Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The Long Voyages

Aloha and Welcome to this chapter segment in the LEGENDARY SURFERS series on Polynesian Voyages that took place after the settling of Hawaii by crews of the Ali’i chiefs.

Ethnologist Abraham Fornander wrote: “after a period of comparative quiet and obscurity, the Polynesian folklore in all the principal groups becomes replete with the legends and songs of a number of remarkable men, of bold expeditions, stirring adventures, and voyages undertaken to far-off lands. An era of national unrest and of tribal commotion seems to have set in, from causes not now known, nor mentioned in the legends... a migratory wave swept the island world of the Pacific, embracing in its vortex all the principal groups, and probably all the smaller. Chiefs from the southern groups visited the Hawaiian group, and chiefs from the latter visited the former, accompanied by their relatives, priests, and retainers...”50

According to Hawaiian folklore, the northern discovery and settlement of the Hawaiian islands had initially been made by the Menehune, a people short in stature.51 Extending for thirteen or fourteen generations, or between four and five hundred years,52 the Menehune lived a relatively peaceful life, by all accounts and speculations. Stone temples – heiaus – and fish ponds – loko-ia – attributed to them still exist.

“Later came the ali’i invaders from Tahiti (Kahiki),”53 during the last era of the last migratory period, and the Menehune were gradually assimilated or wiped out. It is also possible they were only a myth. To date, no skeletal remains have been found to support their existence.

The ali’i voyages began from Kahiki (Tahiti) after 800 A.D. From Tahiti to Hawaii is 2,400 miles, but some of the intervening small islands may have been used for resting places. It has been suggested that the annual migration of the golden plover (kolea) to the south from Alaska through the Hawaiian Islands may have given the people in Tahiti the idea of land to the north. The Hawaiian myth of Papa mentions this. According to the legend, Papa married Wakea, who gave birth to the islands. Papa left the Hawaiian region on a visit to Tahiti and in his absence Wakea married Hoohoku-lani. The news of Wakea’s infidelity was told to Papa in Tahiti by the kolea, or golden plover

The dates of the ali‘i voyages to Hawai‘i are approximate. Though Hawaiian genealogies are long, they are also somewhat confused. An analysis by Stokes shows that a number of names personifying natural phenomena have been introduced among the names of Hawaiian human ancestors. Similar associations are also present in other parts of Polynesia. The dates of some of the outstanding ali‘i immigrants… [were tabulated] from an analysis of Hawaiian genealogies by Bruce Cartwright. The number of generations is taken back from 1900 A.D., allowing 25 years to a generation.54

The Puna line is well established in the Society and the Manihiki (Cook island) chains. The Hema line is known widely, even as far as New Zealand.55

The final voyage of the later period of the long voyages “was brought about by the priest Paao,” lectured Pearl S. Buck, “who came from Tahiti and seeing that the chiefly stock had degenerated in the person of Kapawa, he returned to Tahiti to get fresh ali’i blood. He returned with Pili-kaaiea whom he established in high chieftainship on the island of Hawai’i. Traditional narrative relates that he was responsible for a changed form in the heiau religious structures, and that he also introduced human sacrifice and the red feather girdle (malo ula) of the ali’i nui.

“The channel between the islet of Kahoolawe and the huge island of Maui, named Ke-ala-i-kahiki (the way to Tahiti) remains as a record of the fact that the voyagers took their departure from this point when they ran south to Tahiti. They sailed south by keeping the North Star (Hokupaa) directly eastern and when they lost it in the sea behind on crossing the Equator (Te Piko o Wakea), they picked up the southern guiding star Newe and the constellation of Humu stood overhead. In the period of the ‘long voyages‘ the 2400 miles of sea were crossed and recrossed by the Hawaiian ancestors who have handed down a record of daring achievement of which their descendants may be justly proud.”56

The Polynesian migration did not end with the Hawaiian chain, but continued to Rapa Nui (Easter Island) and Aotearoa (New Zealand). Rapa Nui is the furthest point east that we can say conclusively that Polynesians voyaged eastwards to and settled. Although there is no evidence of Polynesians reaching any of the beaches in the South American continent, it has been suggested that this is a possibility.

Rapa Nui, 400 A.D.

Go to the island of my dreams

and seek for a beautiful beach 

upon which the king may dwell.

