styled in history ‘The Victim of the Foreign Disease’ (Waterhouse 1866:22).

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According to Routledge (1985:42), the disease was probably introduced by the survivors of the schooner Argo that had been wrecked in the Lau Passage in January 1800 while en route from Canton to the penal settlements at Norfolk Island and Port Jackson. In Thomas Jaggar's account of Bānuve's death, written in the 1840s, we read that cloth from a foreign vessel was thought to be the carrier of the disease to Bau:

First foreign vess, that ever heard of—wrecked at Bukulalanoa [Bukatatanoa] near Lake[ba]—some went to Lak[eba]—others Onea[ta]—… (cloth plates from vessel brot the bloody flux [i.e., dysentery]) (Keesing-Styles and Keesing-Styles 1988:111).

The idea of the cloth plates being the vector of the disease is quite plausible. Leaks in the hulls of wooden ships were covered with sail cloth or tarpaulin. This process was called “fothering”. Jaggar's “cloth plates” almost certainly refers to fothering cloth. Dysentery-type diseases are normally spread via contaminated water and/or food. However, cloth that has been contaminated by sewage or infected stagnant water can also harbour the spores of a number of diseases if still wet. Such cloth, given the right conditions, could carry salmonella, shigella and cholera bacilli (Adams pers. comm. 2/11/1997, Cossart pers. comm. 7/6/1999). 19 Considering the circumstances on board ships in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the cloth plates retrieved from the Argo may well have been infected by contaminated bilge, especially since the schooner came directly from Canton, where dysentery-type diseases and cholera were endemic.

Another reference to cloth in connection with Bānuve's death—this time in the form of a “canvas house” or “canvas tent”—is found in two of Basil Thomson's books, South Sea Yarns (1904) and The Fijians (1908):

Henceforth he was not Banuve, but Bale-i-vavalangi 20 (‘He-who-fell-by-the-foreign-pestilence’)…. Banuve's eldest son, Ra Matenikutu (‘The lice-killer’), succeeded naturally to the office of Vunivalu; but the rites of confirmation could not be performed until the arrival of the men of Levuka, whose peculiar province it is to conduct the ceremony. The traditions of Oneata say that they took with them to Bau one of the white men; but the historians of Bau affirm that they came bringing with them no strangers, but a canvas house and the first foreign possessions seen by the Bauans (Thomson 1904:298). 21

…from the traditions of Mbau we learn that Mbanuve, the son of Nduruthoko (Nailatikau), the Vunivalu of the [sic] Mbau, died of a new disease introduced - 197 by a foreign vessel, and was surnamed Mbale-i-vavalangi (He who died of a foreign disease) in accordance with the custom of calling dead chiefs after the place where they were slain.… On his death the Levuka people came from Lakemba to install his successor … and they brought with them a canvas tent, which was the first article of European manufacture which the Mbau people had seen (Thomson 1908:26).

The apparent confusion over whether the men from Levuka brought with them a white man or foreign goods (which included a tent) may be the result of a change in meaning of the word vāvālagi. We have already seen that papālagi only meant ‘foreign goods’ or ‘foreign cloth’ in late 18th century Tonga, so it may have had the same meaning in Fiji during the early 19th century. Even if cloth was not the disease vector, the Fijians' belief that it was would have been sufficient for them to confer upon Bānuve his posthumous title Baleinavāvālagi. The title may, therefore, have referred to his death not by a foreign disease, but by foreign cloth.

We therefore propose that pālagi or pāpālagi, when originally borrowed in Tonga in 1643, meant something like ‘exotic goods’. The meaning became more specific as the word was spread, according to which goods were carried to, or survived in, the various islands—beads in Tuvalu and Rotuma, iron in the Marquesas and Mokil (and probably Pohnpei), and cloth in the Tonga-Samoa-Fiji area, where a word for iron already existed. 22

As noted by Cook (Beaglehole 1967:178, quoted above), Tongans referred to European vessels as “cloth ships”, We suggest that, as the bearers of cloth and other exotic goods re-appeared on the scene towards the end of the 18th century, this expression came to mean ‘ships from pālagi’ and ‘ships belonging to pālagi’, the word that originally meant ‘goods’ being re-analysed semantically as meaning the source of those goods, that is, ‘Europeans’ and their ‘land of origin’.

