Ancient Polynesian seafaring renaissance

Sun Jan 25, 2009 8:38pm EST
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By Michael Perry

SYDNEY (Reuters) - A Polynesian voyaging canoe will set sail from Hawaii in March and head into the South Pacific, aiming to reach tiny Palmyra Atoll near Kiribati using only an ancient seafaring skill known as "wayfinding."

The double hulled canoe, similar to the canoes that sailed across the Pacific thousands of years before European explorers voyaged to the world's largest ocean, will cover some 2,000 miles in the round trip.

The open ocean trip, using no modern navigational equipment, will be a training exercise for future voyages and is part of a renaissance in Polynesian voyaging that is helping to preserve and spread an ancient seafaring culture.

"We sail because we believe that the voyaging canoes have a role in today's society ... keeping us connected to who we are today in the 21st century, by clearly knowing who we were and where we come from," says Hawaiian navigator Nainoa Thompson, who has sailed on 24 voyages across the Pacific.

"In the absence of that understanding we have no identity, we have no distinction and to be homogenized into the rest of the world, to me, would be a cultural failure," Thompson says in a video presentation that is part of the "Vaka Moana, Voyages of the Ancestors" exhibition at Sydney's National Maritime Museum.

Vaka Moana means Ocean Canoe and traces the world's first blue-water sailors as they set out from Southeast Asia in sailing canoes to explore and settle the islands of the South Pacific.


Using an open ocean navigation called "wayfinding," based on sea and sky observations, they crossed the vast Pacific some 2,500 years before Portuguese, Spaniards and other western seafarers made their first trans-ocean voyages.   Continued...

<p>An undated handout photograph shows a scale model of an ocean-going Masawa canoe from the Trobriand Islands, part of an exhibition called "Vaka Moana, Voyages of the Ancestors" at Sydney's Australian Maritime Museum. REUTERS/Australian National Maritime Museum/Handout</p>