Polynesian navigation


Polynesian navigation

Polynesian navigation was a system of navigation used by Polynesians to routinely make long voyages across thousands of miles of open ocean. Navigators traveled to small inhabited islands using only their own senses and knowledge passed by oral tradition from navigator to apprentice. In order to locate directions at various times of day and year, navigators in Eastern Polynesia memorized important facts: the motion of specific stars, and where they would rise and set on the horizon of the ocean; weather; times of travel; wildlife species (which congregate at particular positions); directions of swells on the ocean, and how the crew would feel their motion; colors of the sea and sky, especially how clouds would cluster at the locations of some islands; and angles for approaching harbors.

These wayfinding techniques along with outrigger canoe construction methods, were kept as guild secrets. Generally each island maintained a guild of navigators who had very high status; in times of famine or difficulty these navigators could trade for aid or evacuate people to neighboring islands. To this day, original traditional methods of Polynesian Navigation are still taught in the Polynesian outlier of Taumako Island in the Solomon Islands.

History

At a time when many European sailors were navigating by keeping a watch for the shoreline in daylight or relying on dead reckoning on compass, Polynesians were navigating a vast extent of the Pacific Ocean. Polynesia comprised islands diffused throughout a triangular area with sides of four thousand miles. The area from the Hawaiian Islands in the north, to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) in the east and to Aotearoa (New Zealand) in the south west was all settled by Polynesians. It is theorized that Polynesian navigators reached the Americas at least a century before Europeans, made contact with Native Americans in Southern California, introduced chickens to South America and took back sweet potatoes to Polynesia.cite news | last = Wilford| first = John Noble| title = First Chickens in Americas Were Brought From Polynesia| publisher = New York Times| date = 2007-06-05| url = http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/05/science/05chic.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx=1181091707-e+ZDVqnF+pbc2icNHD+SfQ| accessdate = 2007-06-06]

Between about 3000 and 1000 BC speakers of Austronesian languages spread through island South-East Asia – almost certainly starting out from Taiwan, as tribes whose natives had thought to have previously arrived about from mainland South China about 8000 years ago– into the edges of western Micronesia and on into Melanesia. In the archaeological record there are well-defined traces of this expansion which allow the path it took to be followed and dated with a degree of certainty. In the mid 2nd millennium BC a distinctive culture appeared suddenly in north-west Melanesia, in the Bismarck Archipelago, the chain of islands forming a great arch from New Britain to the Admiralty Islands. This culture, known as Lapita, stands out in the Melanesian archeological record, with its large permanent villages on beach terraces along the coasts. Particularly characterisitic of the Lapita culture is the making of pottery, including a great many vessels of varied shapes, some distinguished by fine patterns and motifs pressed into the clay. Within a mere three or four centuries between about 1300 and 900 BC, the Lapita culture spread 6000 km further to the east from the Bismarck Archipelago, until it reached as far as Tonga and Samoa. In this region, the distinctive Polynesian culture developed.

Theories

Pre-Columbian contact with the Americas

In the mid-twentieth century, Thor Heyerdahl proposed a new theory of Polynesian origins (one which did not win general acceptance), arguing that the Polynesians had migrated from South America on balsa-log boats.harvnb|Sharp|1963|p=122-128.]

Heyerdahl claimed that in Incan legend there was a sun-god named Con-Tici Viracocha who was the supreme head of the mythical fair-skinned people in Peru. The original name for Virakocha was "Kon-Tiki" or "Illa-Tiki", which means "Sun-Tiki" or "Fire-Tiki". Kon-Tiki was high priest and sun-king of these legendary "white men" who left enormous ruins on the shores of Lake Titicaca. The legend continues with the mysterious bearded white men being attacked by a chief named Cari who came from the Coquimbo Valley. They had a battle on an island in Lake Titicaca, and the fair race was massacred. However, Kon-Tiki and his closest companions managed to escape and later arrived on the Pacific coast. The legend ends with Kon-Tiki and his companions disappearing westward out to sea.