The phonological derivation of papālagi from barang. The change from Malay /b/ to Tongan /p/ is regular (Schütz 1970), since Tongan does not have /b/. The realisation of /a/ as /a:/ is regular, cf. pāsese ‘passage'’ pāsione ‘passion’, pālasi ‘palace’, pāloti ‘ballot’, etc. Tongan does not have /r/ so the closest corresponding sound, /l/, is employed (Schütz 1970). Finally, being a Polynesian language, Tongan has open syllables, hence the paragogic vowel. Paragogic /i/ is regular with other loanwords from English, for example, Tongan palani < ‘plan’, sasepani < ‘saucepan’, and epenthetic /i/ in tangike < ‘tank’, and kaniteli ‘candle’. Schütz (1970:415) estimates that /i/ accounts for more than half the epenthetic and paragogic vowels in English loanwords in Tongan.

- 198
A Word for ‘Knife’

Another possible source for papālagi is parang “a type of large knife, machete, chopper, cleaver” or “a large heavy sheath-knife used by the East Indians for various purposes especially as a weapon” (OED 1989).

We know Tasman carried parangs on his two ships because each of their manifests contains the entry “50 parranghs”. Tasman also uses the term in his description of the murder of his three crew members at Moordenaers Baij (‘Murderer's Bay’ known today as “Golden Bay” near the modern-day township of Takaka on the north coast of New Zealand's South Island): “'t geene wij eerst meende Zware stompe parranghs te sijn” (what we first thought to be heavy blunt parangs) (Meyjes 1919:42). These uses of the term attest to its currency in 17th century Dutch. Citations of its use in Dutch in the authoritative dictionary of the Dutch language, the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal (WNT), also date back to this period—1636 (WNT).

Although Tasman makes no specific mention of parangs being traded or presented as gifts to his Tongan hosts, he mentions that knives were given or traded. Apart from a knife described as having a beslagen Zilver bantien ‘(small) mounted silver band’ (Meyjes 1919:61), no other description of knives is given. Tasman's manifest does, however, include the entry “50 slechte messen” (50 ordinary knives), and it is of course possible these were the knives that were presented to the Tongans. Despite the uncertainty as to what types of knives were given to the Tongans, it is still not unreasonable to assume that they included parangs, considering their potential usefulness. This derivation presents no phonological problems being derivable in the same way as barang, but the semantic changes required do seem rather improbable.

A Word for ‘Frank’

A less likely source, though still a very enticing one, is the word faranggi ‘a European, a Frank, a Portuguese’. Various forms of this word—faranggi, faranji, pěringgi, fěringgi, firingi, fringe, frangee, faringee, ferenghi and feringhee— have been in common use throughout the Middle East since the Crusades (Thion 1993). The word spread through Muslim trade routes after the Crusades into Africa, India (Lewis 1991:110-11), and central and Southeast Asia. Harris (1986) traces the probable immediate source of the word in Thai to Persian traders who were established in Siam by the 16th century.

The word faranggi is cited in 17th and early 18th century Malay-Dutch dictionaries (de Houtman 1707[1603], Heurnius 1707[1603], Loderus 1707), which shows that the word was current in Malay during this period. Heurnius (1707 [1603]) explains that all Europeans are called faranggi (“Afaranggi, - 199 soo werden alle Europæers genaamd”). The OED's first citation of the word in English dates back to a similar time, 1634 (OED 1989). 23

It is difficult to know if the Dutch ever referred to themselves as faranggi. It is more likely the East Indians would have done so, since the evidence suggests that the Dutch referred to themselves as Oran (H)Olanda or Oran Belanda (at least to Malay speakers). For instance, near the end of Le Maire and Schouten's voyage some of their sailors were attacked by a group of inhabitants of the island of “Gilolo” (i.e., Halmahera, Moluccas). Before any harm could be done, one of the sailors called out to the attackers that they were “Oran Hollanda” (Engelbrecht and van Herwerden 1945:213). 24 However, if Tasman had indigenous East Indians on board they might have referred to their Dutch masters as faranggi.

