Flag of the Marquesas islands. Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Johanna Strong

Putahaie, likely born in the mid eighteenth century, was the wife of Temotei’i of Taiohae Bay, Nukuhiva, in the Marquesas and was a significant landholder in the western part of the island’s bay.

Putahaie was likely a chief in her own right between her father’s death and her son Keatonui’s majority. Women were expected to be dependent and domestic according to the traditional gendered societal roles, so when women took on the role of a chief they were perceived to be acting as men. Though she was not the eldest, she inherited her father’s rule because of contemporary perceptions that her elder brother’s disability would make it difficult for him to rule.

When he met her, Captain Fanning remarked that a woman suspected to be Putahaie was a large woman aged about 50 with a retinue of 200 women. He also wrote that she had largely been in charge of his interview with the local chiefs.

Recommended Reading

Nicholas Jeremy Thomas, “Social and Cultural Dynamics in Early Marquesan History,” doctoral thesis for the Australian National University, 1986

Niel Gunson, “”Women Chiefs and Female “Headmen” in Polynesian History,” The Journal of Pacific History 22.3 (1987): 139-172.

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