Volume 72 1963 > Volume 72, No. 4 > Polynesian navigation: some comments, by Andrew Sharp, p 384 - 396
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Andrew Sharp here comments on the papers published last year in “Polynesian Navigation: A Symposium on Andrew Sharp's Theory of Accidental Voyages”, edited by Jack Golson (Polynesian Society Memoir No. 34), which was issued as a supplement to the September and December, 1962, issues of this Journal.


IN “The Settlement of Oceania: an Examination of the Accidental Voyage Theory”, G. S. Parsonson argues (pp. 12-13) that the first systematic statement of the accidental settlement theory of ocean islands was that of the explorer Quiros in 1597. Quiros, however, was endeavouring to persuade his readers that the few inhabited islands in the Pacific which had then been discovered were near continents or chains of islands from which they were settled. The first hypothesis of the accidental settlement of the detached inhabited ocean islands, including those in the Pacific, put forward at a time when the main groups in the South Pacific had been discovered and the idea that they were near a continent had been exploded, was that of Cook. Cook, however, failed to mention the possibility of settlement by random voyagers who set out in the hope of finding new land or were forced out to sea, as well as by waifs of the storm. The first to state a fairly comprehensive theory, including voluntary and forced exiles, appears to have been John Dunmore Lang.

After reviewing on pages 16-27 the history of opinion on the character and direction of prehistoric Polynesian migration (including some minor misrepresentations on pages 25 and 27 of my own views), Parsonson on pages 28-39 gives a review of evidence in the historical period of short two-way voyaging and long one-way voyaging in native craft. There is nothing much I would dispute in this, apart from the unproved claim, based for the most part on indirect late tradition, that Tongans paid deliberate visits to the Banks and Duff groups and Tikopia and Sikaiana.

On pages 40-45 Parsonson deals with navigation. His treatment consists of generalizations that the Polynesians sailed by horizon stars, the flights of birds, the direction of wind and swell, landmarks, the smell of land and other natural aids, as they no doubt did on their authenticated two-way contacts of up to several hundred miles in the central Pacific islands. These aids, however, were not sufficient to enable the prehistoric discoverers of Hawaii, New Zealand, Easter Island and the other detached islands of Polynesia to sail back home and find their discoveries again. Horizon stars give no clue whatever to lateral deviation. The direction of wind and swell gives no indica- - 385 tion of longitude because it is the same over great stretches of ocean. Landmarks, the smell of land and other such aids are of local value only. Nor can the voyagers be got to New Zealand or Hawaii and back with the aid of migratory birds, because birds fly on all night and every night independently of the set and drift which operate on surface vessels. There is a marked difference between the practicability of two-way contact over comparatively short distances on which dead reckoning can be applied empirically before one misses one's objective, and supposed two-way voyages of thousands of miles.

On pages 46-58 Parsonson gives a series of instances of boat voyages in historical times, some authenticated, some mythical. In the authenticated cases the voyagers had the benefit of European geographical knowledge of their courses and objectives, were not in Stone Age vessels made with stone tools and bound together with coconut fibre, were in most cases provided with instruments ranging from a compass or chart to a full range, and in no case, having found a distant ocean island, sailed back to their starting-point and then found the island again. These incidents are entirely irrelevant to the supposed feats of prehistoric discoverers of distant islands in getting back home and then colonizing their discoveries.

The mythical cases cited by Parsonson are as follows:

  • (1) A claim by Parsonson that late traditions of Sikaiana showed that “Polynesian outliers were frequently visited by canoes from Samoa and Tonga”.
  • (2) A claim by Parsonson that “Manicolo”, which “Pedro”, Quiros's informant in the Duffs, had visited, was not the relatively adjacent Vanikoro or Malekula, but Vanua Levu, over a thousand miles to the east, although according to Pedro himself it was to the south-east or south.
  • (3) A claim by Parsonson that the knowledge of the Ellice Islands shown by the Duff Islanders at the time of Quiros's visit was evidence of two-way contact between the Duff Islands and the Ellice Islands, despite the fact that at that time Quiros was told of a one-way voyage of a canoe from the Ellice Islands.
  • (4) A claim by Parsonson that the Tahitian Tupaea, at a time before Cook's first visit to Tahiti in 1769, had visited Tonga, although Tupaea did not include the names of any Tongan islands in the list of islands he claimed to have visited, and Cook obliquely repudiated his story later.