There are, however, both phonological and semantic problems with this source. The normal Tongan realisation of faranggi would not be pālagi, but falangaki [falaŋaki], or falaki (cf. tangakalī < dungaree; kangikalū < kangaroo; mongokuusi < ‘mongoose’; and matakali ‘clan, tribe’ < Fijian mataqali [mataŋgali]). 25 Also, as we have seen, the earliest meaning is ‘exotic goods’, not ‘European people’. 26

Some Longer Shots

We considered a number of other Malay words as possible sources for papālagi, but judged them to be semantically or phonologically too far removed. We list them here in case some future researcher may be inclined to look on them more kindly than we have: kain pelangi ‘woman's scarf’ (from pelangi ‘rainbow’), perang ‘blond, dark brown’, belanga ‘earthenware pot or pan’, and pelanggi ‘kind of colourful marble’.


Although the form is typically cited as papālagi, simple pālagi was recorded for Tongan in 1773 and has been reported also for modern Tongan, Niuean, Samoan, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Mokil, Nukuoro and Kapingamarangi. It also occurs in Fiji as vālagi, which is certainly more common in colloquial Fijian than vāvālagi. On the other hand, the partially reduplicated form is the only one cited for East Uvea, East Futuna, Tikopia, Tuvalu (with the meaning ‘beads’), Rotuma and the Marquesas, and in all languages, other than Mokil, Nukuoro and Kapingamarangi, it is the more commonly cited. While it is possible that the basic form is papālagi, and pālagi a later derivation, it is also possible that the reverse is true, or even that the two forms are long-standing alternates.

In Tongan, as in other Polynesian languages, partial reduplication such as is apparent in papālagi is a common process, but not with nouns. We - 200 suggest therefore that, if papālagi were indeed the original form (or one of the original forms), it would have been borrowed from a reduplicated form in the donor language, Malay, where reduplication is a sign of plurality in nouns. Since, however, the current Malay plural of barang is barangbarang, we would speculate that papālagi either derives from a partially reduplicated form in the variety of Malay used by Tasman's men, or a loanword in their Dutch, or that it is a reduction in Tongan of an earlier *palapālagi.


As we have seen, papālagi is found in Eastern Polynesia only in the old Marquesan word for ‘iron’. However, there are intriguing phonological and semantic correspondences between papālagi and another Eastern Polynesian word:


  • Hale (1968 [1846]:321), papā ‘foreign, foreigner (applied to whites)’.
  • Anon. (1908), papaha 27 ‘étranger à l'Océanie, qui est d'un autre pays’ (stranger in Oceania, who is from another land).


  • Hale (1968 [1846]:321), papā ‘foreign, foreigner (applied to whites)’.
  • Davies (1851), papa[']a ‘a foreigner, formerly applied to the inhabitants of the Paumotu [Tuamotu] islands before europeans [sic] visited them, but since to all foreigners; in some islands it is papalangy’.
  • Lemaître (1986), popa'ā, papa'ā ‘personne de race blanche; d'origine ètrangère, introduit’ (white person; of foreign origin, introduced).


  • Hale (1968 [1846]:321), papā ‘foreign, foreigner (applied to whites)’.


  • Savage (1962), papa'ā ‘used to denote a foreigner or European or white man. The word itself means, four layers, and was given to Europeans when first seen because of their “wearing four layers of clothes” as seen by them, the natives’.
  • Buse (1995), papa'ā ‘white man, European’.

Perhaps the first reference to Tahitian papa 'ā ‘European’ dates from around 1790: “Morrison [1935:146] wrote that the Tahitians called the European shaddock ‘ooroo Papaa’ which he translated as ‘English Bread’” (Langdon 1975:337). Some time later, John Davies, a missionary to Tahiti from 1799 to 1830, gave an etymology for the word:

[Popaa] … is a native word for a foreigner and it was used formerly before the arrival of Europeans or white people applied to the Paumotuans particularly the Parata party whose dialect differed from the Tahitian, and - 201 were then the only strangers of a foreign speech known to the Tahitian and Society Islanders. Their large canoes were called Pahai popaa, and a chief of theirs that was a friend of the first Pomare was called Ovairaatoa popaa. In late times popaa has been transferred to all white people and the eastern islanders are called Paumotu (Newbury 1961:270).

We find this etymology implausible, based as it is on the premise that Tuamotuan was the only foreign language known to the Tahitians, whereas data supplied by Tupaia and others indicate that Tahitians had relations with many other Pacific Island groups, including Fiji and Rotuma (Dening 1962).

