Mai (Omai)(circa 1753-circa 1780), First Polynesian to visit England
Sitter in 6 portraits
The first Polynesian to visit Britain. He came to Britain at his own desire, hoping to gain support, gun power and status that would help him avenge the death of his father and the taking of his family’s land during the Bora Boran war of the 1760s. Having gained the agreement of Captain Furneaux, Captain Cook’s second in command, he travelled from the South Pacific in 1774. He lived in London with scientist and socialite Joseph Banks, who had met Mai in Tahiti and was interested in observing how an Indigenous person might respond to European society. He mixed with elite and fashionable society and became a celebrity during his stay. His charm, good humour and sense of etiquette were demonstrated at his audience with George III. To the surprise of the British, he was discovered to be a sophisticated man with a complex culture, dismantling some widely spread misconceptions and stereotypes about non-Europeans. He returned to Polynesia with Cook in 1776. He left behind an enduring legacy, including being made the subject of a theatrical production Omai - A Trip round the World, staged at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden in 1785.