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    Re: Ancient mariners enjoyed Hawaiian holidays
    From: Carl Herzog
    Date: 2007 Nov 01, 19:14 -0000

    George Huxtable wrote:
    > As a habitual sceptic on such matters (and on most others), I would like to
    > learn a bit more detail. Where, exactly, was the voyage from, and to? How
    > many thousands of km? Did they REALLY have no GPS in a locker as a backup?
    > (If that was really the case, it would indeed show a convincing level of
    > self-confidence!). Was the exact intended destination announced in advance?
    > Was there radio contact, or the possibility of it? Were any on board
    > familiar with a chart of the Pacific? Were any such charts carried? Did they
    > really trust their lives to that "map of the Pacific recorded in the mind"?
    >
    >...
    
    > How was the (often dangerous) entry to the end-harbour made? Under sail? Was
    > the navigator familiar with the approach? These questions spring to mind.
    > Were they tackled, in the programme?
    
    George's questions are warranted and I would direct him to the website
    of the Polynesian Voyaging Society (http://pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu/
    index.html), which operates the canoe Hokule'a that was featured in
    the TV documentary Mike referenced. The site specifically addresses
    the skills being used, as well as the types of training taught to crew
    of the boat, which has been sailing these voyages for more than 30
    years now.
    
    In any effort to resurrect historic skills, we are naturally biased by
    our current knowledge. However hard we try, we cannot fully put
    ourselves into the mindset of the original practitioner and our
    results are skewed by our perspective. This is particularly true when
    approaching topics in which there is no clear historical chain of
    custody to the skills. I suspect we have a better sense of how lunar
    distances were calculated, for example, than we do of how early
    Polynesians made landfall. But even there, many historians suggest
    that there is little to be learned from attempting to try such things
    since our results, tainted by our modern perspective, may provide an
    unreliable or even misleading sense of historic reality.
    
    Personally, I believe there is great value. Any effort we make to put
    ourselves in the shoes of historic practitioners is worthwhile, as
    long as we critically appraise the effort, answering just the types of
    questions George raises, and as long as we steadfastly accept that the
    experience will not grant us any unequivocal knowledge of "how things
    were done".
    
    In the case of Hokule'a, a historian friend of mine who focuses on
    Pacific cultures has suggested that the biggest impact the canoe has
    had is not in its recreation of historical nav techniques, but the
    broadened sense of cultural identity it has brought to people in the
    region.
    
    Carl
    
    
    
    
    
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