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Pendent (Pennant)

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A Pendent (now generally spelt pennant) was a long narrow flag displayed from the mast-head of a ship of war.

A Pendent (now generally spelt pennant) was a long narrow flag displayed from the mast-head of a ship of war. It usually had two ends or points.

A Cornet was a large pennant, flown by the lead vessel in a squadron of ships.

In Cook’s time, pennant (or pantoire in French) was also the name given to a short piece of rope fixed under the shrouds on the head of the main-mast and fore-mast of a vessel. This rope descended to the cat-harpins and had an eye in the lower end, reinforced with an iron thimble. The thimble prevented the eye from being fretted by the hooks of the main and fore-tackles.

Single or double ropes attached to blocks or tackles for lifting objects were also often called pennants. Thus in eighteenth-century voyaging journals one will come across references to ‘fish-pendents’, ‘yard-tackle-pendents’, ‘reef-tackle-pendents’, and so on.

Flag pennants were symbols of power and authority, as indigenous peoples of the Pacific quickly grasped.

Samuel Wallis, for example, left a pennant flown on the Dolphin with the Ha’apape of the Matavai Bay district of Tahiti. According to testimony recorded by Henry Adams in the Memoirs of Arii Taimai, the pennant had been left flying at Matavai as a signal for subsequent European vessels.

Wallis may also have intended the pennant to mark the British Crown’s assumption of sovereignty over Tahiti.

At this time Purea and her husband Amo were audaciously seeking to establish their son Teri'irere as paramount chief over all Tahiti and Mo'orea. It appears that Purea took the pennant to her husband's ancestral Marae at Mahiatea, where it was icorporated into the maro ura, or red feather girdle with which Teri’irere was invested in the name of the war god Oro, thereby legitimating his claim to the highest ranking chiefly titles of Tahiti and Mo’orea.

Cook saw this feather girdle on his third voyage, noting how the ‘The Priests made a long Prayer over the Maro in different forms which, if I misstake not, they called the prayer of the Maro. When it was finished, the Maro was carefully foulded up put into the Cloth and laid upon the Morai.'

The girdle was also seen and sketched by Bligh on his second breadfruit voyage to Tahiti. His sketch is now preserved in the Mitchell Library, Sydney.

In his monumental Ancient Tahiti, Douglas Oliver concludes that it is unclear whether Wallis’s pennant was incorporated within an existing feather-girdle, or was used in the creation of a new girdle by Purea and her husband Amo. However, in view of the profound importance of lineage in the Maohi cosmology, Douglas is strongly inclined to think that it was most likely the pennant was woven into an ancient girdle known as the maro tea, or the maro ura (read-feather girdle), brought to Tahiti by the Maua and Tupaia, priests of the cult of the war god Oro.


Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Created: 10 March 2001
Modified: 26 June 2004

Published by South Seas, 1 February 2004
Comments, questions, corrections and additions: Paul.Turnbull@jcu.edu.au
Prepared by: Paul Turnbull
Updated: 28 June 2004
To cite this page use: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-ss-biogs-P000005

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