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    Re: Traditional Polynesian 'location indicators'
    From: George Huxtable
    Date: 2004 Feb 22, 11:14 +0000

    There's a lot yet to be understood about Polynesian methods of navigation.
    All I have learned is from books, mostly by David Lewis, and to me, what he
    has been able to learn and pass on has been rather unsatisfying. It may
    already be too late for much more to be discovered, as island folk-memories
    fade away (and GPS takes over?).
    The voyages that Lewis recounts as having taken with islanders in his books
    tended to be hops between familiar islands. These may have been just out of
    sight over the horizon, or if much further, there would be other islands as
    guide-posts along the way.
    The argument goes "If the Polynesians were not superb navigators, how could
    their society spread to cover so much of the Pacific?" Lewis gives an
    account which I am quoting from memory and am not certain which book it's
    in, roughly as follows-
    A Polynesian punishment for serious transgressions of their code was
    banishment. The offender would be put into a boat with a woman and a
    pregnant sow, and instructed not to return.
    As a strategy for propagating and diffusing the species, I don't know of a
    better. And it involved no navigational skill at all.
    The chance of coming across another island was perhaps 50%. The chance of
    making a successful landing in the surf, perhaps 50% again. The chance of
    it being habitable and uninhabited, or else having friendly inhabitants,
    perhaps another 50%. But life was cheap. In time, every habitable island
    would be populated.
    To those wandering offenders can presumably be added other island voyagers
    who had got blown out of their intended course and lost their way.
    I have ended up somewhat sceptical of claims of the superb ocean-navigating
    skills of the Polynesian peoples (or the other Pacific-island societies).
    But that is entirely on the basis of secondhand learning (and a sceptical
    nature), and my mind is open to being convinced otherwise.
    contact George Huxtable by email at george@huxtable.u-net.com, by phone at
    01865 820222 (from outside UK, +44 1865 820222), or by mail at 1 Sandy
    Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK.

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