European Explorers' Engagements with Sexuality in Indigenous Cultures: The Forsters' Interpretations of Tahitian Sexual Practices

M.W.A. van Tilburg

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    While current analyses of European interpretations of non-western cultures are guided by a modern concept of sexuality, this article argues for a more encompassing, historical awareness by drawing historical constructs of sexuality into the analysis. To illustrate the point, it will analyze the accounts of indigenous sexual practices written by the botanist Johann Reinhold Forster and his son Georg, in the wake of Cook’s voyages. These accounts differ starkly, even though the authors participated in the same expedition. As the post-structural textual analysis of the text makes apparent, each author has a specific concept of sexuality in mind. These perceptions affirm the change taking place in 18th-century European culture, as analyzed by Foucault. Moreover, the textual analysis strongly suggests that their respective views of sexuality impact upon their interpretations of Tahitian culture at large. As a consequence, the article furthers insight into “Western” ways of interpreting “non-western” cultures.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)277-289
    JournalHistory Research
    Issue number4, April 2013
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


    • Cross-cultural encounters, Enlightenment, Sexuality, Gender

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