These mythical feats are regarded by Parsonson as “sufficient, it might be thought, to have brought all the major island groups of the Pacific, the Chathams and New Zealand not excluded, within the range of their (Polynesian seamen's) great double canoes”.

On pages 59-60 Parsonson argues that the survival of Polynesians on Tikopia, Rennell, Bellona and other western outliers was because these islands were non-malarious. He says that the pattern of settlement here owes little or nothing to accidental voyaging. His point, however, is entirely irrelevant to the manner of settlement, whether by accident or to the accompaniment of deliberate two-way navigation.

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Parsonson's unwillingness to believe that handfuls of Polynesians, increasing by 5% to 10% per generation, could account for the populations of historical times contrasts curiously with his statement in his next paragraph that “a far-reaching agricultural revolution” stimulated a sudden growth of population. Recent archaeology shows that the Hawaiians and Marquesans had food plants at an early date, and suggests that the same applied in New Zealand. There was nothing in the economy or biology of the Polynesians, or in their cultures, or in any other evidence, which cannot be explained by the settlement of their islands by handfuls of people at a time, arriving by unnavigated one-way voyages.


Captain Heyen's article, “Primitive Navigation in the Pacific—I”, appears to be based on the assumption that my theory of settlement was confined to one-way voyages of people lost or blown away in storms. On page 76 he makes a passing reference to warriors forced out to sea. Nowhere, however, does he make specific mention of one-way voyages of people who set out in the hope of finding land, either as part of my theory or as a possibility in his own views of the manner of settlement of distant islands. This latter type of migration would supply the element of deliberate effort which Heyen, no doubt with reason, finds attractive as part of the motivation behind settlement, without making it necessary to think that two-way navigation over long distances entered into it. I doubt, however, whether Aucklanders would agree that their climate was so cold that involuntary voyagers who approached their shores would have turned tail and fled. The alleged cold would in any case have been felt by purposive voyagers; Heyen here appears well on the way to a theory that New Zealand was not settled in prehistoric times at all. Nor, in the case of Fanning Island, do I think it appropriate to assume that all the one-way voyagers who set off from the Marquesas Group either in storms or as voluntary or involuntary exiles refused to run before the wind or drift where the wind took them.

In his second section, entitled “Meteorology and Oceanography” (pp. 66-67), Heyen gives details of the Pacific winds and currents. It is a highly sophisticated statement, bringing out the fact that there are broadly six wind zones and five current zones in the Polynesian area extending from New Zealand to Hawaii, with seasonal variations. Heyen states that the velocity of currents varies, being up to 80 miles a day near the equator, but seldom more than 25 miles a day farther south. How did Heyen gain all this knowledge? Certainly not from traditions handed down by explorers in Stone Age vessels without precision instruments. A modern navigator is aided in his dead reckoning by the knowledge of winds and currents gained during two centuries of Pacific exploration with precision instruments and charts. The prehistoric Polynesians did not have this advantage. In the days before instruments there was no way of detecting the operation of Pacific currents out of sight of land.

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In his third section, entitled “Primitive Navigation” (pp. 68-71), Heyen cites the voyages of Kau Moala within the Fiji-Tonga-Rotuma-Samoa area as examples of navigational skill, and then makes the comment that Kau Moala certainly was not ‘bewildered’, referring to page 42 of my book. If, however, Heyen re-reads that page, he will see that I quoted a statement, made by Tongan navigators to Cook, that when the sky was obscured and the wind changed they were bewildered. This was not said of Kau Moala's achievements. On the contrary I included his voyages, as described by Mariner, among the feats of voyaging which continually amazed the contemporary Europeans. The area in which these voyages were made, however, contains no gaps of more than 350 miles without intervening islands, making it possible for the courses to be established.