When the Spaniards came to Peru, Heyerdahl asserted, the Incas told them that the colossal monuments that stood deserted about the landscape were erected by a race of white gods who had lived there before the Incas themselves became rulers. The Incas described these "white gods" as wise, peaceful instructors who had originally come from the north in the "morning of time" and taught the Incas' primitive forefathers architecture as well as manners and customs. They were unlike other Native Americans in that they had "white skins and long beards" and were taller than the Incas. The Incas said that the "white gods" had then left as suddenly as they had come and fled westward across the Pacific. After they had left, the Incas themselves took over power in the country.

Heyerdahl said that when the Europeans first came to the Pacific islands, they were astonished that they found some of the natives to have relatively light skins and beards. There were whole families that had pale skin, hair varying in color from reddish to blonde, and almost Semitic, hook-nosed faces. In contrast, most of the Polynesians had golden-brown skin, raven-black hair, and rather flat noses. Heyerdahl claimed that when Jakob Roggeveen first discovered Easter Island in 1722, he supposedly noticed that many of the natives were white-skinned. Heyerdahl claimed that these people could count their ancestors who were "white-skinned" right back to the time of Tiki and Hotu Matua, when they first came sailing across the sea "from a mountainous land in the east which was scorched by the sun." The ethnographic evidence for these claims is outlined in Heyerdahl's book "Aku Aku: The Secret of Easter Island".

Heyerdahl proposed that Tiki's neolithic people colonized the then-uninhabited Polynesian islands as far north as Hawaii, as far south as New Zealand, as far east as Easter Island, and as far west as Samoa and Tonga around A.D. 500. They supposedly sailed from Peru to the Polynesian islands on "pae-paes"--large rafts built from balsa logs, complete with sails and each with a small cottage. They built enormous stone statues carved in the image of human beings on Pitcairn, the Marquesas, and Easter Island that resembled those in Peru. They also built huge pyramids on Tahiti and Samoa with steps like those in Peru. But all over Polynesia, Heyerdahl found indications that Tiki's peaceable race had not been able to hold the islands alone for long.

He found evidence that suggested that seagoing war canoes as large as Viking ships and lashed together two and two had brought Stone Age Northwest American Indians to Polynesia around A.D. 1100, and they mingled with Tiki's people. The oral history of the people of Easter Island, at least as it was documented by Heyerdahl, is completely consistent with this theory, as is the archaeological record he examined (Heyerdahl 1958). In particular, Heyerdahl obtained a radiocarbon date of A.D. 400 for a charcoal fire located in the pit that was held by the people of Easter Island to have been used as an "oven" by the "Long Ears," which Heyerdahl's Rapa Nui sources, reciting oral tradition, identified as a white race which had ruled the island in the past (Heyerdahl 1958).

There are the following cultural similarities between the American Indians of coastal Canada and Polynesians (From Thor Heyerdahl, American Indians in the Pacific):

*Rubbing noses as a form of greeting;
*Formal principles of rank; lineage, and kinship
*Use of mats or rugs for money
*Fish hook and harpoon design
*Tattooing tools and techniques Tiki design and its spiritual significance.
*Design of stone pounders along with their spiritual significance
*Use of gourds for containers instead of pottery
*Canoe design and building techniques, such as use of hot rocks for steaming hulls open
*Earth oven procedure
*House design with entrance through totem's legs
*Protruding tongue carvings and characteristic eye design in carvings
*Inlaying of shells into carvings
*Weaving styles
*Stone bowl manufacture and design
*The gaping angry mouth motif on the handle of clubs

Irving Goldman, author of "Ancient Polynesian Society", has this to say on the comparison between Kwakuitl and the Polynesians. "For reasons that remain to be discovered, the Indian tribes of this area [NW Coast] share formal principles of rank, lineage, and kinship with Pacific islanders. The Kwakiutl, seem very close to what I have designated as the "traditional" Polynesian society. They share with Polynesians a status system of graded hereditary ranking of individuals and of lineages; a social class system of chiefs ("nobles"), commoners, and slaves; concepts of primogeniture and seniority of descent lines; a concept of abstract supernatural powers as special attributes of chiefs; and a lineage system that leans toward patriliny, but acknowledges the maternal lines as well. Finally, Kwakiutl and eastern Polynesians, especially, associate ambiguity of lineage membership with "Hawaiian" type kinship, a fully classificatory system that does not distinguish between maternal and paternal sides, or between siblings and cousins."

