The Noble Savage

AhutoruAhutoru was the first Tahitian to join the European continent. His journey began in 1768 as voluntary apprentice sailor on the vessel of the famous captain Bougainville.

Bougainville arrived in Tahiti on April 2 and called the island « the new Cythera ». After a few days, he decided to leave the island and continued his around-the-world trip. At departure time, Bougainville was harassed by Ereti -the village chief- who begged him to take Ahutoru with him. Ahutoru was a big thirteen-years-old guy coming from Raiatea and voluntary to discover the world alongside the great French traveller. Bougainville accepted after some hesitations and upon the Ahutoru’s insistence. The Ahutoru’s adventure began on April 15th 1768.

Let us pass on the details of travel. The Bougainville’s ship « La Boudeuse » arrived in St Malo on April 16th 1769. Charles de La Condamine was one of the first to be interested by the young Ahutoru. This scientist undertook to educate him with tests that weren’t really to Ahutoru’s likings. Then, another scientist studied his language and his «savage» behaviours.

On 30 April 1769, Ahutoru dressed from head to toe by Bougainville was introduced to the king Louis XV. As you can imagine, the Tahitian was completely impressed by the luxurious castle of Versailles. This encounter with the french king changed his life. From this moment, Ahutoru became the curiosity of the city being the “noble savage” lost in Paris. He was invited to all official receptions and society dinners. Moreover, Diderot and others Enlightenment philosophers used his image to personify the hero of their campaign against the colonization.

During one year Ahutoru enjoyed advantages of the modern world sometimes abusing of alcohol and being involved by the wrong crowd of the city. Anyway, he took all opportunities to learn more about this foreign world. After one year of “discovery”, Bougainville decided that it was time for Ahutoru to come back to his native island and family. The captain began his search of a new shipment to the Pacific Ocean. Ahurotu started his return trip on March 4th, 1770 onboard the « Brisson » : a boat going toward the island of Mauritius. Once on site, he had to wait for another marine excursion to Tahiti. It took (him) a year to find out this expedition. The irony of Ahutoru’s story is that he died during this journey. Indeed, he died on 1771, November 07th of the smallpox onboard. His body was then immersed in the ocean according to Christian practices.

History records that Ahutoru was the first Tahitian to set foot in Europe. He contributed in his way in the emancipation of french Polynesia by being its representative. We can also underline his great adaptability during this stay in France. In 1773, another Tahitian (Omaï) will attempt a similar travel alongside James Cook with more success. Indeed, Omaï will manage to return in French Polynesia after becoming famous in England for two years.

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