Heyen goes on in this section to describe the navigational prowess of the Gilbertese within their own islands. I cannot, however, accept that Gilbertese folk-lore justifies the conclusion that centuries previously the Gilbertese had made voyages to Samoa, although I think that one-way voyagers arrived in the Gilberts from Samoa.

Again there is no doubt in my mind about the ingenuity of Marshall Islanders on voyages within their own islands, as expounded by Heyen. Their judgment of currents, however, was made in relation to visible land.

I am prepared to concede that without bringing the “Sacred Calabash” of Hawaii into the picture, or sticks held up to the horizon, the Polynesians could on their local voyages have got aid from the stars which pass overhead in a given latitude. This might have been of assistance on east-west and west-east courses, but could not have told the discoverers of New Zealand, Hawaii and the other islands entering into the conventional reconstructions of Polynesian long two-way contact where they were in relation to the meridian of longitude of their base or other islands.

Heyen gets on shaky ground, or rather trackless water, when he comes to longitude. He endorses the theoretical possibility of Gatty's idea that the time of night when a star is overhead gives a clue to longitude, but thinks it extremely doubtful whether the Polynesians had an accurate calendar to determine the date. The time of night when a star is overhead in fact gives no clue whatever to longitude, whether one has an accurate calendar or not. There is no point in holding this against Heyen, however, since he discredits the idea of Polynesian longitudinal determination anyway.

The flight of migratory birds as a means of ascertaining direction leaves Heyen cold.

Heyen sums up thus: “For long-distance voyaging they (ancient Polynesian navigators) would have been dependent on wind and swell direction and bearings of sun and stars for directional purposes. They undoubtedly had some method of keeping a reasonably accurate dead-reckoning, and possibly some crude method of calculating or observing relative latitude or differences of latitude.” Wind and swell direction, the bearings of sun and stars, and observations of latitude, however, - 388 gave the prehistoric discoverers of the distant Polynesian islands entering into the conventional reconstructions of two-way voyaging no clue whatever to their longitudinal (i.e., easting and westing) deviations as the result of set with invisible currents and miscalculations of drift with winds. Accurate dead reckoning was therefore impossible. The discoverers of these islands had no way of knowing the longitudinal relationships of their discoveries and their home islands or any other islands, their margin of error being as wide as the Pacific Ocean, particularly if they struck calms combined with invisible currents, or storms. If by great good luck they reached other islands on hypothetical attempts to return home, they would have had to run the gauntlet of the navigational limitations all over again on hypothetical attempts to find their discoveries.

In his next section, “Possibility of Long Deliberate Voyages” (pp. 71-75), Heyen discusses the possibility of Polynesian deliberate two-way contacts with Hawaii and New Zealand. His final section is entitled “Possibility of Voyages of Discovery” (pp. 75-76). This, however, is the horse after the cart, for Polynesian deliberate contacts with Hawaii, New Zealand and other distant islands were obviously not possible until these islands had been discovered and some of the discoverers had got back to their home islands or other islands. Let us therefore consider the final section first.

In this section Heyen states that defeated warriors, outcast from their own islands, might have made long voyages of discovery, but would not have returned to tell of their discoveries. He also states that “accidental voyages undoubtedly resulted in some discoveries of remote islands, and there is the possibility that some of blown-away canoes were able to return to base by circuitous tracks”. It is scarcely credible, however, that accidental voyagers who returned by circuitous tracks could have found their discoveries again. Deliberate exploration, therefore, is not unnaturally Heyen's mechanism of suggested discovery and return to base as the necessary preliminary to the establishment of two-way contact. He gives the old canoes a sea-keeping endurance of three weeks or more. “This would have permitted a series of probing trips, sailing on a lead to the northward of up to ten days, possibly of a thousand miles, and a similar return board, with longer trips, perhaps, as confidence, boatbuilding and navigational techniques improved.”

