Elena Govor

Twelve days at Nuku Hiva : Russian encounters and mutiny in the South Pacific

University of Hawai'i Press


bibliothèque insulaire

l'archipel russe ?
livres sur les Marquises
parutions 2010
Twelve days at Nuku Hiva : Russian encounters and mutiny in the South Pacific / Elena Govor. - Honolulu : University of Hawai'i Press, 2010. - XI-301 p. : ill. ; 24 cm.
ISBN 978-0-8248-3368-8
NOTE DE L'ÉDITEUR : In August 1803 two Russian ships, the Nadezhda and the Neva, set off on a round-the-world voyage to carry out scientific exploration and collect artifacts for Alexander I’s ethnographic museum in St. Petersburg. Russia’s strategic concerns in the north Pacific, however, led the Russian government to include as part of the expedition an embassy to Japan, headed by statesman Nikolai Rezanov, who was given authority over the ships’ commanders without their knowledge. Between them the ships carried an ethnically and socially disparate group of men : Russian educated elite, German naturalists, Siberian merchants, Baltic naval officers, even Japanese passengers. Upon reaching Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas archipelago on May 7, 1804, and for the next twelve days, the naval officers revolted against Rezanov’s command while complex crosscultural encounters between Russians and islanders occurred. Elena Govor recounts the voyage, reconstructing and exploring in depth the tumultuous events of the Russians’ stay in Nuku Hiva ; the course of the mutiny, its resolution and aftermath ; and the extent and nature of the contact between Nuku Hivans and Russians.

Govor draws directly on the writings of the participants themselves, many of whom left accounts of the voyage. Those by the ships’ captains, Krusenstern and Lisiansky, and the naturalist George Langsdorff are well known, but here for the first time, their writings are juxtaposed with recently discovered textual and visual evidence by various members of the expedition in Russian, German, Japanese — and by the Nuku Hivans themselves. Two sailor-beachcombers, a Frenchman [Joseph Kabris] and an Englishman [Edward Robarts] who acted as guides and interpreters, later contributed their own accounts, which feature the words and opinions of islanders. Govor also relies on a myth about the Russian visit recounted by Nuku Hivans to this day.

Elena Govor is research fellow at the Division of Pacific and Asian History at the Australian National University.

Si le titre laisse augurer d’une étude à échelle microscopique tant par la durée du séjour (douze jours, ce qui est plutôt long pour une escale aux Marquises), que le cadre géographique  : une île Nuku Hiva, sur les six habitées que compte l’archipel, l’étude va bien au-delà. Au fil des pages, des univers parallèles d’une immense richesse et d’une grande complexité fournissent les éléments d’un scénario digne d’un roman d’aventure, agréable à lire. S’y entremêlent science, sagesse et rigueur, rêves exotiques et de grandeur, affrontements de personnalités, collectes, menace de mutinerie, l’érotisme né du voyage et de corps d’une beauté sauvage et tatoués, une déesse très humaine, un français et un anglais en parfaite opposition devenant d’utiles intermédiaires, un aristocrate fantasque le comte Fedor Tolstoï et son singe, l’aube de désillusions… pour finir par un succès, celui de ce tour du monde et de la maîtrise de son commandant A.J. von Krusenstern à maintenir un objectif encore largement inspiré par l’esprit des Lumières.

Au final, cette brillante étude aboutit à un ouvrage original de grande valeur. Il livre non seulement de précieux approfondissements sur des témoignages essentiels, pour beaucoup méconnus, concernant les Marquises et les Marquisiens, ce qui est rare, le Pacifique et ce type d’expédition, mais il offre aussi une unique occasion de saisir les multiples facettes de regards portés entre mondes très dissemblables.


« Compte rendu de Twelve days at Nuku Hiva. Russian Encounters and Mutiny in the South Pacific, de Elena Govor », Journal de la Société des Océanistes 1/2014 (n° 138-139) , pp. 237-239 [en ligne]
EXTRAIT In April 1826 the Krotky was sailing towards Nuku Hiva, following Krusenstern's route. [Ferdinand] Wrangel chose to make a halt at Port Chichagov [Hakaui], so highly extolled by Krusenstern, where Wrangel believed “ the inhabitants were pleasant and obliging ”. The only Russian ship to visit this port since Krusenstern was the RAC vessel Suvorov, which anchored at Port Chichagov in March 1818, but its captain Zakhar Ponafidin, did not live any account of his visit.

Guided by Krusenstern's map, Wrangel entered the magnificent bay. It was like entering a book known and loved since youth : the high rock wall surrounded the quiet waters of the bay, and a crowd of islanders swarmed round the ship, including women who “ shamelessly offered the sailors their charms ”. […] The rediscoveries continued : a brook with sweet water in the eastern cove with its sandy shore and the stream baptized Nevka by Lisiansky in the western cove, in the picturesque and densely inhabited valley. Wrangel praised “ the meek behavior and helpfulness of the islanders ” who assisted them with watering and cutting firewood. Like Krusenstern and Lisiansky before him, Wrangel exchanged friendly visits with an elderly airiki (chief) of the valley, “ Magedede ” (Makate'ite'i), remarking on his “ limited power ”, and with the influential taua (priest) “ Togoyapu ” (Tokoi'apu'u) […]. Even beachcombers appeared, seeming to have emerged from the pages of Krusenstern's book […]. Following the humane example set by his predecessors […] Wrangel showed the islanders every kindness and respect. He entertained the distinguished visitors on board with music and food, and offered gifts ans fair pay to those islanders who assisted them on shore.

Everything resembled his favorite books, and yet it was different. The paradise they had found crumbled away with every passing minute. Makate'ite'i, Tokoi'apu'u and his son “ Otomogo ” (To'omoko) refused gifts from the Russians, being interested only in gunpowder and guns. […] Their beachcombers, unlike Robarts and Kabris, were rotten with veneral diseases, […]. Even the dances that the islanders performed for them seemed to be hollow, and at the end of the day the islanders asked for rum.

Epilogue : Nuku Hiva revisited, pp. 263-264
(La bibliographie réunie par Elena Govor couvre les pages 275 à 287.)

mise-à-jour : 27 avril 2021