Polynesian navigation

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**Historical Background and Evolution of Polynesian Navigation:**
– Austronesian languages spread from Taiwan to Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia between 3000 and 1000 BC.
– Lapita culture emerged in Melanesia around the mid-2nd millennium BC, known for pottery.
– Navigation pathways in Polynesia centered around Raiātea, resembling an octopus.
– Settlement of Cook Islands before 1000 AD led to further navigation to regions like Hawaii and New Zealand.
– Polynesians used outrigger canoes for long voyages across the Pacific Ocean, with double-hulled canoes lashed side by side for storage of supplies during journeys.

**Navigational Techniques and Observations:**
– Polynesian navigation relies on observation of the sun, stars, winds, and swells.
– Techniques include observing ocean currents, bioluminescence, bird flight, and weather patterns.
– Navigators memorize routes and detect changes in canoe speed and direction.
– Specific bird species’ migration paths may have guided voyages to different destinations.
– Traditional navigation skills and canoe building techniques are being recorded and shared in modern times.

**Resource Management and Island Hopping:**
– Island hopping was a solution to resource scarcity on small Pacific islands.
– Guilds of navigators had high status and could trade for aid or evacuate people during difficult times.
– As more islands became occupied, the ability to move to new islands diminished.
– Navigators set sail for new islands when resources ran low on their current island.
– Traditional navigation methods are still taught in some Polynesian communities today.

**Recreational Voyages and Modern Expeditions:**
– Anthropologist David Lewis sailed from Tahiti to New Zealand using stellar navigation without instruments.
– Ethnographic research in the Caroline Islands revealed the continued use of traditional stellar navigational methods.
– The Wharram catamarans were not towed or escorted by modern vessels with GPS, emphasizing traditional navigation methods.
– In 2013, the Mālama Honua voyage aimed to spread a conservation message globally using Hōkūlea and Hikianalia.
– The modern voyages demonstrate the feasibility of using Polynesian navigation techniques for long-distance travels.

**Significant Figures and Organizations in Polynesian Navigation:**
– Established in 1973 by Ben Finney, the Polynesian Voyaging Society replicates ancient Hawaiian double-hulled canoes using traditional voyaging techniques.
– Hawaiian Nainoa Thompson invented the modern Hawaiian wayfinding system for non-instrument navigation in 1980.
– Captain James Cook’s encounter with Tahitian castaways illustrated navigation challenges.
– Navigator Mau Piailug from Satawal island, Micronesia, played a crucial role in preserving traditional Polynesian navigation techniques.
– Scholarly works by researchers like Peter Bellwood, Liesl Clark, and others provide valuable insights into Polynesian navigation.

Polynesian navigation or Polynesian wayfinding was used for thousands of years to enable long voyages across thousands of kilometres of the open Pacific Ocean. Polynesians made contact with nearly every island within the vast Polynesian Triangle, using outrigger canoes or double-hulled canoes. The double-hulled canoes were two large hulls, equal in length, and lashed side by side. The space between the paralleled canoes allowed for storage of food, hunting materials, and nets when embarking on long voyages. Polynesian navigators used wayfinding techniques such as the navigation by the stars, and observations of birds, ocean swells, and wind patterns, and relied on a large body of knowledge from oral tradition. This island hopping was a solution to the scarcity of useful resources, such as food, wood, water, and available land, on the small islands in the Pacific Ocean. When an island’s required resources for human survival began to run low, the island's inhabitants used their maritime navigation skills and set sail for new islands. However, as an increasing number of islands in the South Pacific became occupied, and citizenship and national borders became of international importance, this was no longer possible. People thus became trapped on islands with the inability to support them.

Hōkūleʻa, A fibreglass hulled replica of a Hawaiian double-hulled canoe sailing off Honolulu, 2009
Hawaiian navigators sailing multi-hulled canoe, c. 1781

Navigators travelled to small inhabited islands using wayfinding techniques and knowledge passed by oral tradition from master to apprentice, often in the form of song. Generally, each island maintained a guild of navigators who had very high status; in times of famine or difficulty, they could trade for aid or evacuate people to neighbouring islands. As of 2014, these traditional navigation methods are still taught in the Polynesian outlier of Taumako in the Solomons and by voyaging societies throughout the Pacific.

Both wayfinding techniques and outrigger canoe construction methods have been kept as guild secrets, but in the modern revival of these skills, they are being recorded and published.

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