History of Ocean Voyaging | Pacific Voyagers

History of Ocean Voyaging

Across the Pacific, the voyaging canoe is said to represent genealogy. Pacific Islanders trace their origins to certain canoes, for each is a sacred and living treasure that connects people to their ancestry. As she voyages, the canoe embodies balance, harmony, teamwork, and respect.

The great migration of the Pacific people began in Southeast Asia and Taiwan, by setting sail to the East. Thousands of years later and, in an extraordinary feat of ocean exploration, our ancestors ventured into the farthest reaches of the Pacific Ocean; a vast expanse nearly twice the size of the United States, spanning from Rapanui (Easter Island) in the east to Aotearoa (New Zealand) in the southwest and Hawaii in the north. These ancient seafarers traveled on double-hulled voyaging canoes for thousands of miles, carrying everything they would need, from root crops and seeds to domestic animals, to thrive in a new land.

As an oceanic people, Pacific Islanders have a history of navigating without instruments across vast distances to discover far-flung islands. They sailed by acute observation, educated intuition and intricate observation of the stars, sun, moon, wildlife and ocean swells.

In recent times, the ancient art of wayfinding was nearly extinct until one of its last keepers, master navigator Mau Piailug from Micronesia, on the island of Sattawal, chose to teach. He mentored Nainoa Thompson, who then became the first Hawaiian and Polynesian since the 14th century to practice the art of wayfinding on long-distance ocean voyages. In 1976, they successfully navigated Hōkūle`a across 2,500 miles on her first voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti. A double-hulled voyaging canoe, Hōkūle`a was first imagined to fruition by visionary artist Herb Kawainui Kane, but her soul is centuries old. Her voyages have inspired an extraordinary cultural revival and renewal of pride that continues to empower and inspire future leadership.

Today we continue to voyage, recognizing the Earth as a planet of finite resources and our only home. The vaka is a microcosm of our Pacific Islands, but also of our larger island that is planet Earth. It is a window in time, connecting us with our mana – our spirit- of collective consciousness, ancient knowledge, harmony and teamwork. Bridging ancestral wisdom and renewable energy, the vaka tells a universal story of hope. The voyaging canoe is a powerful model of intergenerational learning and cross-cultural legacy, with tremendous potential to inspire pride in our common heritage, and to motivate change as we navigate towards a world of ecological sustainability.

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