Traditional Pacific Islanders

The Polynesians and Micronesians are actually descendants of seafarers who spread out over the pacific islands and eventually colonised them. Polynesian islands are those in the Eastern Pacific, and include the islands of Hawaii, Tahiti, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, etc. Micronesian islands are those within Micronesia, which lies in the North Pacific, and they include the Gilbert Islands and the Caroline Islands archipelago. These navigators and explorers are really unsung heroes, with most of the credit going to the famous names such as Columbus and Magellan. These were people who invented various ingenious methods (which were surely complex and advanced at their time) of navigation by observing nature, the oceans and the heavenly bodies as well.

As early as 1500 B.C. their voyages took them all the way from Hawaii to South-East Asia. Along their sea journeys, they adapted to life away from land by taking domesticated livestock along with them. By 1000 A.D. they had inhabited much of the Pacific Islands. Their primary mode of sea transportation was the canoe, with the larger ones reaching lengths of about 70 feet.

Ancient Hawaiian Canoe
An image of what an ancient Hawaiian canoe might have looked like
Picture from

In recent days, some scholars have questioned the methods by which these people navigated across vast oceans, and some have claimed that they actually spread out over the Pacific more by luck and intuition than by calculated navigation. To put this to the test, David Lewis, a medical doctor by profession, volunteered in the 1960s to sail a catamaran from Tahiti all the way to New Zealand, in exactly the same way that the historical Polynesian sea veteran Kupe did. By making observations of celestial bodies just the way Kupe did, with his naked eye, he took the vessel to New Zealand and was approximately only 30 miles off target. In sea navigation, that is a decent amount of accuracy. So if the ancient peoples of Polynesia and Micronesia managed to navigate fairly well without any instrumental aids, then they must have been quite impressive when using their charts and the famous Hawaiian Star Compass, which was of course invented by them too.

1. Wayfinders: A Pacific Odyssey
2. Polynesian Voyaging Society
3. Micronesian and Polynesian Wayfinding