A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
From: Peter Fogg
Date: 2008 Dec 11, 14:04 +1100
December 11, 2008
WHO were the world's first great ocean-going people? The Vikings? The Phoenicians? The Portuguese or Spanish, with their galleons of gold? The Chinese, with their junks?
None of them. At least 2000 years before the Vikings invented their long boats, a people who shared a language and culture we know as Austronesian set sail to conquer the final frontier.
Bit by bit, they sailed towards the sunrise, island-hopping eastwards across the Pacific. Their journey took them by canoe via New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga, Hawaii, Easter Island, the coast of South America and, just 700 years ago, the last uninhabited islands capable of sustaining human life: New Zealand.
Other Austronesians were spreading westwards across the Indian Ocean. Eventually they would reach Madagascar and, it is presumed, Africa itself.
"Humans could settle just about everywhere else that is habitable just by walking," says Professor Kerry Howe. "There's no dispute now that the first Americans came from Asia across what is now the Bering Strait, though the date remains contentious. The exception is Australia. The first people who got [here] 50,000 years ago had to cross a narrow waterway. But you couldn't walk to the islands of the Pacific."
Howe, Professor of History at New Zealand's Massey University and based in Auckland, has edited an award-winning book, Vaka Moana: Voyages Of The Ancestors - also the title of an exhibition at the Australian National Maritime Museum.
Vaka Moana (literally "Pacific Canoe") was developed by the Auckland War Memorial Museum, and features 130 objects, including canoes, carvings and art work.
Mary-Louise Williams, the maritime museum's director, says the works "lift the veil on many mysteries about the original settlement of the Pacific Islands".
Most of us have a distorted view of how the Pacific was populated. We assume each island group was discovered accidentally by unsophisticated warriors.
In fact, says Howe, Captain James Cook was one of the first Westerners to recognise the truth. In Tahiti in 1769, Cook met Tupaia, a high priest navigator, who piloted the Endeavour through a maze of reefs. Cook learnt how the islanders' skills enabled them to travel "from island to island for several hundred leagues, the sun serving them for a compass by day and the moon and stars by night".
From this, Cook deduced that "it cannot be doubted [that] we may trace them from island to island quite to the East Indies".
Howe points out that ancient navigators also learnt to read cloud patterns and the movement of roosting birds.
Vaka Moana: Voyages Of The Ancestors is at the Australian National Maritime Museum until February 15.
Navigation List archive: www.fer3.com/arc
To post, email NavList@fer3.com
To unsubscribe, email NavListemail@example.com