Daily Archives: 10 September 2009

Tahiti, 1767: Sex for Iron

From Sailors and Traders: A Maritime History of the Pacific Peoples, by Alastair Couper (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2009), pp. 64-65, 69:

The master of HMS Dolphin under Captain Wallis in June 1767 was George Robertson. He was typical in many ways of the normal run of career masters [equivalent to Master Chief Petty Officers] in the Royal Navy. Robertson was a good seaman who gave discreet guidance but showed suitable deference to the young gentlemen officers. He was also highly patriotic, with a firm belief in the rights of the British nation to take possession and rule over these “poor ignorant creatures,” as he described the Tahitians. In one respect he was less typical than the average master in that he kept a journal of his voyages. This is an important document recording the first relationships between sailors and Tahitians.

Robertson’s journal describes alternating scenes of violence and friendship. At one stage a large canoe approached, and at a signal its occupants launched a storming of stone missiles. The Dolphin replied with a volley of grapeshot from its great guns. Noting that this “carried all before it and drove [the canoe] in two,” Robertson added, “I believe few that were on her escaped with life.” The carpenters were also sent ashore and “cut in the middle” some eighty canoes. The attitude of the master was clearly one of exasperation that these “poor creatures” would have the temerity to challenge sailors of the Royal Navy “and put us under the disagreeable necessity of killing a few of them.” He was pleased that the Tahitians eventually recognized the error of their ways and that sailors and natives soon “walked arm in arm.”

The conversion to close friendships between the sailors and local people appears to have come about when the older men of the island discerned the obsession of the Dolphin sailors for women. The Tahitians were puzzled that the Dolphin had no females on board and may have assumed they came from islands with a dire shortage of women. In any event the Tahitians concluded that what they themselves regarded as normal relationships within society could be a means of obtaining iron from the Dolphin. For the sailors the availability of sex for payment was simply regarded as playing at, as Robertson puts it, “the old trade.” They did so with such enthusiasm that it threatened the integrity of the ship as iron and nails were drawn from it. When the Dolphin left, Robertson described the sorrow and weeping of the people….

The acts of debauching female morals in Tahiti by commerce in iron was echoed by the [HMS Bounty mutineer] bosun’s mate James Morrison when he reminded the more high-minded about corresponding effects of gold in his own country, where, he observed, “as fine a woman as any in Europe are said to prefer it to virtue.”

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Filed under Britain, economics, military, Pacific, Polynesia, travel

Baptist Becomes Buddhist U.S. Army Chaplain

In The Tennessean of 8 September 2009, Bob Smietana profiles a new type of chaplain for the U.S. Army:

When Thomas Dyer heads to Afghanistan in December, the former Marine and one-time Southern Baptist pastor won’t take a rifle with him. He won’t take a Bible, either.

Instead, Dyer, a Tennessean National Guardsman from Memphis and the first Buddhist chaplain in the history of the U.S. Army, hopes to bring serenity and calm, honed by months of intensive meditation.

That preparation, he says, will help him bring spiritual care in the midst of a war zone. “We’re going to put it to the test,” Dyer said.

Dyer’s deployment is another step in the U.S. military’s attempt to meet the diverse spiritual needs of America’s fighting forces. It’s no easy task. For one thing, the military chaplaincy is facing all the complications that have affected American religion over the past 40 years. The decline of mainline Protestants and their aging clergy. The ongoing Catholic priest shortage. The explosion of religious diversity. The emergence of people with no faith. The ease with which people move from one faith to another.

The military is trying to adapt to these changes, while trying to find ministers willing to serve in a war zone, and who can minister to American troops without offending Muslim allies.

My elder stepbrother is a chaplain in the U.S. Army—and the son of a chaplain. And one of my Southern Baptist missionary “uncles” in Japan became very interested in Japanese Buddhism, later publishing a book entitled Zen Way, Jesus Way. One of his daughters is a believer in Tibetan Buddhism. Whenever Christians ask me why I am not a believer, I usually respond, “In which religion?”

UPDATE: There were Christian chaplains in the Imperial Japanese Army, along with Buddhist and Shinto chaplains. (The pastor of the Hiroshima Baptist Church, where my parents served as missionaries, was a Christian chaplain with the Japanese Army in China.) However, there were no Buddhist or Shinto chaplains in the U.S. Army’s 442nd Regimental Combat Team, only Protestants, even for all the “Buddhaheads” from Hawai‘i.

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Filed under Buddhism, Islam, military, religion, U.S., war