The traditional name for the Haida homeland of Queen Charlotte Island is Haida'gwai'i, very similar linguistically to Ha'wai'i (homeland).Names such as Tongass (southern) Strait and Hakai'i Channel appear to also be relic names suggesting an Austronesian past to this area.

The presence in the Cook Islands of the "kumara" (sweet potato), a plant native to the Americas, and dating to 1000 AD, has been cited as evidence that Americans could have traveled to Oceania. A simpler explanation posits biological dispersal; plants and/or seeds could float across the Pacific without any human contact.

A 2007 study published in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" of chicken bones at El Arenal near the Arauco Peninsula, Arauco Province, Chile strongly suggests Oceania-to-America contact. Chickens originated in southern Asia and the "Araucana" species of Chile was thought to have been brought by Spaniards around 1500. However, the bones found in Chile were radiocarbon-dated to between 1304 and 1424, well before the documented arrival of the Spanish. DNA sequences taken were exact matches to those of chickens from the same period in American Samoa and Tonga, both over 5000 miles (8000 kilometers) away from Chile. The genetic sequences were also similar to those found in Hawaii and Easter Island, the closest island at only 2500 miles (4000 kilometers), and unlike any breed of European chicken. [cite journal | url = http://www.livescience.com/history/070604_polynesian_chicken.html | title = Chicken Bones Suggest Polynesians Found Americas Before Columbus | journal = Live Science | date = June, 4 2007 | accessdate = 2007-06-05 | last = Whipps | first = Heather ] [http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-sci-chickens5jun05,1,4338408.story?coll=la-headlines-nation "Polynesians beat Spaniards to South America, study shows"] by Thomas H. Maugh II, "Los Angeles Times", 5 June 2007] [Storey "et al", [http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/abstract/0703993104v2 " Radiocarbon and DNA evidence for a pre-Columbian introduction of Polynesian chickens to Chile"] (abstract, full article available through subscription), "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences" 10.1073/pnas.0703993104, 7 June 2007]

In the last 20 years, the dates and anatomical features of human remains found in Mexico and South America have led some archaeologists to propose that those regions were first populated by people who crossed the Pacific several millennia before the Ice Age migrations; according to this theory, these Pre-Siberian American Aborigines would have been either eliminated or absorbed by the Siberian immigrants. However, current archaeological evidence for human migration to and settlement of remote Oceania (i.e., the Pacific Ocean eastwards of the Solomon Islands) is dated to no earlier than approximately 3,500 BP; [Kirch, Patrick V. [http://sscl.berkeley.edu/~oal/background/background.htm "Background to Pacific Archaeology and Prehistory"] , Oceanic Archaeology Laboratory, Univ. California, Berkeley.] trans-Pacific contact with the Americas coinciding with or pre-dating the Beringia migrations of at least 11,500 BP is highly problematic, except for movement along intercoastal routes.

Recently, linguist Kathryn A. Klar of UC Berkeley and archaeologist Terry L. Jones of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo have proposed contacts between Polynesians and the Chumash and Gabrielino of Southern California, between 500 and 700. Their primary evidence consists of the advanced sewn-plank canoe design, which is used throughout the Polynesian Islands, but is unknown in North America — except for those two tribes. Moreover, the Chumash word for "sewn-plank canoe," "tomolo'o", may have been derived from "kumulaa'au", the Polynesian word for the Redwood logs used in that construction.

