polynesian masters of the sea -- 2/6/17
Today's selection -- from Timeline Hawai'i by Daniel Harrington. Ancient Polynesians sailed thousands of miles in primitive canoes to colonize the most remote landmasses in the Pacific Ocean:
"The ancient Polynesians were master navigators who for thousands of years sailed their double-hulled voyaging canoes long distances to inhabit hundreds of Pacific islands. They finally discovered the Hawaiian Islands, an isolated island group of less than 6,500 square miles in the middle of the vast 70 million square mile Pacific Ocean.
Stick chart of the Marshall Islands
"These seafarers navigated the oceans guided only by clues provided by nature -- the positions and movements of the sun, the moon, the stars, constellations, the prevailing winds and seas, and the flight patterns of birds. They likely began their west-to-east journeys when westerly winds replaced the prevailing easterly trade winds so if they failed to find land, they could wait for the trade winds to return and carry them home. To determine the direction toward Hawai'i they relied on the star that Westerners call Polaris or the North Star. Their word for this was Hokupa'a, meaning Fixed Star, because it is located due north and appears 'fixed' in the sky.
"Also helpful were the flight directions of pelagic (oceanic) birds, including petrels, shearwaters and albatrosses. Pelagic birds spend most of their time over the ocean seeking fish, squid, and crustaceans and then return to land during the nesting season. Non-pelagic birds such as boobies, terns and tropicbirds all feed over the sea by day but return each night to their land homes. Seeing them at dusk meant land was nearby. During their open ocean journeys, the navigators also looked for birds congregating over feeding areas to reveal locations where fishing would be productive.
A Polynesian double-hulled canoe -- by John Webber, of Captain Cook's crew, Hawaii 1779
"Ancient Hawai'i's social structure was based on fairly rigid castes, but with a system of communal sharing of the natural resources according to wedge-shaped land divisions known as ahupua'a. The ahupua'a were defined by natural boundaries of mountain ridges and ocean bays and extended from the high valley to the sea including the offshore coral reefs. Within them could be found all the resources necessary to sustain life.
"When Captain Cook and his crew established Western contact in 1778, they found a friendly, self-sufficient and productive people with a culture as highly developed as many found in feudal Europe.