J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, August 03, 2018

Taiato, Boy Explorer

Last month the British Library’s blog highlighted the short life of Taiato (spellings vary), a boy from Tahiti who sailed on Capt. James Cook’s Endeavour for a few months in 1770.

The Tahitian navigator and priest Tupaia brought Taiato, estimated to be twelve years old, aboard the ship in July. His most prominent moment in Cook’s log came on 15 October off the coast of New Zealand. Modern Maps project manager Huw Rowlands relates:
The Endeavour had only sighted land a few days before, but already a great deal had happened. [Joseph] Banks described 9 October as ‘the most disagreable day My life has yet seen’. An estimated nine Māori had already been shot dead, and the Endeavour had acquired virtually no fresh supplies of food and water in the nearly two months since they left the Society Islands.

As the crew started to trade for fish with Māori in canoes alongside the ship, a many-layered event unfolded. Cook tried to trade some red cloth for a Māori cloak, but no sooner was the cloth in the trader’s hand, than he sat down in the canoe, which calmly withdrew. After a brief discussion amongst themselves, the Māori approached again. This time however they had other ambitions.

As the ship’s surgeon [William Brougham] Monkhouse recorded: ‘we were attending to the coming up of the great war Canoe when all on a sudden an Alarm was given that one of the fishermen had pulled Tupaia’s boy into the boat – they instantly put off, and the great Canoe, as if the scheme had been preconcerted, immediately put themselves in a fighting posture ready to defend the other boat and stood ready to receive the boy from them. Our astonishment at so unexpected a trick is not to be described’.

The Endeavour’s crew, and particularly Tupaia, were outraged and shots were immediately fired at the Māori, fatally wounding several, and securing Taiato’s escape.
Unfortunately, Taiato lived only a few more weeks. On 9 November he died at Batavia, a base of the Dutch East India Company, which is now Jakarta. The navigator Tupaia was mournful and, already sick, died a few days later. Many authors presume the disease was tuberculosis.

Naturalist Sydney Parkinson wrote that during his illness, Taiato repeated, “Tyau mate oee,” which he translated as, “My friends, I am dying.” However, in Language Contact in the Early Colonial Pacific, Emanuel J. Drechsel posited that the boy actually said, “Taio mate ’ohi,” meaning, “Friend dying diarrhea.”

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