Polynesian contact with the prehispanic Mapuche culture in central-south Chile has been suggested because of apparently similar cultural traits, including words like "toki" (stone axes and adzes), hands clubs similar to the Maori "wahaika", the sewn-plank canoe as used on Chiloe island, the "curanto" earth oven (Polynesian "umu") common in southern Chile, fishing techniques such as stone wall enclosures, a hockey-like game, and other potential parallels. Some strong westerlies and El Niño wind blow directly from central-east Polynesia to the Mapuche region, between Concepcion and Chiloe. A direct connection from New Zealand is possible, sailing with the "roaring forties". In 1834, some escapees from Tasmania arrived at Chiloe Island after sailing for 43 days. [cite web | title = Rapa Nui | language = Portuguese |url = http://www.rapanuivalparaiso.cl/arque_olog.htm#ar5 | accessdate = 2007-06-05 ]

Post-colonization

Knowledge of the traditional Polynesian methods of navigation was largely lost after contact with and colonization by Europeans. This left the problem of accounting for the presence of the Polynesians in such isolated and scattered parts of the Pacific. According to Andrew Sharp, the explorer Captain James Cook, already familiar with Charles de Brousse’s accounts of large groups of Pacific islanders who were driven off course in storms and ended up hundreds of miles away with no idea where they were, encountered in the course of one of his own voyages a castaway group of Tahitians who had become lost at sea in a gale and blown 100 miles away to the island of Atiu. Cook wrote that the Atiu incident, "will serve to explain, better than the thousand conjectures of speculative reasoners, how the detached parts of the earth, and, in particular, how the South Seas, may have been peopled".harvnb|Sharp|1963|p=16.] On his first voyage of Pacific exploration Cook had the services of a Polynesian navigator, Tupaia, who drew a map of the islands within 2000 miles radius (to the north and west) of his home island of Ra'iatea.

By the late 19th century to the early 20th century a more generous view of Polynesian navigation had come into favor, creating a much romanticized view of their seamanship, canoes, and navigational expertise. Late nineteenth and early twentieth century writers such as Abraham Fornander and Stephenson Percy Smith told of heroic Polynesians migrating in great coordinated fleets from Asia far and wide into present-day Polynesia.harvnb|Finney|1963|p=5.]

Experimental research

A more sober and analytical view was presented by Andrew Sharp, who amassed a wealth of evidence to challenge the ‘heroic vision’ hypothesis, asserting instead that Polynesian maritime expertise was severely limited in the field of exploration and that as a result the settlement of Polynesia had been the result of luck, random island sightings, and drifting, rather than as organized voyages of colonization. Thereafter the oral knowledge passed down for generations allowed for eventual mastery of traveling between known locations.harvnb|Sharp|1963.] Sharp's reassessment caused a huge amount of controversy and led to a stalemate between the romantic and the skeptical views.

By the mid to late 1960s it was time for a new hands-on approach. Dr David Lewis sailed his catamaran from Tahiti to New Zealand using stellar navigation without instruments.harvnb|Lewis|1976.] Ben Finney built a 40-foot replica of a Hawaiian double canoe "Nalehia" and tested it in a series of sailing and paddling experiments in Hawaiian waters. At the same time, ethnographic research in the Caroline Islands in Micronesia brought to light the fact that traditional stellar navigational methods were still very much in everyday use there. The building and testing of canoes inspired by traditional designs, the harnessing of knowledge from skilled Micronesian, as well as voyages using stellar navigation, allowed practical conclusions about the sea-worthiness and handling capabilities of traditional Polynesian canoes and allowed a better understanding of the navigational methods that were likely to have been used by the Polynesians and of how they, as people, were adapted to seafaring.harvnb|Finney|1963|p=6-9.] Recent re-creations of Polynesian voyaging have used methods based largely on Micronesian methods and the teachings of a Micronesian navigator, Mau Piailug. [See also: Polynesian Voyaging Society, Hokulea.]

