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Polynesia’s Master Navigators – Reading the Stars, the Seas and other Natural Patterns

Master Navigators

Sometime before the birth of Christ, when European sailing vessels hugged the coastlines of continents for fear of falling off a “flat Earth,” Polynesians were venturing into the open ocean on double-hulled canoes, navigating by a sophisticated system that relied on reading the stars, the sea and other natural patterns. By the time European explorers had finally set out into the Pacific Ocean, in the 1500s, Polynesians had sailed to and populated, for hundreds of years, nearly all the islands in this vast sea, which covers more than 10 million square miles. Their feat is considered one of humanity’s greatest achievements. Historians believe these wayfarers were originally sailing fishermen who plied the seas in search of new fishing grounds or in pursuit of schools of deep-sea fish. Hawaiian legends attribute Ha­waii’s discovery to a fisherman named Hawai‘iloa, whose navigator, Makali‘i, steered from the far west, using fixed stars as his guides. They later returned to their homeland, which researchers believe could have been the islands of Hiva, in the Marquesan chain. Pacific archaeology is in its infancy, and as further discoveries are made, artifacts from all the Polynesian islands suggest that commerce among them was more prevalent than originally believed. Current archaeological data indicate that the first voyagers arrived in Hawaii about 400 A.D., or earlier. They traveled across more than 2,000 miles of open ocean in seaworthy vessels that were all the more remarkable because they were crafted from tools made of stone, bone and coral. On the timeline of history, these voyagers accomplished miraculous trips long before the Vikings or Columbus set sail.

HOKULEA HOMECOMING! On June 17, an estimated 50,000 will gather at Ala Moana Park’s Magic Island to welcome home Hokulea from its three-year circumnavigation of the world, which included stops at 85 international ports. The current schedule is: Attendant canoes arrive at 7 a.m.; Hokulea arrival approximately 9 a.m.; arrival ceremonies at 10:30 a.m.; hoolaulea (celebration) from 1 to 5 p.m. Parking is restricted, so if you plan to join the homecoming celebration, it is recommended to get there by bus, bike or foot.

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Hokulea photo by Brett Uprichard



2 Responses to “Polynesia’s Master Navigators – Reading the Stars, the Seas and other Natural Patterns”

  1. Alex

    My family visited Hawaii 15 years ago. We had such a connection with the land and the people that upon return to the mainland quickly named our new beagle
    “Hokulea”. She is still with us as is the memory of Hawaii.


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