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Omai, a native of Ulaietea

Date: 1774
Sheet: 534 x 320 mm
Image: 515 x 310 mm
Mount: 717 x 525 mm
Medium: Printed on medium-weight cream laid watermarked paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Name: Engraving
Object No: 00045168
Place Manufactured:Great Britain
Related Place:Raiatea,

User Terms

    This engraving was originally taken from a painting by Nathaniel Dance and shows Omai, a native of Ulaietea, Polynesia. He holds a feather whisk in his right hand, a carved wooden headrest under his left arm and wears a robe of white tapa cloth. He is depicted in the genre of the noble savage, an image that both English society and Omai were happy to construct. Omai joined Captain Cook's second expedition when it visited Huahine in 1773 and he became a celebrity during his visit to England.
    SignificanceThis is a depiction of the Polynesian Omai after the original work by Nathaniel Dance. Omai was in the unique position of being a south sea explorer who came into contact with European culture. This engraving reminds us that European exploration of the Pacific involved bi-cultural encounter and exchange.
    HistoryThe Polynesian Omai (more correctly Mai), an Indigenous man of Raiatea, asked to join the crew of HMS ADVENTURE (Captain Furneaux) when the ADVENTURE and RESOLUTION visited Huahine in September 1773 during James Cook's second expedition. Omai was not the first Polynesian to join a European ship. The Tahitian Tupai had joined the ENDEAVOUR during Cook's first expedition to the south seas and his navigation and linguistic skills had proven a great asset to the expedition. Another Polynesian, Aoutourou, had joined the French ships of Louis-Antoine de Bougainville. In both instances, the men had died during the voyage to Europe.

    Omai arrived in England aboard the ADVENTURE in July 1774 and during his two-year stay became a great celebrity among the upper classes of English society. Joseph Banks took responsibility for the young Omai, presenting him to the King, and introducing him at the Royal Society. Omai was a frequent guest of Lord Sandwich (First Lord of the Admiralty) at his home in Hinchingbrooke. He came to be idolised as a living personification of the Noble Savage by English society. He was painted and sketched by a number of artists including Sir Joshua Reynolds, William Hodges, William Parry and Nathaniel Dance.

    Omai returned to Huahine with Cook's third expedition and was landed with a considerable amount of European goods in October 1777. Cook had a two-storey house constructed for him close to the beach. However, regardless of Omai's celebrity in England, at Huahine he was regarded as something of an upstart and after the British departed most of his belongings were stolen. By the time the LADY PENRHYN visited Huahine in 1788, Omai was dead.
    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Omai, a native of Ulaietea

    Web title: Omai, a native of Ulaietea

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