     -- Legend of Hotu-Matua58

Rapa Nui is best known today for its unique and mysterious stone images erected throughout the island. The island itself is not only the farthest known point of the Polynesian migration; it is one of the most remote inhabitable islands in the world, a tiny speck of land thirteen miles long and ten miles wide. The closest inhabited islands lie to the west. Pitcairn is 1,100 miles distant and Mangareva 1,410 miles away. South America is 2,030 miles to the east. Eaoa Nui is a volcanic island with dry, arid soil, no streams, and slight rainfall. Of a number of extinct craters, the largest one, Rano Aroi rises to a height of 600 feet. According to legend, it was King Hotu Matua who found Rapa Nui in the midst of the rising sun.59

“King Hotu-Matua dwelt in the land of Marae-renga [Hiva],” wrote Peter Buck in Vikings of the Pacific, “and he dreamed of an island with a beautiful beach that lay over the eastern horizon. He sent men on a canoe named Oraora-miro to locate a beach on his dream island. He followed in their wake in his great double canoe, ninety feet long and six feet deep. One hull bore the name Oteka and the other Qua. The king was accompanied by the master craftsman, Tu-koihu, in another canoe. After many days’ sail, the two vessels sighted an island that Horu-matua knew to be the island of his dreams. As they approached the western end of the island, the two vessels separated, the king to survey the south coast and Tu-koihu the north. The king’s ship sailed rapidly and paddles were plied to increase the speed. The king’s ship rounded the eastern end of the island without having seen the beach for which he searched. On the north coast he saw the canoe of Tu-koihu paddling to a beach that he recognized as the beach of his dream. It would never do for Tu-koihu to land before him, so he invoked his gods with the magic words, ‘Ka hakamau te konekone’ (Stay the paddling). The paddles of Tu-koihu’s crew stayed motionless in the water, and the sea seethed as the king’s paddlers raced for the shore. The double prow of the king’s ship ran up on the sands of Anakena, and Hotu-matua stepped ashore onto a beautiful beach fit for a king to dwell upon.”60

Hotu-Matua took up his residence at Anakena and shortly after the landing his wife Vaikai-a-hiva gave birth to a male child. Tu-koihu cut the navel cord of the child and conducted the ritual whereby the royal halo (ata ariki) was produced around the child’s head to indicate its royal birth. He was named Tu-maheke and through him descends the line of Easter Island kings. On the basis of fragments of royal genealogies, it is estimated that Hotu-Matua landed on the island about 150 A.D., which possibly could have put the Rapa Nui landing earlier than the Hawaiian.

As in other parts of Polynesia, Rapa Nui tribes developed as the population grew, taking the names of ancestors and living in defined districts of the island. The highest ranking chief, who also had priestly functions, belonged to the senior line descended from Hotu-Matua. This tribe was named Miru and ranked above the other tribes, enjoying certain special privileges.

For unknown reasons, inter-tribal wars were frequent. The tale of the war between Long-ears and Short-ears may indicate that there were two early groups of settlers; one group, which pierced their ears and wore such heavy ornaments that their ears were considerably elongated, coming from the Marquesas where heavy ear ornaments were worn, and the other group which did not pierce their ears coming from Mangareva. The Long-ears lived on the eastern end of the island and were credited with making the stone images which have long ears and the stone temple structures. The Short-ears lived on the western part of the island and had the more fertile lands. The Marquesans carved large stone images and built stone retaining walls, whereas the Mangarevans did not. It seems that conflict arose because the Short-ears refused to carry stones to assist the Long-ears in erecting a temple. In the war which followed, the Long-ears were said to be almost exterminated. This may account for what appears to have been a sudden cessation of work in the image quarry and the commencement of knocking down the images from their platforms.61

In addition to this lesson on toleration of diversity, the other lesson Rapa Nui can teach us is the preservation of existing ecology. Archeological evidence shows that the relatively barren island was once covered with forests and several species of plants including hardwoods and giant palm trees. The trees and plants that were cut down and used by the island’s new and growing population were not replanted and thus the rich assets the island possessed upon human arrival were never replenished – at least not begun until relatively modern times.

South America?

Rapa Nui as the farthest point of eastern Polynesian migration is conclusively documented. Yet, the sweet potato’s distribution may hold the answer to whether or not Polynesians went further, reaching the mainland of South America. The stretch of ocean between Rapa Nui and the coast of South America is less than that crossed between Tahiti and Hawai‘i or Aotearoa (New Zealand).

“That some Polynesian voyagers reached South America has usually been regarded as doubtful,” according to Peter Buck. “Yet the problem of the distribution of the sweet potato in space and time cannot be lightly disposed of. Some botanists maintain that Central or South America is the original home of the sweet potato. We know from traditional narrative that the sweet potato had been carried to both Hawai‘i and New Zealand before Columbus discovered America. Professor Roland Dixon of Harvard supports the fact that if America is the original home, the sweet potato must have been brought into Polynesia by some Indian tribe or by Polynesians who reached South America and returned.” This dovetails into Thor Heyerdal’s theories of Polynesian origins quite well.

