*Papeetee (pah-pay-AY-tay). Principal city and colonial capital of Tahiti. Papeetee (now generally spelled Papeete) provides the setting for the first half of Omoo. Its deep, spacious harbor is well protected by reefs, making it one of the South Pacific’s most valuable anchorages for both commercial and military purposes. Melville’s narrator duly notes the harbor’s activity in a steady stream of whaling ships and trading brigs. He also delineates the city’s role as a colonial catspaw, or pawn, used by the British and French.
*Tahiti. Major island in the South Pacific’s French-occupied Society Islands. At the time in which the narrative is set, the island group had been unofficially ceded by the British to the French; however, the British presence in Papeetee is still maintained in the form of its chief consul. His corrupt administration exemplifies the self-delusory arrogance inherent in colonial systems that purport to “civilize” colonized peoples but in fact exploit and debase them. For instance, the narrator contrasts the simple beauty and usefulness of the native barkcloth (tapa) with the European fripperies ridiculously adopted by some Tahitians. Moreover, he provides an insightful analysis of the cycle of dependency and idleness engendered in a colonized people who abandon traditional economies (such as tapa-making, canoe-building, and even coconut harvesting) to accept handouts from colonial authorities. Yet, the narrator reserves his greatest scorn for the European missionaries, both...
(The entire section is 649 words.)