It is probable that the Polynesian navigators employed a whole range of techniques including use of the stars, the movement of ocean currents and wave patterns, the air and sea interference patterns caused by islands and atolls, the flight of birds, the winds and the weather.harvnb|Gatty|1999.]

Scientists think that long-distance Polynesian voyaging followed the seasonal paths of birds. There are some references in their oral traditions to the flight of birds and some say that there were range marks onshore pointing to distant islands in line with these flyways. A voyage from Tahiti, the Tuamotus or the Cook Islands to New Zealand might have followed the migration of the Long-tailed cuckoo (Eudynamys taitensis) just as the voyage from Tahiti to Hawaii would coincide with the track of the Pacific Golden Plover and the Bristle-thighed Curlew. It is also believed that Polynesians employed shore-sighting birds as did many seafaring peoples. One theory is that they would have taken a frigatebird with them. These birds refuse to land on the water as their feathers will become waterlogged making it impossible to fly. When the voyagers thought they were close to land they may have released the bird, which would either fly towards land or else return to the canoe.

The peoples of the Pacific, including Micronesians and Polynesians, developed navigating by the stars into a fine art. It is surmised that the Polynesians imagined the heavens as the interior of a dome where a star proceeded along a path which passed over certain islands. They had names for over a hundred and fifty stars. A navigator would have known where and when a given star rose and set, as well as which islands it passed directly over. Thus Polynesian navigators would have then been able to sail toward the star they knew to be over their destination, and as it moved westward with time they would then set their course by the succeeding star which would have then moved over the target island.

It is likely that the Polynesians also used wave and swell formations to navigate. Many of the habitable areas of the Pacific Ocean are groups of islands (or atolls) in chains hundreds of kilometers long. Island chains have predictable effects on waves and on currents. Navigators who lived within a group of islands would learn the effect various islands had on their shape, direction, and motion and would have been able to correct their path in accordance with the changes they perceived. When they arrived in the vicinity of a chain of islands they were unfamiliar with, they may have been able to transfer their experience and deduce that they were nearing a group of islands. Once they had arrived fairly close to a destination island, they would have been able to pinpoint its location by sightings of land-based birds, certain cloud formations, as well as the reflections shallow water made on the undersides of clouds. It is thought that the Polynesian navigators may have measured the time it took to sail between islands in "canoe-days" or a similar type of expression.

The first settlers of the Hawaiian Islands are thought to have sailed from the Marquesas Islands using Polynesian navigation methods. To test this theory, the Hawaiian Polynesian Voyaging Society was established in 1973. The group built a replica of an ancient double-hulled canoe called the Hokule'a, whose crew successfully navigated the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii to Tahiti in 1976 without instruments. In 1980, a Hawaiian named Nainoa Thompson invented a new method of non instrument navigation (called the "modern Hawai'ian wayfinding system"), enabling him to complete the voyage from Hawaiokinai to Tahiti and back. In 1987, a Maori named Matahi Whakataka (Greg Brightwell) and his mentor Francis Cowan sailed from Tahiti to Aotearoa without instruments. Polynesian navigation methods have been classified into three, non instrument navigation systems: the Taumakoan, Modern Hawaiokinaian, and Modern Maori.fact|date=June 2007

Notes

References


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title = Pacific Navigation and Voyaging
publisher =The Polynesian Society Inc.
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last6 = Schiefenhšfel | first6 = W.
last7 = Stoneking | first7 = M.
title = Melanesian Origin of Polynesian Y Chromosomes
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last2 = Brauer | first2 = S.
last3 = Weiss | first3 = G.
last4 = Underhill | first4 = P.A.
last5 = Roewer | first5 = L.
last6 = Schiefenhšfel | first6 = W.
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title = Melanesian Origin of Polynesian Y Chromosomes
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External links

* [http://pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu/navigate/navigate.html Wayfinding Summary]
* [http://pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu/L2wayfind.html Wayfinding Main Page]


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