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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.

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Mai (Omai), Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander, by William Parry - NPG 6652

Mai (Omai), Sir Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander

by William Parry
oil on canvas, circa 1775-1776
On display in Room 10 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 6652

Mai (Omai), by Sir Joshua Reynolds - NPG 7153

Mai (Omai)

by Sir Joshua Reynolds
oil on canvas, circa 1776
On display in Room 18 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery
NPG 7153

Mai (Omai), by Page - NPG D9162

Mai (Omai)

by Page
line engraving, published August 1774
NPG D9162

Mai (Omai), by Francesco Bartolozzi, after  Nathaniel Dance (later Sir Nathaniel Holland, Bt) - NPG D14242

Mai (Omai)

by Francesco Bartolozzi, after Nathaniel Dance (later Sir Nathaniel Holland, Bt)
etching and stipple engraving, published 25 October 1774
NPG D14242

Mai (Omai), by Johann Jacobé, after  Sir Joshua Reynolds - NPG D1361

Mai (Omai)

by Johann Jacobé, after Sir Joshua Reynolds
mezzotint, 1780
NPG D1361

Mai (Omai), by Samuel William Reynolds, after  Sir Joshua Reynolds - NPG D9175

Mai (Omai)

by Samuel William Reynolds, after Sir Joshua Reynolds
mezzotint, published 1834
NPG D9175


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Dick Stubbs

17 December 2018, 05:48

Omai was actually on the Adventure, Capt Tobias Furneaux of Swilly, who was separated from Capt Cook during the 2nd voyage and actually arrived back in England a year ahead of Cook. Omai did return to Tahiti with Cook on his 3rd Ill fated trip.

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