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Boy From The Sky: The Curious Genesis of the World’s First Ethnography

By Nigel Randell Evans

In 1806 a British privateer limped into the Tongan archipelago.

This is the story of the fifteen-year-old ship’s clerk who, in four years, rose from being a naked and derided castaway to become a respected member of the Tongan aristocracy. Surviving a massacre aboard the ship, William Mariner was adopted by its perpetrator, King Finau, and groomed to be his lieutenant. With the ship’s weaponry in the hands of the sixteen other crewmembers he had spared for the task, Finau plunged the islands into civil war.

Mariner’s graphic account of the impact of western arms upon the islands’ population is matched by his descriptions of the chaotic scenes that followed as Finau’s army resorted to cannibalism and headhunting.

Eight years after he was rescued Mariner’s account of his years in Tonga became a best-seller. But by placing himself at the centre of the action and airbrushing out the other crewmembers Mariner constructed a gripping but deeply deceptive narrative. This book uncovers the extraordinary reasons for his deception.

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