A possible scenario for the Eastern Polynesian form is that Western Polynesian papālagi was borrowed into Marquesan as papā'ani (the sound correspondences are regular) with the meaning ‘iron’, as noted above. Subsequently, the word was reanalysed or simply truncated to papa'a, as witness the following: 28


  • Mosblech (1843:86), papaa ‘fer [iron]’.
  • Dordillon (1931), pa'apa'a ‘iron, nail, tool’.


  • Davies (1851), pa[']a ‘hoops of a cask’.


  • Buse (1995), pa'a ‘metal hoop round a barrel, rim of a cartwheel’.

Finally, while it is possible that this word simply underwent a semantic shift similar to that which occurred in Western Polynesia, from “European goods” (here specifically iron) to “European people”, we would like to tentatively offer a hypothesis that also accounts for the change in length of the final vowel. There is a morphological process in Polynesian languages whereby suffixation of -a yields a form meaning ‘full of’. For example, the name of the island Niua north of Tonga (now distinguished from Niuafo'ou as Niuatoputapu) appears to be derived from niu ‘coconut’, in recognition of the fact that coconuts flourish there. This naming strategy, incidentally, was also followed by Schouten and Le Maire in 1616, when they named neighbouring Tafahi “Cocos Island” (Langdon 1977:42). We propose, then, that the Eastern Polynesian word papa'ā, referring to Europeans and their place of origin, may be similarly derived from papa'a ‘iron’, referring to the land where iron originates from, and its inhabitants. The main problem with this hypothesis is simply that, while -a can be reconstructed with this function in Proto Polynesian, it appears not to be witnessed in contemporary Eastern Polynesian languages.

- 202

Since the etymology of papālagi has for so long been a subject of conjecture, it is surprising so little scholarly research has been devoted to it. To date, we have found only four serious attempts at unravelling its origins: the Fijian Society's discussion in the 1920s (Barrow 1922, Heycock 1923), Napoleone Tuiteleleapaga's two page chapter in his Samoa: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (1980), an endnote to Neil Gunson's chapter ‘The coming of foreigners’ (1977), and Tcherkézoff's recent JPS article, which is by far the most comprehensive and scholarly. Gunson and Tcherkézoff are also the only other researchers to have noted papālagi's earlier meanings of ‘cloth’ and ‘European manufactures’. On this Gunson writes:

Thomson [1902] and others state that papālangi means breakers of the sky, that is, persons who burst through the sky at the horizon. However, papaa was a word for foreigner in eastern Polynesia, and paparangi meant ‘Paradise’ in the Tuamotus. Both Cook and the Spaniards believed the word referred to the cloth from the sky or European manufactures, and this was the usage recorded by Mariner. Usage in missionary times suggests that papālangi means ‘land of the strangers’ while kau papālangi means ‘men from the land of the strangers’ or ‘men from the sky’ (Gunson 1977:259-60).

Although Tcherkézoff acknowledges the “cloth” and “foreign goods” meanings, he does not take this any further and seems to have missed the point that these were the earliest recorded meanings. Moreover, Tcherkézoff's dismissal of various meanings of papā but acceptance of lagi as meaning ‘sky’ perpetuates the notion of the word's bimorphemic status.

Figure 1: Chronological epitome of the distribution and changes in meaning of papālagi.
- 203

We have argued in this paper that the Western Polynesian word papālagi was borrowed from a Malay word, probably barang ‘goods’, used by Tasman's men during their stay in Tonga in 1643, and subsequently spread to Fiji, Rotuma, parts of Eastern and Outlier Polynesia and Micronesia. The proposed scenario is summarised in Figure 1.

As linguists, we take our leave at this point, and invite historians and others to investigate why it was that spurious etymologies implying that the Polynesians and Fijians viewed Europeans as gods have been so overwhelmingly popular in the literature of the past two centuries.

- 204 Page of endnotes

- 205

We wish to acknowledge that this research was financially supported by a University of the South Pacific Research Grant (No.6153-1221-70766-00), Professor Subramani (Head of Department of Literature and Language, University of the South Pacific), Professor Konai Helu-Thaman (Head of School of Humanities, University of the South Pacific), and a Macquarie University Research Grant (No.