Renowned adventurer Thor Heyerdal suggested that migration to Polynesia had followed the North Pacific conveyor, as had the rest of the American hemisphere. He therefore turned his search for origins to the coasts of British Columbia and Peru. Heyerdahl first published his theory (International Science, New York, 1941) that Polynesia had been reached by two successive waves of immigrants. His theory suggested that the first wave had reached Polynesia via Peru and Easter Island on balsa rafts. Centuries later, a second ethnic group reached Hawaii in large double-canoes from British Columbia. The results of Heyerdahl’s research were later published 1952 in American Indians in the Pacific. In the dramatic voyages of the wooden craft Kon-Tiki in 1947 and the reed-craft Ra expeditions in 1969-70, Heyerdahl demonstrated the feasibility of traveling from the Americas to Polynesia and Rapa Nui. Although his theories and voyages grabbed the imagination of many, subsequent voyages made by the Polynesian Voyaging Society and the prevailing archaeological evidence do not support an east-to-west migration of people into Polynesia.

While most Native American tribes people were not seamen, had ample land to meet their requirements and no overriding reason to take to the ocean, it is still possible that Polynesians landed in the Americas from the west. The Polynesian migration might have extended as far as South America.62 We just don’t know for sure.

Aotearoa, 950 A.D.

“A distant land, 


with plenty of moisture, 

and a sweet-scented soil.”

     -- Kupe

Raiatea and Tahiti in the Society Islands form the center of the diffusion of the later period of Polynesian voyaging. The ancient name of Raiatea was, in fact, Hawai‘i. This name in various dialectical forms (including “Hawai‘iki”) figures as the starting point of most of the Polynesian Voyages.63

Maori oral, or Aotearoa’s canoe tradition, tells us of Kupe, one of the great Polynesian navigators, who set sail from Hawai‘iki (ancestral home of the Maori) in his waka (pirogue) Mata-hou-rua and later discovered the “Land of High Mists.” He subsequently named the place Aotearoa, which alternatively means “the long white cloud,”64 “Land of the Long Day,” “Land of the Long Dawn,” or “Land of the Long Twilight.”65 Later Europeans named the island “New Zealand”. I use mostly the original given name of Aotearoa.

Upon Kupe’s return from his initial discovery, he gave the sailing directions as a little left of the setting sun in the Maori month. This corresponds to the lunar month of November-December. From a number of genealogies, Kupe’s discovery of Aotearoa has been placed at about the period between 925 and 950 A.D. Kupe reported seeing no human beings, but one telling of the tradition states that he saw smoke inland from the coast of the North Island. Although there is no evidence to substantiate this, it is possible that an earlier group of Polynesians had reached New Zealand, but had not spread to the parts visited by Kupe.66

Two centuries later, a noted Maori ancestor named Toi sailed down to Aotearoa in search of his grandson Whatonga, who had been blown out to sea during a regatta in Hawai‘iki. Toi found the country fairly well populated in parts by a people who had been blown away while journeying from one island to another. These people had no cultivable food plants. In a classic case of “two ships passing in the night,” Toi was later joined by his grandson, who had returned to Hawai‘iki after Toi’s departure, and in turn set out to seek his grandfather. Neither Toi’s nor his grandson’s vessels brought women along, so the two crews ended up marrying wives from the earlier people. This resulted in mixed Toi tribes.

An interesting Maori tradition relates the arrival of two voyaging chiefs who brought with them cooked sweet potatoes. The new food created such a desire for the plant that an expedition sailed back into central Polynesia to secure sweet potato tubers for cultivation in Aotearoa. Between the years 1150 A.D. and 1350 A.D. various voyaging canoes came to Aotearoa from Hawai‘iki. Most likely, return voyages were also made. By this time, Aotearoa was well known to the people of Hawai‘iki for traditions handed down by the East Coast tribes of New Zealand show that when their ancestor Paikea arrived, he went directly to places where his relatives resided.67

This was the time of the voyages of a number of famous canoes and their crews: the Tainui, Arawa, Tokomaru, Mataatua, Kurahaupo, and Takitimu. The Aotea and Te Ririno went together and after encountering a severe storm the Aotea called in at the Kermadec Islands, refitted, and made Aotearoa. The Horouta and Mamaru are other well known canoes. These later canoes came to Aotearoa specifically to settle and brought their women and cultivable food plants – especially important the taro, yam, and sweet potato. The year 1350 A.D. is usually regarded as the date when immigration ceased and the “sacred tide to Hawai’iki was cut off.“68

In detailing the organization of the Polynesian migration to New Zealand, Te Rangi Hiroa said, “The crews of the various voyaging canoes selected areas for settlement that would avoid clashing with one another. When they became established, they fought and fused with the earlier wave who were called the ‘people of the land.’ (tangata whenua). Family groups expanded into subtribes (hapu) and tribes (iwi) until the whole North Island was divided up into canoe areas occupied by tribes which acknowledged a common ancestral origin.”69 These people became landsmen and the urge for the long voyages ceased. Their glories and those of their ancestors upon the great ocean of Kiwa were thus relegated to narrative, speech, and song.

One famous Maori song of welcome features canoes prominently:

Toia mai, te waka!

Draw hither, the canoe!

Kumea mai, te waka!

Haul hither, the canoe!

Ki te urunga, te waka!

To its pillow, the canoe!

