Research at the California Academy of Sciences

The Pacific Voyages of Rollo Beck

Collection of Oceanic Photographs and Objects

The Early Years of the Whitney Expedition

Map of French Polynesia Schooner The France

Map of French Polynesia / The France

The Whitney Expedition began in August of 1920 in French Polynesia where a seventy-five foot Tahitian-built, motorized schooner named "The France," a former copra vessel, was purchased for the project. The American and Polynesian crew spent the first two years collecting throughout parts of Eastern Polynesia (the Society, Tuamotu, and Marquesa Islands) using Papeete on the island of Tahiti as a home base.

Tahitian girl Haku leis

A Tahitian girl wearing shell leis and a haku lei / 3 shell haku leis from our collection
CAS 1986-0002-0009 (top), 0084-0001 (middle), 0281-0031 (bottom)

In our collection there are over thirty Oceanic leis and haku leis most of which are shell, like those pictured above, while others are made of nuts or seeds.

Tahitian fisherman

A Tahitian fisherman

Model canoe, CAS 0477-0057

A canoe model from our collection
CAS 0477-0057

The photo above depicts a Tahitian fisherman with his nets in a single outrigger canoe. The model pictured is not identical to the Tahitian canoe but represents one of many models of Oceanic sea craft from our collection.

Marine Subsistence

Marine subsistence practices have long been an integral part of Polynesian culture. The archaeological record indicates that early Polynesians brought domesticated plants and animals with them but that they also relied heavily on marine protein sources. Shell and reef fish collection as well as deep-sea line and net fishing were and still are practiced throughout Oceania. Traditional fishing implements such as spears, bone and shell fish hooks and lures, ground stone net weights, and sinkers, show an extensive understanding of the marine environment. Certain articles were designed for a specific catch, such as an octopus lure while others were designed for a specific fishing zone, such as the spear, pictured below, for use in close range inner tidal areas.

The Department of Anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences houses a number of Oceanic fishing implements including a large collection of Hawaiian fish hooks.

A passage from Beck's field notes reads, "The natives of Takaroa, like those of Manahi find their dogs useful when going on the reef fishing. I saw one dog catch a fish about a foot long chasing it into the shallow water and killing it then standing by till the owner came and picked it up."

Turei man Coconut containers

A Turei Islander with coconut containers /containers from the collection
CAS 1984-0008-0069, 1984-0008-0070

Rapa woman

Rapa Islander in the Tuomotus with freshly pulled taro

Women with taro rootMaking poi

Rapa women with taro root ready to be pounded / Making poi

Making poi Poi pounder, CAS 0281-0032

A Marquesan man making poi / A poi pounder from the collection
CAS 0281-0032

As mentioned above, the earliest Polynesian voyagers brought with them domesticated plants as well as agricultural knowledge. One of the food plants they brought is Colocasia esculenta commonly known as the taro plant. Taro is found in varieties suitable for both wet and dry cultivation and is used as a starchy staple food called poi. Poi is prepared by mashing the bulbous root, mixing it with water to form a thick paste and allowing it to ferment for a few days. The leaves are cooked and used as a dark green leafy vegetable. Just as Polynesians made specialized implements for various fishing strategies, they also made tools specific to food preparation. The ground stone poi pounder pictured above was collected by Beck in the Marquesas and represents only one of a variety of shapes. The design and the shape vary locally although they all serve the same function.

Rapa woman Water gourd, CAS 1984-0008-0226 Rapa woman

Rapa Islander with gourd water vessel
CAS 1984-0008-0226

Rollo Beck continuedRollo Beck continued

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