How much longer? The distance from Eastern Polynesia to Hawaii is 1,800-2,200 miles, and to New Zealand 1,650 to 2,100 miles. New Zealand, moreover, is south-west of Eastern Polynesia, not south. Long boards across the trade wind, as Heyen admits, would not have fetched New Zealand, because the trade wind gives way to a zone of variable winds in the New Zealand area. On the supposed exploratory voyages the navigators had no way of knowing the relative longitudes of their discoveries and their home islands.

Heyen's own voyage from Eastern Polynesia to Hawaii in a modern sailing ship with the wind forward of the beam has no relevance to the prehistoric discovery of Hawaii. Who can believe that - 389 hypothetical prehistoric explorers would have gone on and on in the right direction with the wind forward of the beam to find islands they did not know existed, knowing that if they failed they would be faced with a round trip of some 4,000 miles? And what sort of shape would their vessels, made with stone tools and bound together with coconut fibre, have been in after even a thousand miles of sailing with the wind forward of the beam?

Having thus begged the question, on an ex post facto approach, of how the navigators knew of the existence and location of Hawaii and New Zealand, Heyen, in his penultimate section, takes them from Eastern Polynesia to New Zealand and Hawaii and back again. In the case of Hawaii, it does not matter to Heyen whether the starting point is Nukuhiva or Tahiti. These islands are a thousand miles east and west of each other, but the navigators who sailed across the trade wind still are pictured as arriving near Hawaii. When they got slightly to windward they could follow a line of latitude east to their destination. Just how they knew that, by doing these things, they would fetch Hawaii, Heyen, in the absence of a sound theory of how the courses were established in the first place, does not explain. Nor does it bother Heyen that in returning to Nukuhiva in their Stone Age vessels made with stone tools and bound together with coconut fibre, the navigators would be sailing close-hauled for nearly 2,000 miles.

In getting his navigators to New Zealand and back, Heyen makes an admission: “It would appear that direct voyages from Tahiti to New Zealand, although theoretically possible, would be beyond the capabilities of the old native navigators.” He then takes them to New Zealand and back again via Rarotonga or Tongatapu, again without explaining how the relative positions of Tahiti, Rarotonga, Tongatapu and New Zealand were established in the first place.

There is a certain irony about the confidence with which Heyen, fortified by his knowledge of the relative locations of Tonga and New Zealand and the meteorology of the area, takes his voyagers across the south-east trade winds on this passage. At the time when his article was published some Tongans, also with foreknowledge of the existence and location of Auckland and of the meteorology, sailed for that port in a schooner with auxiliary power. Instead of the so reliable trade winds they encountered a persistent head wind from the south-west, misjudged a tack to the west, and went on Minerva Reef.

What would have happened to the prehistoric discoverers of Hawaii and New Zealand if they had tried to get back to their home islands? The mean effect of the Pacific currents on the outward journeys of discovery would probably have been to set the voyagers to the west of their imagined course. On their hypothetical return journeys the set would probably have been in the same direction. The navigators would thus have had a good chance of a reunion in the New Hebrides or Micronesia rather than anywhere in Eastern Polynesia.

Why does Heyen want to get the voyagers back home again, when it would be so much easier to leave them in their discoveries as one-way settlers? “How, otherwise”, he asks, “would tales still be told of - 390 Gilbertese journeys to Samoa, and Polynesian voyages to New Zealand? Sea traditions stem from hard facts, not fancy.” Sea traditions, however, are a poor substitute for some means of determining the relative locations of distant islands. It was inevitable that the descendants of one-way settlers should have stories of visits by their forebears to vaguely remembered homelands.