Ki te moenga, te waka!

To its bed, the canoe!

Ki te takotoranga i takoto ai te waka.

To the resting place where shall rest, the canoe.

Haere mai, haere mai.

Welcome, twice welcome.70

Polynesian Canoes

Polynesian voyaging was a collective feat “that properly should rank among the great achievements of human history,” wrote Kenneth P. Emory, “and one that must have been flooded with human drama.”71 By 1000 A.D., the period of the last of the Long Voyages, the Viking Leif Erikson sailed from Europe to North America and gun powder was invented in China.72

Like the Maori, the Polynesians that settled in Hawaii were evidently quite satisfied with their new home, for they also gave up long ocean voyaging. “It became more or less of a lost art with them,” Emory wrote, but also noted that there is little difference between the design of the modern Hawaiian outrigger canoe and those found at the time of the European landings in the late 1700s. “The only difference,” says Emory, “is that the fore and end pieces of the canoe, manu, are now made out of one solid piece instead of two, and that these end pieces and the board, moo, attached on each side, are now nailed on instead of being lashed on. The lashings of the outrigger of modern canoes [1960s] are not nearly so neat as those made in the old days.”73

At the time of the European landings, “there were much larger canoes, and also double canoes rigged with the Hawaiian sail which went out of existence more than one hundred years ago,” noted Emory. In fact, James Jarves, in Scenes and Scenery in the Sandwich Islands, published in 1844, gave an account of the European navigator Vancouver sighting one of these large canoes between the islands of O’ahu and Kaua’i. “Vancouver fell upon the finest canoe they had ever seen; it being sixty and one-half feet long, with proportionate depth and width and made from an American pine log. Its size considerably exceeds the largest canoe made from native timber (koa wood).”74

“The large double canoes, rigged with a mat sail,” continued Emory, “were quite suitable for inter-island travel. Some very large Hawaiian canoes were made from great California redwood logs which drifted to these shores. The rotting hull of one 108 feet long was still to be seen in the 1870’s.”75 Early twentieth century surfer Tom Blake claimed that at that time, “On the Kona coast in Hawai`i there is said to be part of a canoe now being used as a water trough, so large a man could stand upright in it and be out of view.”76

“The hulls of Hawaiian canoes were always in one piece,” emphasized Emory. “The trees, when not redwoods, were carefully selected by the kahuna kalai wa’a who slept in a house in a heiau for a vision to guide him in his choice. A sacrifice of a red fish, of coconuts, and awa, was made before the felling of the tree. Ceremonies were performed at every stage in the shaping of the log, of its dragging to the shore, of its building in the canoe shed, and finally at its launching. The canoe was smoothly finished off by rubbing with sand caught in the meshes of coconut husk fiber, or by shark skin. It was then painted black with burnt kukui nut mixed with oil. The trimmings of a royal canoe were painted red.”77 One prayer in connection with the consecration of a canoe went like this:

Uplifter of the Heavens, 

Uplifter of the earth,

Uplifter of the mountains, 

Uplifter of the ocean,

Grant a canoe that shall be swift as a fish,

To sail in stormy seas,

When the storm tosses on all sides.78  

“In Tahiti,” continued Emory, “hulls of large canoes were made of several sections of hollowed-out logs joined together. The stern rose high out of the water and the bow was fitted with a projecting plank. In the outrigger, the forward boom was not attached directly to the float, but indirectly by means of pegs. The double seagoing canoes were, most commonly, twin canoes. Each was built up of planks carefully fitted and secured in place by sewing with sennit. The seams were caulked with coconut fibre, perhaps soaked with breadfruit gum, and the seams were covered with battens held firmly in place by the sewing. By this means, canoes could be built up to almost any size and could be varied as to shape. The space between the canoes was decked over, and on this deck were set one or two masts and a deck house thatched with pandanus leaf. The sails were narrower and higher than the Hawaiian sail but embodied the same principles.”79

According to Emory, Tongan canoes were the finest sailing ships in Polynesia when the Europeans first arrived. “They reached the enormous length of 150 feet, nearly twice the size of the trading schooners in the South Seas today. The Tonga double canoe had one canoe very much smaller than the other. The sail, though a lateen, or in other words, a triangular sail, was suspended from the mast by the middle of one side. The end of the mast was fixed on the deck or front of the canoe and when it came to tacking, the sail, not the canoe, was reversed. The Tongan canoe was modeled after the Fijian, the Tongans improving on the Fijian. This Tongan-Fijian canoe was perfected in about the 16th century when the Tongans were securing the central Pacific and penetrating north even as far as Fanning, 1000 miles from Hawai’i, where they left two tombs of chiefs.