We are also much indebted to G.J.D. Wildeman (Librarian, Nederlands Scheepvaartmuseum, Amsterdam) and Dr Femme Gaastra (Rijks Universiteit Leiden) for supplying us with valuable information on the V.O.C.; Waruno Mahdi - 206 (Fritz Haber Institut of the Max Planck Gesellschaft, Berlin) for his unstinting help with information on the languages and history of Southeast Asia; and Dr Ken Regh (The University of Hawai'i) for information on Micronesian languages.

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    Personal Communications
  • Warwick Adams MBBS, MS, FRACS, Surgeon, Illawarra Area Health Service, N.S.W.
  • Ann Chowning, Honorary Fellow, Department of Anthropology, The University of Auckland.
  • Ross Clark, Institute of Linguistics, The University of Auckland.
  • Yvonne Cossart, Department of Infectious Diseases, University of Sydney.
  • Janet Davidson, Te Papa Tongarewa (Museum of New Zealand), Wellington.
  • Femme Gaastra, Faculty of Letters, Department of History, University of Leiden.
  • Herman Ketting, Faculty of Letters, Department of History, University of Leiden.
  • G.J.D. Wildeman, Librarian, Dutch Maritime Museum, Amsterdam.
1   Orthographic g represents ŋ in Fijian and most Western Polynesian languages.
2   The term also has an adjectival function.
3   Samoan papālagi has been introduced into 20th century German via the bestseller Der Papalagi: Die Reden des Südseehäuptlings Tuiavii aus Tiavea (Scheurmann 1985 [1920]), the purported story of a Samoan chief's impressions of the Germans and their way of life during a visit to Germany in the 1920s. An abridged edition, Der Papalagi: Ein Südseehüuptling erlebt unsere Zivilisation (Scheurmann 1982 [1920]), is used as a secondary school text. The book has aroused much controversy as to its authenticity, the latest appraisal (Senft 1999) being that it is totally spurious, simply a vehicle for the author's critical views of German society.
4   Hale's “Vitian Dictionary” is principally derived from information supplied by the missionaries Cargill and Hunt (Hale 1968 [1846]:391).
5   It is noteworthy that the language being cited here is a mixture of Tongan phonology and Tahitian morphology, both the article te in towacka ('te vaka) and the particle no being Tahitian, not Tongan. While it may have been the usage of Cook and his men, who would have been more familiar with Tahitian than Tongan, it may indeed have been, as Cook claims, the language used by the Tongans. If so, it would appear that the Tongans commonly communicated with Tahitians, and devised a Tahitianised form of Tongan for the purpose, in much the same way as Fijians simplified their language and included Tongan morphemes when communicating with Tongans (Geraghty 1978:62).
6   This etymology is derived from Tongan papa ‘plank, board’ (also found in Futuna and Samoa).
7   A reference to the land of the giants in Swift's Gulliver's Travels.
8   Pratt (1911 [1862]) pāpā ‘a general name for the titles of chiefs’. Milner (1966) pāpā ‘high titles and dignities’.
9   Bergendorff et al. (1988:391) define Kahiki as “the home of the gods beyond the sea; Heaven”. Obeyesekere (1992:49) describes it as “the mythic land from beyond the horizon”. Sahlins (1995:94): “… Kahiki is a generic term for islands or lands beyond the horizon …. Out of sight, these invisible and godly places are in the sky—which is, incidently, true to Islanders' empirical experiences of things that lie beyond or come from beyond the horizon: they are the sky.”
10   An excellent example of this is Cook's arrival on Niue in 1774, when he misinterpreted the Niuean's ritual throwing of spears to arrivals as hostility, naming the island “Savage Island”, which so influenced subsequent European perceptions that it became considered a fact that Niueans were hostile savages (McLachlan 1982).
11   It is unlikely that Le Maire and Schouten's visits to Tafahi, Niuatoputapu, Niuafo'ou, Futuna and Alofi (April-May 1616), or Roggeveen and Bouman's very brief visits to the Manu'a group in Samoa (June 1722) are sources of this word, since neither of these expeditions had any indigenous East Indians on board, their point of embarkation being Holland. Le Maire did have at least one crew member who could speak Malay, his chief merchant, Aris Claeszoon, since Schouten reports in his journal that Claeszoon “Maleys … seer wel konde” (knew Malay very well) (Engelbrecht and van Herwerden 1945:210); but Malay would not have been spoken on board.
