A Community Devoted to the Preservation and Practice of Celestial Navigation and Other Methods of Traditional Wayfinding
Re: Traditional Polynesian 'location indicators'
From: Peter Fogg
Date: 2004 Feb 25, 20:32 +1100
From: Peter Fogg
Date: 2004 Feb 25, 20:32 +1100
Starting in the 1400s and lasting into the 1900s, Europeans expanded their range enormously, setting up successful colonies all over the globe. Its a story closely intertwined with the story of how European navigational knowledge was developed, and this process of migration (of people, language, culture, animals and plants) could hardly have happened as it did without the techniques that interest us on this list. Starting somewhat earlier and lasting until before the Europeans arrived, a comparable period, Polynesians expanded their range enormously, setting up successful colonies all over the Pacific. Its a story that must be closely intertwined with the story of how Polynesian navigational knowledge was developed, and this process of migration (of people, language, culture, animals and plants) could hardly have happened as it did without the techniques that interest us on this topic. Fishermen being blown out to sea, naughty couples being banished with their pregnant sow for company - nah, I don't think so. It would have taken much longer, and the linguistic and cultural coherence would have almost certainly been lost along the way. Just like the Europeans they often arrived in places where people were already living, but similarly imposed their language and culture. This alone suggests that they had the numbers, that they were organized, and that they were capable of travelling back and forth as need be. If they arrived as occasional bedraggled castaways they would have been obliged to adapt themselves to their new home and hosts rather than the other way around. Is there evidence for return trips? None that I know of for the Maoris in New Zealand, but my understanding is that boats sailed between Hawaii and the Marquesas, and also between many other places that were not necessarily separated by so much open ocean. My understanding is that oral traditions of this lasted well into the period of European settlement, when they were recorded. The sailing route for the Hawaii/Marquesas run took the shape of a boomerang, two long legs in different directions, showing they understood the importance of using the prevailing winds and currents. In Micronesia traditional navigators still lived in recent times, and sailed across not just their own waters, but also parts of the Pacific where they had never been, using their traditional techniques. These trips were witnessed and recorded by Europeans. Apart from the books already mentioned, a few obvious words (like 'traditional Polynesian navigation') brought forth a rich haul from Google. There seems to be a lot of material out there, although doubtless of mixed relevance and quality. I'm not sure the facts are so few. ----- Original Message ----- From: "George Huxtable"
To: Sent: Tuesday, February 24, 2004 4:38 AM Subject: Re: Traditional Polynesian 'location indicators' > Peter Fogg said- > > >When Cook turned up in Hawaii with a Polynesian from Tahiti he was surprised > >that they could communicate, the dialects were not too different. The > >Hawaiian story was that their ancestors had come from the Marquesas (? Iles > >Marquises), about 2500 nm across open ocean (few or no islands along the > >way) and that subsequent to the original migration large double-hulled > >sailing canoes traveled between the two places. In modern times a number of > >recreations of this and other extended ocean crossings have been made. > > Cook visited Hawaii on his third and last voyage, and I doubt that he had a > Tahitian on board then. Perhaps Peter is confusing this with Cook's first > voyage, when he was taking a > Tahitian, Tupia, to England, travelling Westerly, not Easterly. On arrival > at the North Island of New Zealand, in Poverty Bay, Tupia was readily able > to converse with the locals, impressing Cook with the wide distribution of > Polynesian society and language, and he deduced that they all had a common > island origin. > > The Tupia story is a rather interesting one. Cook picked him out as a > bright young man, who was keen to travel with the expedition, and had some > claims to knowledge of Society-Islands navigation. Cook resolved to take > him to London, but unfortunately Tupia did not survive the journey. > > During Cook's stay in Tahiti, Tupia offered to help the expedition by > drawing a chart of the Society Isles. His original has been lost, but Cook > made his own copy of it. It can be found as chart XI in the "Charts and > views" loose-leaf volume of J C Beaglehole's "Journals of Captain James > Cook" (Hakluyt Society 1969). Also on page 130, vol.1 of "The charts and > coastal views of Captain Cook's voyages", ed. Andrew David, (Hakluyt > Society 1988). > > Cook's copy of Tupia's chart is a considerable disappointment, however, if > you compare it to a modern chart of the Society Is. Any similarity is no > more than conjectural. As a guide to navigation it would be worse than > useless, in my view. We have to make allowances, of course. The very notion > of positioning islands on a piece of paper would have been unfamiliar to > Tupia. Cook noted those islands with which Tupia claimed to have visited > himself, which amounted to no more than 6 or so (the chart showed 74 > islands all told). But not a great advertisement for Polynesian navigation, > even within their own island group. > > ================== > > Look, I don't want to pretend any first-hand knowledge of Pacific ocean > travel. I haven't visited any Pacific island (except New Zealand), know no > languages, all I know has come from reading others' accounts. Perhaps this > is the case for some other posters also. > > Nobody doubts that the Polynesians succeeded in travelling immense > distances, in diffusing their peoples as far as they did. But were those > journeys intentional, directed toward a goal, or did they result from > fortunate survival of some unfortunate accident? Only in the first case > could we ascribe it to successful navigation. In the second case, it may be > the result of outstanding seamanship, but lousy navigation. > > Nobody doubts that they must have been superb seamen and boatbuilders, to > survive the savage surfs that surrounded most Pacific islands. > > But I remain sceptical about their abilities to make planned, intentional, > voyages over ocean distances, way beyond their island groups. If they could > do so, is there evidence of any "return trips"; of Maori settlers, say, > voyaging back to the Marquesas or Tahiti against prevailing winds and > currents? Were greenstone axes, or the remains of dubbed Kauri vessels, > ever found in Tahiti, I wonder? I only ask. I wait to be convinced, and in > the meantime am happy to act as "devil's advocate". > > "Oral tradition" seldom seems clear-cut. Mixed up with the Maori historical > tradition, for example, are romantic legends about beautiful maidens being > transformed into rocky islands and that sort of thing. It's just as true of > the traditions of other societies (even the Greeks, with the advantage of > writing). You have to decide what might be true and what must be fable, > which isn't simple. > > It does make an interesting topic to yarn about. Especially as there are so > few facts around, to confuse the issue. > > George. > > ================================================================ > contact George Huxtable by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at > 01865 820222 (from outside UK, +44 1865 820222), or by mail at 1 Sandy > Lane, Southmoor, Abingdon, Oxon OX13 5HX, UK. > ================================================================ >