“Canoes were equipped with ordinary paddles, steering paddles, bailers, seats, mat sails, and tassels of feathers or pennants of kapa flying from the masthead or outer end of the sail. Most old Hawaiian paddles were tipped at the end with a midrib on one side. Stone anchors were carried, although in the Tuamotus the usual method of anchoring a canoe was by diving and fastening the anchor to a coral head.”80

It is likely that at the height of the colonization period, when whole families with their retinues, their household property, their domesticated animals and plants were to be transported, new canoes were built solely for their transport. These canoes were undoubtedly larger and better than any Polynesian craft existent at the time of European contact; centuries after the period of colonization had come to an end.

“In preparing for a long voyage,” Emory wrote, “canoes were carefully gone over. They were recaulked and relashed on all weak points and the rigging was overhauled. If the canoes were especially built for the voyage, preparations might extend over many months.

“The stores of food and water were the next most important things to attend to. Water was stored in bamboo joints or in gourds or in coconut bottles. Of these, the bamboo could be most conveniently packed away on board. Sweet potatoes, taro, bananas, young drinking coconuts, and breadfruit would last a week or ten days and a supply for this period was put in. Yams would last two months. Among other lasting foods were mature coconuts and several prepared foods, such as fermented breadfruit, dried taro, dried sweet potato, and dried bananas. Pandanus food was another concentrated lasting preparation taken on a voyage. It was a yellow dough the consistency of putty, and was made by scraping the starch from the base of the keys, mixing it with coconut milk, and baking it. Fresh fish could be kept alive in bamboo aquaria, and shell fish would keep alive a few days. Dried fish was one of the staples of the long voyage. Pigs and chickens were kept alive on copra and the dogs were fed the remains of the pigs, chickens, and scraps of fish. A few birds and fish might be caught at sea to round off the menu. Sand, earth, stones, and firewood were carried for the imu.”81

The Tahitians and Tuamotuans rarely took more than twenty days’ provisions. The Polynesian double-hulled voyaging canoe is a fairly fast sailing vessel. With favorable winds it can make eight or nine knots. It has been estimated that with a fair following wind, the great voyage from Tahiti to Aotearoa could have been covered in about 11 days. To that end, the weather was most carefully chosen. “Tuamotu natives have been know to wait months at Tahiti for the right season of the year to return home,” wrote Emory. “In addition to waiting for a perfect day for the start, all omens must be right on that day, and the religious rites attending the departure must be completed.”82

Polynesian Navigation

Open ocean voyaging in double-hulled canoes was and still is a formidable act. It is not only a physical, but a mental challenge, particularly for a navigator without a magnetic compass or written chart. To navigate hundreds of miles of ocean requires an extensive and intimate knowledge of the ocean and sky. Primary in the pack of knowledge was the use of setting points of celestial bodies for direction and winds and swell for holding course.

Kenneth Emory described traditional Polynesian navigation as it was exhibited in the 1960s: “When the natives of Anaa in the Tuamotus set out for Tahiti, 250 miles distant, they dragged their fine twin ships from their neat canoe sheds and hauled them to the edge of the reef flat over the butts of coconut leaves, amid their lively hauling chanties. The canoes were lined up with points on shore which gave the exact direction for them to pick up Matavai point on Tahiti and at sunset they took final leave of their friends and launched their canoes.

“They fixed on the first bright star directly ahead near the western horizon. When it began to sink into the horizon haze they guided on the star following this one. If you stop to think you will realize this is not so easy. The second star would not be directly above the first but slightly off to one side or the other. Here is where the lore of the Tuamotu astronomer came in. He was aware that all the fixed stars which sink on one spot on the horizon arise from one spot on the eastern horizon, and that these two spots never change as long as he remains in one place. These stars follow the same curved course through the sky and are said to belong to the same rua, or pit. The principal stars which follow a number of courses in both the northern and southern parts of the heavens were known by name. The Polynesian navigator could recognize and give the name of 150 or more stars and, furthermore, what was of the greatest importance, he knew which belonged to the same parallel of latitude. He did not express it that way, of course, but said instead that they all issued from the same pit.”83

“Over 120 Hawaiian names of stars and planets have been preserved,” added E.H. Bryan, Jr.84

While navigating at night, if clouds suddenly began to obscure the approaching sky, a man would be stationed in front and keep a back sight on a star on the departing horizon, and on the stars following it. If the whole sky became overcast, he fell back temporarily on the movement of wind and waves. If the skies cleared he would search for stars on the horizons known to belong to the same series as the stars guided on before the clouds came in.

In bad or rainy weather at night, a change in the winds was quickly noted because the waves would not change their direction right away. Winds were recognized as much by their character as by the direction from which they came. A navigator confused as to his direction could often re-orient himself by recognizing a certain wind.

In the daytime, the sun became the principal guide for navigation. It was supplemented by waves, winds, and currents. Sea birds were also a help, as the direction from which they came or were headed indicated the presence of land.

All Polynesian navigators had a very clear notion of the cardinal points – north, south, east and west – and of the points midway. As soon as he could find a wind, or celestial body on which he could right himself, he would know if he was going in the likely direction of his intended arrival. A string in which knots were tied each day enabled him to keep track of the days passed. As land neared, usually great piles of clouds indicated where it stood long before it could be seen.

