Tahiti Beyond the Postcard

9780295991016: Hardback
Release Date: 31st January 2011

9780295991023: Paperback
Release Date: 8th February 2011

40 illus.

Dimensions: 152 x 229

Number of Pages: 288

Series Culture, Place, and Nature

University of Washington Press

Tahiti Beyond the Postcard

Power, Place, and Everyday Life

Hardback / £74.00
Paperback / £27.99

Winner of the 2013 ICAS Book Prize (Social Sciences)

The “Tahiti” that most people imagine - white-sand beaches, turquoise lagoons, and beautiful women - is a product of 18th century European romanticism and persists today as the bedrock of Tahiti’s tourism industry. This postcard image, however, masks a different reality. The dreams and desires that the tourism industry promotes distract from the medical nightmares and environmental destruction caused by France’s 30-year nuclear testing program in French Polynesia. Tahitians see the burying of a bomb in their land as deeply offensive. For Tahitians, the land abounds with ancestral fertility, and genealogical identity, and is a source of physical and spiritual nourishment. These imagined and lived perspectives seem incompatible, yet are intricately intertwined in the political economy.

Tahiti Beyond the Postcard engages with questions about the subtle but ubiquitous ways in which power entangles itself in place-related ways. Miriam Kahn uses interpretive frameworks of both Tahitian and European scholars, drawing upon ethnographic details that include ancient chants, picture postcards, antinuclear protests, popular song lyrics, and the legacy of Paul Gauguin’s art, to provide fresh perspectives on colonialism, tourism, imagery, and the anthropology of place.

Note to the Reader


1. New Geographies in the Wake of Colonialism
2. Placentas in the Land, Bombs in the Bedrock
3. Keeping the Myth Alive
4. In the Cocoon
5. From Our Place to Their Place
6. Everyday Spaces of Resistance
7. E Aha Atu Ra? What Will Happen?


Miriam Kahn is professor of anthropology at the University of Washington and author of Always Hungry, Never Greedy: Food and the Expression of Gender in a Melanesian Society and coauthor of Pacific Voices: Keeping Our Cultures Alive.

Tahiti Beyond the Postcard is provocative and original, and makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of the contradictions associated with tourism and the politics of space in Tahiti.

Stuart Kirsch, University of Michigan

Tahitian salvation from the pretty picture could get ugly . . . but at least Kahn's book already alerts the international media to scrutinize Tahiti and French Polynesia under critical commentary, and not just the travel pages.

Frances Mae Carolina Ramos
Journal of Contemporary Asia

A welcome addition to any ethnography course focusing on the Pacific, as well as courses or scholarship concerning tourism, the philosophy of space and place, the military in the Pacific, and the effects of colonialism. . . . any museum studies or museum anthropology course delving into the politics of display.

Jennifer Wagelie
Pacific Affairs

This is a work for scholars seeking a dual view of both Polynesian and European perspectives and practices from one of the most mythical places in the world.

Matt Matsuda
Pacific Historical Review

Kahn foregrounds the intertwined European and indigenous histories and experiences that constitute Tahiti and provides us with Tahitians' perspectives on life in a place that figures so centrally in historical and contemporary imaginings of tropical paradise. . . . methodologically and ethnographically rich.

Colleen Ballerino Cohen
American Anthropologist

Kahn's book is an enjoyable ethnographic exploration of power, imagination, and the social production of space in its past and present.

Susanna Trnka
Journal of Anthropological Research

Kahn writes beautifully about a beautiful place, which makes her book highly readable and inviting. With this accessibility, the theoretical dimension comes alive, and Kahn's work is, most importantly, the exposition of a sophisticated and powerfully explanatory political philosophy of space. Summing up: Highly recommended.