The Pacific Empire – Episode 1: Ancient Mariners 

Despite an idyllic tropical setting in the middle of the world’s largest ocean, the Pacific Islands have been a battleground for centuries.

Indigenous Austronesian and Polynesian tribes were among the world’s first explorers and navigators – and then fought one another for centuries sometimes eating their victims after successful conquests.

In the 18th century great European powers launched ‘journeys of discovery” in search of great continents in and beyond the South Seas. 

These journeys were often flagged as great scientific explorations of the natural world, but the Europeans also introduced deadly diseases which had a devastating impact on island communities.

Colonial rivalry between France and Britain then led to their occupation of Pacific islands. Some indigenous, notably the Māori in New Zealand, violently resisted.

 The colonial. powers dumped their unwanted here. One hundred and sixty thousand excited convicts were sent to Australia by the British over a period of sixty years and a lesser number by the French to their colony in New Caledonia.

Asian labourers, mainly from India, were then imported by the British to the Fiji Islands which were turned into a giant sugar plantation.

Then the Americans did the same in Hawaii not only introducing a plantation economy harvesting pineapples but overthrowing the traditional rulers, and taking over the islands 

In the 20th century colonisation was replaced by outright war as the Japanese and Americans, aided by their allies, fought each other in a bloody Pacific War in the 1940s, which cost the lives of 36 million people.

More recently the Pacific islands were used as test sites for controversial nuclear tests by France and the United States. In Episode 1 “Ancient Mariners “we look at how the Polynesians spread out across the Pacific and examine the cultures they took with them, constructing elaborate temples to their beliefs in places like Easter Island, off the coast of Chile and Nanmadol in Micronesia. We also look at the warrior tribes of the Māori, who voyaged to New Zealand from Eastern Polynesia in the 14th century finding a place uninhabited by humans

Empire Builders – series