This high visibility for islands was not always the case, however. Emory noted that his return from Tahiti to Anaa was more difficult than traveling from the smaller to the bigger island. Apaa “is not very wide and is so low that a canoe can pass within eight miles in clear weather and not see it,” Emory wrote. “Much greater care had to be exercised in choosing the weather, for Anaa lay to windward and the favorable winds were rare and occurred only in one season. The shallow lagoon of Anaa in the daytime casts a reflection of a peculiar greenish color on any clouds that pass overhead. We saw this light at a distance of twenty miles and it acted as a beacon to us. I have been told that in rainy weather when coral islands are easily passed by, that a pig on board would be carefully watched. If he got a whiff of land his nose would turn landward. Many such tricks must have been used by the Polynesians.”85

Spanish emissary Andia Y Varela visited Tahiti in 1774 and wrote a little bit about traditional Tahitian navigation at that time:

“There are many sailing-masters among the people, the term for whom is in their language fatere [faatere; Hawaiian: ho’okele]. They are competent to make long voyages like that from Otahiti [Tahiti] to Oriayatea [Ra`iatea], which counts forty or fifty leagues [one league equals 30 nautical miles, so 120-150 miles], and others farther a field... They have no mariner’s compass, but divide the horizon into sixteen parts, taking for the cardinal points those at which the sun rises and sets…

“When setting out from port the helmsman reckons with the horizon. Thus partitioned counting from E, or the point where the sun rises; he knows the direction in which his destination bears: he sees, also, whether he has the wind aft, or on one or other beam, or on the quarter, or is close-hauled: he knows, further, whether there is a following sea, a head sea, a beam sea, or if it is on the bow or the quarter. He proceeds out of port with a knowledge of these [conditions], heads his vessel according to his calculation, and aided by the signs the sea and wind afford him, does his best to keep steadily on his course. This task becomes more difficult if the day be cloudy, because of having no mark to count from for dividing out the horizon. Should the night be cloudy as well, they regulate their course by the same signs; and, since the wind is apt to vary in direction more than the swell does, they have their pennants, made of feathers and palmetto bark, to watch its changes by and trim sail, always taking their cue for a knowledge of the course from the indication the sea affords them. When the night is a clear one they steer by the stars; and this is the easiest navigation for them because, there being many stars not only do they note by them the bearings on which the several islands with which they are in touch lie, but also the harbours in them, so that they make straight for the entrance by following the rhumb of the particular star that rises or sets over it; and they hit it off with as much precision as the most expert navigator of civilized nations could achieve.

“They distinguish the planets from the fixed stars, by their movements; and give them separate names. To the stars they make use of in going from one island to another, they attach the name of the island, so that the one which serves for sailing from Otahiti to Oriayatea has those same names, and the same occurs with those that serve them for making the harbours in those islands.”86

In sailing between Tahiti and Ra‘iatea, Andia Y Varela was most impressed with two Polynesians traveling with him. He wrote that “every evening or night, they told me, or prognosticated, the weather we should experience on the following day, as to wind, calms, rainfall, sunshine, sea, and other points, about which they never turned out to be wrong: a foreknowledge worthy to be envied, for, in spite of all that our navigators and cosmographers have observed and written about the subject, they have not mastered this accomplishment.87

Emory summed it up the best: “At a time when our European ancestors knew little more than the world about the sheltered Mediterranean, our Polynesian ancestors were navigating the greatest of the oceans. And while Columbus and the European navigators of a much later date launched out with fear and trembling into the unknown, these earlier Polynesian navigators knew where they were going and how they were going to get there.”88

Since Emory’s time of study, major breakthroughs have taken place in the practice and knowledge of Polynesian ocean voyaging. Dramatic voyages were undertaken in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and continue to the present day. This rebirth of Polynesian open ocean voyaging that began in the 1970s and the wealth of knowledge from the subsequent voyages since then, continue to inspire people today. In active pursuit of this activity and at the forefront of its development is the Polynesian Voyaging Society.


1 Hopupu, vs. emotionally excited, as with hate, love, lust. See Pukui, Mary Kawena and Elbert, Samuel H. Hawaiian Dictionary, ©1986 by the University of Hawai’i, Honolulu, Hawai’i. See also Lueras, Leonard. Surfing, the Ultimate Pleasure, ©1984, Workman Publishing, New York, p. 31 

2 Finney, Ben R. and Houston, James D. Surfing, The Sport of Hawaiian Kings, © 1966, C.E. Tuttle Company, Rutland, Vermont. This work is based on Finney’s 1959 M.A. thesis at the University of Hawai‘i. He was assisted in the writing of the book by Houston, pp. 24-34. At the time, the estimate was 1500 B.C. to 400 A.D. See also Finney, Ben and Houston, James D. Surfing: A History of the Ancient Hawaiian Sport, ©1996. Published by Pomegranate Artbooks, Rohnert Park, California, p. 21. Estimate adjusted for 2000 B.C. to before 400 A.D.