12   We are grateful to Femme Gaastra (University of Leiden) for drawing our attention to this table.
13   The situation changed drastically in the 18th century when the V.O.C. was forced to recruit many indigenous East Indians and other Asians. This was due to the extremely poor conditions on board its ships which made Europeans very reluctant to sail with the Company (Boxer 1988:86, Bruijn and van Eyck van Heslinga 1980:17).
14   Recall also Basil Thomson's story (cited above) of how a Tongan in 1773 remarked that Europeans came from “the land of the riches— from Babalangi!” Thomson understood from this that papālagi was a nonce word; but it is also open to the interpretation that papālagi meant ‘riches’.
15   There is no way to tell from these sources whether the first morpheme is ā or ; nor is it clear what it means. It certainly is not the word for ‘cloth’.
16   Compiled by Hale from “various sources” (1968 [1846]: 230).
17   The Rotuman papalạgi shows Polynesian /l/ being borrowed as /l/. This is unusual (/r/ is the more usual realisation), but not unheard of. Biggs (1965:402-3) has already noted tali ‘plait (rope)’ (cf. PCP *tali), though there appears to be no obvious Polynesian source. To this we can add kaumaila ‘kind of yam’ (cf. Tongan kaumeile, East Uvea kaumaile).
18   Chowning (pers. comm. 10/3/1998) and Davidson (pers. comm 23/4/1999) assert that Polynesians did not make blue beads. Polynesians of pre-European times used sea shells for beads, and we know of none that are bluish. Samoans did use flat rectangular segments of nautilus shell (which is iridescent and can have a bluish tinge) on the tuiga headdress, but these are not beads. So, while Roggeveen may have seen some kind of shell necklace, just possibly made of nautilus segments sewn to a band, it is unlikely he would have mistaken this for a string of oblong beads. That the blue beads worn by the Nu'u island girl were of European manufacture is therefore quite plausible.
19   If Jaggar's account is accurate in that the Fijians suffered from bloody flux (i.e., diarrhoea), they could not have been suffering from cholera, which is associated with rice-water stools. Dysentery seems the more likely. Dysentery is not the name of a disease, but a symptom. It is inflammation of the colon, which produces diarrhoea with blood and mucus and can be the symptom of many diseases. The main bacterial causes of dysentery are shigella and salmonella; given appropriate conditions, such organisms may well survive in contaminated water (Adams, Cossart pers. comms).
20   Thomson changed the name from bale-i-na-vavalagi, to bale-i-vavalagi, presumably because it made more sense to him linguistically, since in contemporary Fijian vāvālagi is a place name. This folk etymology was repeated by Tippett (1973:26) and Gravelle (n.d. v.I:29).
21   Thomson exaggerates. It is clear European goods were well known in eastern Fiji before this date.
22   The word is ukamea, recorded from Futuna in 1616 by Schouten and Le Maire (Kern 1948:221), which we believe to be a pre-Tasman coinage originally referring to copper wire that drifted ashore, from uka ‘fishing line’ and mea ‘reddish’ (Geraghty and Tent 1997a: 154 n.2).
23   The idea that papālagi may be derived from faranggi was also suggested to us by the linguist Clark (pers. comm. 31/1/1997).
24   See also Balander / balanda / ballanda (< Maccasarese balanda < Malay belanda < Hollander), is the Aboriginal English for ‘white man’. Also adj. (Australian National Dictionary).
25   Note, however, Tongan mango, apparently < English ‘mango’.
26   This same word is apparently the source of the word parangi used in Sri Lanka to refer to yaws or a similar disease (OED 1989). This may in turn be the source of two Micronesian words, Trukese paaranga (Goodenough and Sugita 1980) and Puluwat paarang (Elbert 1972), both meaning ‘smallpox’, though the distance involved is great and the vector far from clear.
27   As is common in French sources, h is the symbol for glottal stop.
28   We also find the Eastern Polynesian reflex in at least one Western Polynesian language, Samoan, in what appears to be a back-borrowing: Milner (1966) papa'a ‘European (loan from Tahitian?)’ [n.b., not in Pratt (1911 [1862])], Cain (1986) papa'ā ‘(T papaâ) (obs.) n. (and adj.) European’. Milner (1966) lists a considerable number of Samoan words borrowed from Tahitian, probably introduced by LMS missionaries from Tahiti, e.g., solofanua ‘horse’ and mōlī ‘lamp’.