Hawaii School Reports - Polynesian Voyages

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Island Hopping, Polynesian Style

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Generally believed to be the first inhabitants of the Hawaiian islands, the Polynesians migrated throughout the Pacific in sailing canoes, ultimately forming a triangle, whose points are Aotearoa (New Zealand) to the southwest, Rapa Nui (Easter Island) to the east, and the Hawaiian Archipelago to the north.

The Polynesian migrations most likely began from the islands of Fiji, Tonga and Samoa, spreading east, south, and north, covering millions of square miles of ocean sparsely dotted with islands.  The migrations probably occurred over a period of a thousand years, with nearly all habitable islands settled several hundreds of years before they were "discovered" by European sailors in the 16th century.

Archaeological evidence combined with the degree of similarity in languages, cultural practices and transported plants indicate that the order of migration was first to the east to the Cook Islands, then on to Tahiti nui, the Society Islands, Tuamotus and Hiva (Marquesas Islands), now known as French Polynesia.  The Polynesian voyagers subsequently found their way southeast to Easter Island and north/northwest to Hawai`i, and finally south to Aotearoa (New Zealand).

From the time of James Cook, there has been great debate as to whether the Polynesians populated the far-flung islands of the mid Pacific by accident or by design.  The Pacific Voyaging Society was founded more than twenty five years ago with a primary goal of finding out if the canoes and navigational skills were sufficient to intentionally cross the vast distances between the islands.

The Hokulea (hokule'a) was completed in 1975 and the following year was successfully sailed the 2400 miles from Hawaii (Hawai'i) to Tahiti in 34 days without instruments.  This and several other voyages established that planned long-distance voyaging was possible.

The next test in the hypothesis was to construct a replica using only materials and tools available to the Polynesians.  The Hawaiiloa (hawai'iloa), named for the man sometimes credited with the discovery of Hawaii (hawai'i), was completed in 1994 and sailed to the Marquesas and back via Tahiti and Raiatea (Ra'iatea)the following year, along with two other canoes, the Hokulea (hokule'a) and the Makalii (makali'i).

Voyage of Rediscovery

The most challenging voyage was undertaken in 1999, when the final "leg" in the triangle was completed with the voyage to Rapa Nui (Easter Island).  

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