3 Finney, Ben Rudolph. Surfboarding in Oceania: Its Pre-European Distribution, ©1959. See also Lueras, p. 34.

4 Finney and Houston,1996, p. 22. See map of the Polynesian Triangle, same page.

5 Stecyk, C.R. “Hot Curl,” The Surfer’s Journal, Vol. 3, No. 2, Summer 1994, p. 64.

6 Buck, Peter H. “Polynesian Migrations,” chapter two of Ancient Hawaiian Civilization, “A Series of Lectures Delivered at the Kamehameha Schools,” ©1965, C.E. Tuttle Company, Inc., Rutland, Vermont. Te Rangi Hiroa was better known in the outside world by his European name. Ninth Printing, 1981, p. 23.

7 Campbell, I. C. A History of the Pacific Islands, ©1989, University of California Press, Berkeley, California, p. 31-32. See also Man’s Conquest of the Pacific, the Prehistory of South East Asia and Oceana, by Peter Bellwood, ©1979, Oxford University Press, New York. This is the definitive work on the prehistory of the Pacific. It includes a discussion of the various alternative theories on Pacific Islander migrations.

8 Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History, A Horizontal Likage of People and Events, ©1991. Simon and Schuster, New York, p. 5. Finney and Houston’s (1966) timeframe for Polynesian specific dates.

9 Buck, 1965, p. 23.

10 Fuller, Buckminister. Critical Path, “Humans in Universe,” p. 29.

11 Fuller, pp. 29-30.

12 Fuller, p. 30.

13 Buck, 1965, pp. 23-24.

14 Finney, 1994, p. 28. See sketch of Lapita designs on p. 27.

15 Fuller, p. 348.

16 Buck, 1965, pp. 23-24.

17 Campbell, 1989, p. 31-32.

18 Finney, 1994, p. 29.

19 Finney, 1994, p. 26. See distribution map of Austronesian language groups and oceangoing canoes, Figure 2, p. 16.

20 Begining date taken from Kawaharada, Dennis, “The Polynesian Settlement of the Pacific,” 3.1.2., ©1995 by the Polynesian Voyaging Society, Honolulu, Hawai’i.

21 Campbell, 1989, p. 32. See migration map on p. 33.

22 Michener, James. Hawaii.

23 Buck, Peter. Vikings of the Sunrise, ©1938, Lippincott, Philadelphia, PA.

24 Bryan, E.H. “Astronomy and the Calendar,” chapter 23 of Ancient Hawaiian Civilization, A Series of Lectures Delivered at the Kamehameha Schools, ©1965, C.E. Tuttle Company, Inc., Ninth Printing, 1981, p. 252.

25 Kawaharada, 1995.

26 Buck, 1965, pp. 26-27.

27 Kawaharada, 1995.

28 Bryan, 1965, p. 252. The “seven little sisters” appearance in November marked the beginning of the Polynesian year and was a season of great festivity.

29 Bryan, 1965, p. 252.

30 Buck, 1965, pp. 26-27.

31 Buck, 1965, p. 27.

32 Kawaharada, 3.1.2, “The Polynesian Settlement of the Pacific.”

33 Buck, 1965, pp. 27-28.

34 Buck, 1965, p. 28.

35 Date taken from Kawaharada, 1995.

36 Campbell, 1989, pp. 32-33. Thor Heyerdahl’s epic raft voyage of the Kon Tiki popularized the possibility of an emigration from South America, but nearly all scientific evidence points in the opposite direction.

37 Finney & Houston, 1996, p. 21.

38 Kirch, Patrick. Quoted in Kawaharada. Kirch has done extensive archaeological work within the Polynesian Triangle. See also Green, Roger, 1966 for linguistic sub-groupings within Polynesia

39 Kawaharada, 1995, 3.1.3, “The Settlement of Hawaii.” See Elbert, Samuel H. “Lexical Diffusion in Polynesia and the Marquesan-Hawaiian Relationship,” Journal of the Polynesian Society, Volume 91, Number 4, December 1982, p. 505.

40 Kawaharada, 1995, points out that archaeology of the Pacific is “still in its infancy” and that more evidence is needed to be conclusive.

41 Kawaharada, 1995.

42 Fornander, Abraham. An Account of the Polynesian Race, Its Origin and Migrations, and the Ancient History of the Hawaiian People to the Times of Kamehameha I,” Vol I-III, ©1969, C.E. Tuttle Company, Inc., Rutland, Vermont. Fornander has Hawai’i-loa coming from the Marshall Islands in Micronesia.