In the next paper, “Primitive Navigation in the Pacific—II”, Captain Brett Hilder is for the most part concerned with the limitations on navigation without instruments to isolated islands (pp. 81-90). He considers with reason that in the case of isolated low islands the range of Polynesian navigation was probably restricted to distances under 100 miles. In the case of higher islands, such as Tikopia and Vanikoro, Atiu and Rarotonga, the range of contact would be somewhat farther. (The farthest recorded two-way contacts with such an island were those of the Tongans with Rotuma, which is separated by a gap of 350 miles from the Fiji-Tonga contact area, but the records show that these contacts were at infrequent intervals and that expeditions which set out for Rotuma on occasion were lost.) The navigation aids used were the alignment of the initial part of the course by landmarks on the island from which the voyage started, successively appearing horizon stars beyond the objective, the direction of wind and seas, and local natural aids in the vicinity of the objective. The limiting factors were that the course in relation to these navigation aids had to be established empirically in the first place, and that horizon stars and the direction of wind and seas give no clue to lateral deviation.

The only comment I would make on this part of Hilder's article is in reference to his attempt on page 82—and again on page 96—to get some sense out of the varied sailing directions allegedly given by Kupe to Maori navigators seeking New Zealand. In my view the story of Kupe is merely a transplanted Western Polynesian folk-tale which was diffused throughout Eastern Polynesia and in due course to New Zealand, the sailing directions to the right or left of the setting sun, moon or Venus being additions in the late 19th century under European influence in New Zealand in order to fit in with the European view that New Zealand was settled from Tahiti.

In the remainder of his article (pp. 90-97), Hilder gives a number of notes on voyages between groups or chains of islands, drift voyages, the history of the determination of latitude and longitude, and voyages to New Zealand. He gives the traditionalists more than a fair deal, but concludes that the voyages to New Zealand were accidental.

In my view Hilder makes a major contribution to evidence on pre-historic Pacific migration in his section on drift voyages on pages 91-92, coupled with the instances of such voyages cited by him on pages 148-149 of the symposium. One canoe of voyagers was conveyed 1,500 miles S.E. from the East Indies to the Vitu Islands near New Britain. As Hilder says, such incidents exemplify the spread of population into the Pacific in prehistoric times.

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The next paper was “Sailing Characteristics of Oceanic Canoes”, by Charles O. Bechtol.

Bechtol's statements on the performance of outrigger sailing canoes conform with Kotzebue's and de Freycinet's information, the following summary of which I repeat from my book: “According to Kotzebue's and de Freycinet's information, the seasonal south-west monsoon was feared by the Caroline voyagers. They preferred to sail by the steady trade wind from the north-east. The praus were liable to be overset, and both Kotzebue and de Freycinet give pictures of the trouble the crews had in righting them. Like all the Pacific vessels, they did poorly into the wind, being subject to heavy stress for craft composed of pieces of timber bound with fibre. Yet they could come into the wind when necessary. The Caroline praus, as de Freycinet said, were suited to the fact that in the Micronesian areas the winds in the main sailing season were not unduly violent.”

Bechtol states that “from the standpoint of a long ocean voyage, the double canoe would probably be somewhat more practical, since it would carry a larger sail burden and its sailing would be somewhat less critical. The double canoes, however, were somewhat limited in their efficiency in carrying sail since the factors of wood construction and coconut fibre lashings restricted the distance apart of the two hulls . . . This narrower hull spacing would significantly reduce the amount of sail which such canoes could carry and therefore reduce their speed”. This conforms with Andia y Varela's evidence as cited in my book, namely that “the Tahitians, on their journeys between the nearer islands, used single canoes with outriggers which were highly efficient, but employed double canoes for the longer voyages”, and with Cook's and Vason's evidence, also cited by me, that the speed of the Tongan double canoes in which they went as passengers was six to seven knots.

