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Ralston, Caroline

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Grass huts and warehouses

Picture of Grass huts and warehouses
Grass Huts and Warehouses is a pioneering study of early trade and beach communities in the Pacific Islands. First published in 1977, the book provided historians with an ambitious survey of early European-Polynesian contact, an analysis of how early trade developed along with the beachcomber community, and a detailed reconstruction of development of the early Pacific port towns. Set mainly in the first half of the nineteenth century, continuing in some cases for a few decades more, the book covers five ports: Kororareka (now Russell, in New Zealand), Levuka (Fiji), Apia (Samoa), Papeete (Tahiti) and Honolulu (Hawai`i). The role of beachcombers, the earliest European inhabitants, as well as the later consuls (commercial agents), and the development of plantation economies is successfully treated. The book is a tour-de-force, the first detailed comparative academic study of these early pre-colonial trading towns and their race relations. Ralston argues that the predominantly egalitarian towns where Islanders, beachcombers, traders, missionaries mixed, were largely harmonious, but this was undermined by later arrivals and larger populations.