43 See Chapter 4, Ancient Polynesian Legends, “Hawai’iloa.”

44 Kawaharada, 1995, 3.1.1, “Exploration and Discovery.”

45 Buck, 1965, p. 24.

46 Grun, 1991, p. 30.

47 Campbell, 1989, p. 33. Kawaharada has the discovery of Hawai‘i at around 400 A.D.

48 Grun, 1991, circa 800 A.D., p. 87.

49 Blake, Thomas. Hawaiian Surfriders 1935, ©1983, published by Mountain and Sea, Redondo Beach, California. Originally entitled Hawaiian Surfboard, published in 1935, Paradise of the Pacific Press, Honolulu, Hawai‘i, p. 31.

50 Fornander, 1969, Vol. 3, p. 6.

51 Buck, 1965, p. 31.

52 Fornander, 1969, Vol, 3, p. 5

53 Buck, 1965, p. 31. He has the ali‘i voyages between 1000 and 1200 A.D.

54 Buck, 1965, p. 31

55 Buck, 1965, p. 32.

56 Buck, 1965, pp. 32-33. The voyages of Lono-mai-kahiki and Kalana mentioned in passing.

57 Buck, 1965, p. 33. Buck says these voyages extended from the 10th to 12th centuries.

58 Buck, 1938,. pp. 228-236.

59 Website visited September 2003.

60 Buck 1938, pp. 228-236.  There is a longer version published in Thomas S. Barthel’s The Eighth Land: The Polynesian Settlement of Easter Island (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i 1978; originally published in German in 1974). Other versions are found in W.J. Thomson’s “Te Pito Te Henua, or Easter Island” in Report of the United States National Museum 1889 (Washington D.C.: 1891, pp. 447-552); Katherine Routledge’s The Mystery of Easter Island (London: 1919; pp. 277-280); and Alfred Metraux’s Ethnology of Easter Island (Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1971, pp. 55-75; originally published in 1940).

61 Buck, 1938,. pp. 228-236.

62 Buck, 1965, pp. 33-34.

63 Buck, 1965, pp. 28-29.

64 Buck, 1965, pp. 28-29.

65 The Dictionary of New Zealand English, by H.W. Orsman, OUP, Auckland 1998, lists Aotearoa as being a translation of the Maori name for the whole of New Zealand. It is possible the name was meant originally to refer just to the North Island.

66 Buck, 1965, pp. 28-29.

67 Buck, 1965, pp. 28-29.

68 Buck, 1965, pp. 29-30.

69 Buck, 1965, pp. 30-31.

70 Maori song. See Buck, 1965, p. 31.

71 Emory, Kenneth P. “Navigation,” chapter 22 of Ancient Hawaiian Civilization, “A Series of Lectures Delivered at the Kamehameha Schools,” ©1965, C.E. Tuttle Company, Inc., Rutland, Vermont. Ninth Printing, 1981, p. 241.

72 Fuller, R. Buckminister. Critical Path, ©1981, St. Martin’s Press, N.Y., N.Y., p. 351, “Chronology of Scientific Discoveries and Artifacts.”

73 Emory, 1965, pp. 241-242.

74 Jarves, James J. Scenes and Scenery in the Sandwich Islands, published in London, England, 1844. Quoted in Blake, p. 32. Probably Blake’s parenthesis.

75 Emory, 1965, p. 242. See also Fornander, Vol. 3, pp. 8-9. This was probably the remanants of Kanea‘aiai, a war canoe of Kamehameha I.

76 Blake, 1983, p. 32.

77 Emory, 1965, pp. 242-243.

78 Blake, 1983, p. 32.

79 Emory, pp. 242-243. See picture,on page 243, of a model of “A Double Sailing Canoe from the Tuamotus,” which, according to Emory, “were the finest vessels in the Southeast.” The model was made in 1854, of a canoe then in existence. It was 60 feet long, 14 feet wide, 5 feet 8 inches deep, and carried 60 passengers.

80 Emory, 1965, p. 244.

81 Emory, 1965, pp. 245-246. See Finney, Voyage of Rediscovery, 1994, for more detail on traditional Polynesian double-hulled canoe design.

82 Emory, 1965, pp. 245-246. See Finney, Voyage of Rediscovery, 1994, for more detail on traditional Polynesian double-hulled canoe design.

83 Emory, 1965, p. 246.

84 Bryan, E.H. “Astronomy and the Calendar,” chapter 23 of Ancient Hawaiian Civilization, A Series of Lectures Delivered at the Kamehameha Schools, ©1965, C.E. Tuttle Company, Inc., Ninth Printing, 1981, p. 251.

85 Emory, 1965, pp. 247-248.

86 Corney, B.G. (ed.). The Quest and Occupation of Tahiti by Emissaries of Spain During the Years 1772-6 (3 vols.), London: Hakluyt Society, 1913-1919, Vol. II, 284-287. The account is from the journal of Andia Y Varela, who visited in Tahiti in 1774.

87 Corney, Vol. II, 284-287. The account is from the journal of Andia Y Varela, who visited in Tahiti in 1774.

88 Emory, 1965, p. 248..

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