No portraits exist of one of the most important people in Pacific history. Tupaia was a man of many talents: high priest, artist, diplomat, politician, orator and celestial navigator. After fleeing conflict on his home island of Ra’iātea for Tahiti, he befriended botanist Joseph Banks, and joined the onward voyage of James Cook’s Endeavour. Arriving in New Zealand in 1769, Tupaia discovered he could converse with Māori. He became an interpreter, cultural advisor and bringer of news from islands that Māori had left long ago.
250 years on, we are barely beginning to know who he was.
Death was once a constant presence. People passed away at home, and their bodies remained there until burial. Art was full of reminders of our own mortality, while churchgoers confronted the afterlife every Sunday morning. Today, death has been abstracted—it takes place in hospitals, the deceased are swiftly removed to funeral homes, and we no longer decorate our homes with reminders that, one day, our time will be up. What have we lost?