The settlement of Polynesia has always fascinated me. There are even two pieces of archeological evidence for Polynesian contact with the Americas — evidence of a species of chicken in present day Chille, and, more romantically, Polynesian canoe technology among a Calfornia NAI tribe.
But how did they cover those endless streches of pacific ocean?
. . . Sharp’s reassessment caused a huge amount of controversy and led to a stalemate between the romantic and the skeptical views.
By the mid-to-late 1960s it was time for a new hands-on approach. Anthropologist David Lewis sailed his catamaran from Tahiti to New Zealand using stellar navigation without instruments. . . . At the same time, ethnographic research in the Caroline Islands in Micronesia brought to light the fact that traditional stellar navigational methods were still very much in everyday use there.
Polynesian navigators employed a whole range of techniques including use of the stars, the movement of ocean currents and wave patterns, the air and sea interference patterns caused by islands and atolls, the flight of birds, the winds and the weather.
Harold Gatty suggested that long-distance Polynesian voyaging followed the seasonal paths of bird migrations.
The first settlers of the Hawaiian Islands are thought to have sailed from the Marquesas Islands using Polynesian navigation methods. To test this theory, the Hawaiian Polynesian Voyaging Society was established in 1973. The group built a replica of an ancient double-hulled canoe called the Hōkūle‘a, whose crew successfully navigated the Pacific Ocean from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti in 1976 without instruments. In 1980, a Hawaiian named Nainoa Thompson invented a new method of non instrument navigation (called the “modern Hawaiian wayfinding system”), enabling him to complete the voyage from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti and back. In 1987, a Māori named Matahi Whakataka (Greg Brightwell) and his mentor Francis Cowan sailed from Tahiti to Aotearoa without instruments.