I note Bechtol's contention that double canoes, as well as outrigger sailing canoes, can sail up wind if they have to, but that “it is doubtful that they [the navigators] or their boats would be able to withstand a long period of sailing against the wind at an angle closer than seventy or eighty degrees”. He bases this on “the limitations in the construction of these canoes due to material culture”, which “must have sharply limited the length of time for which the canoe could withstand the strain of windward sailing”. He mentions that modern yachts returning to Los Angeles from San Francisco usually sail directly north with the wind at approximately ninety degrees to the direction of their course to about the latitude of San Francisco to pick up the prevailing westerlies in higher latitudes.

I doubt if the protagonists of the conventional views who blithely take their prehistoric voyagers on long two-way journeys with the wind forward of the beam will get much comfort from Bechtol's findings. Just how long double canoes made with stone tools and bound together with coconut fibre would stand the stress on the connecting booms as “the water in the top of a wave moves in one direction while the water in the trough between the waves moves in the opposite - 392 direction” is an interesting question. Cook, when told of the disintegration of a double canoe which had been blown away from Tahiti, referred to “such wretched sea-boats as the people are known to make use of fit only for a passage where sight of land is scarcely ever lost”. Cook's comment is not conclusive in itself. It is not surprising, however, that whereas the Tongans sailed across the trade wind in both directions on their visits to Samoa, when they went west to Fiji they waited for the seasonal westerlies before returning home, and that the Tahitians, on their visits to Raiatea, waited for the seasonal westerlies to get them back over the hundred miles separating them from their home.

I do not therefore dispute Bechtol's demonstration that double canoes as well as outrigger ones could sail up wind if they had to, but conclude from the historical evidence that Polynesian navigators did not do so if they could possibly avoid it, being in this respect no less sensible than modern yachtsmen, and with better cause from the limitations of their material culture. Nor does Bechtol contend other-wise, since in his conclusion that it was “quite probable that a migration into Oceania from west to east was entirely feasible”, he invokes the “shifting wind patterns of the Oceanica area”.


Turning next to “The Geographical Knowledge of the Polynesians and the Nature of Inter-Island Contact”, by G. M. Dening, I am impressed by the thoroughness of Dening's historical research and his obvious desire to be fair and objective in his analysis and findings. I am obliged to conclude, therefore, that the reason why he either ignores the basic navigational issues as expounded by me, or else refers to them inadequately, is because he has failed to appreciate them. Thus he ignores my insistence on the necessity of explaining how the courses to distant Polynesian islands were established in the first place and dismisses my contention that unknown set and drift made astral navigation useless in the case of those islands. Since these are the crucial issues, I propose to deal first with Dening's treatment of them on pages 111-121 before adverting to Dening's examination of Polynesian geographical knowledge.

I read Dening's navigational analysis a number of times in an endeavour to ascertain his theory of discovery, but continued to be baffled. It appeared at first from what he said on page 114 that he might be arguing that explorers simply depended on natural aids such as birds, winds and swell, the smell of land, driftwood, seaweed and clouds, since his heading on that page was Natural Aids to the Discovery of Land. Since all these aids, with the exception of migratory bird flights in the case of Hawaii and New Zealand, are effective only in the vicinity of land, as Dening appears to concede when he says on page 118 that “a probable margin of error of fifty to seventy-five miles either side of an island would bring a canoe into an area where the natural features of birds, winds, swell and clouds would play their part”, this scarcely seemed an adequate theory of the discovery of distant islands and the setting of courses from and to them, unless it were implied that the explorers had followed migratory birds. On - 393 page 115 Dening is somewhat equivocal about these birds as a navigation aid. There is no evidence of their practical use, as Dening concedes. On the other hand the migrations to New Zealand straggle out over some weeks from October to November, and “the cuckoo flies low and gives out a long shrill cry, especially at night”. In a footnote Dening adds that “because of star sights it would not be necessary to see birds for the whole of the voyage”. His conclusion is that “in all respects, in combination with other navigational means, they would be reasonable guides”. The star sights to which Dening refers in his footnote, however, would not have kept the voyagers on course in the absence of the birds; this is because star sights on southing and northing courses to and from New Zealand give no clue to longitudinal displacement. The idea that the cuckoos could be followed night after night by listening for their long shrill cries, particularly in winds, is not attractive. Furthermore, the season of migratory bird flights does not last as long as the time it would ordinarily have taken prehistoric voyagers to pass between Eastern Polynesian and New Zealand, since uniformly favourable winds cannot be counted on in this area. The difficulties become even greater on supposed return journeys with the aid of migratory birds, because in following them the voyagers on this leg would find the winds and currents less favourable than on the outer one. Cook took five weeks to get from New Zealand to the Cooks. Finally the migratory birds cannot be invoked as a hypothetical aid in the case of Easter Island and other detached islands.

On page 118 Dening claims that with a margin of error on either side of New Zealand of fifty to seventy-five miles, the target could hardly have been missed. But he still has not explained how the navigators had found out that New Zealand existed and what its breadth was. Supposed explorers would have had to sail from the East Cape to Cape Egmont to ascertain its width as a target on supposed subsequent visits. Had they done these things they would still have had no way of knowing the longitudinal relationships of their discovery and their home islands either on their supposed return journey or on subsequent visits. The Vikings, on their voyages to Iceland and Greenland, sailed on a westing course with the aid of the Pole Star, and did not have to worry very much about longitude. Since Dening concedes that Easter Island and Hawaii are smaller targets, what is said in reference to New Zealand applies even more to them. Mangaia and Rapa are isolated small islands and are unfavourably placed in relation to the prevailing wind for two-way contacts with neighbouring groups. I agree, however, that theoretically the Marquesas and Tuamotu Groups make practicable targets for two-way contacts, although there do not appear to be any firm records of such contacts.

In speaking of astral navigation on pages 118-119, Dening shows that he does not appreciate that bearings on stars on northing and southing courses give no clue at all to lateral deviation as the result of set with currents and miscalculations of drift with winds. This is because the stars are at an infinite distance from the earth. The extra- - 394 polation of the use of horizon stars over short courses, over which the effects of set and drift could be empirically established and applied thereafter before the target was missed, to the circumstances of discoverers of distant islands is based on fallacy. This is really a way of stating the truism in the history of navigation that in the days before precision instruments voyagers on northing and southing courses in unknown waters lacked an effective means of determining longitude. Some modern navigators, as well as some modern historians, seem to have lost sight of this.

I agree broadly with Dening's statement of the motives for voyaging on pages 123-125. It does not, however, contain any valid evidence that the Polynesians were at any time in deliberate two-way contact with islands beyond the authenticated range of Tongan and Tahitian-Tuamotuan two-way contact in early historical times.

Dening's summary of one-way voyages on pages 128-129, coupled with table II and map 3, make a valuable contribution to Pacific studies.

I come finally to Dening's examination of the historical evidence of Polynesian geographical knowledge and deliberate two-way voyaging on pages 102-110 and 125-128. This is an impressive coverage. I read it with particular interest because I had just completed a re-examination of Polynesian geographical knowledge myself. The points on which we differ are as follows:

  • (1) Pages 105, 108, 128. I think Tupaea's reference to a ‘Moutou’ in a southing direction from Rurutu represents traditional Tahitian knowledge of the Tuamotu Group, not Tubuai. Motu means a low island or islands; Tubuai is a high island—a hete (whiti), to use Tupaea's word.
  • (2) Page 105. I think ‘Rarotonga’ was originally a traditional Eastern Polynesian name embodying a memory of Tonga, and that its occurrence in Eastern Polynesian lists cannot invariably or usually be taken to refer to Rarotonga in the Cooks.
  • (3) Pages 106, 127. I think it an overstatement to conclude that Tupaea guided Cook to Rurutu. I suggest that Tupaea's name ‘Oheteroa’ and the other ