Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson

cover image of sea people

2019 Winner

Judges' Comments 

Sea People is a beautifully written book revealing the complex and compelling story of how the Polynesian Islands, stretching from Hawaii to New Zealand and Easter Island, were settled by a group of ambitious voyagers willing to travel for many miles across the Pacific ocean in rudimentary canoes without maps or navigational equipment. The details of their extraordinary feat remained the focus of heated debate among experts and observers across the world for centuries.

The book questions Western approaches to history writing and knowledge. It draws on a variety of sources that have been written and narrated from Western and Polynesian perspectives and asks us to question how we know what we know and what impact that has on present lives. These diverse sources provide partial and sometimes contradictory accounts with profound political consequences that Thompson marshals with extraordinary skill and sensitivity.

Sea People is an emotionally intense and reflective read beginning with the author’s own family history and stories of her Maori husband’s ancestors. The book makes clear how beautifully complicated and contentious history can be but also its immense significance for our contemporary world. This is a captivating book which deserves the widest international audience possible.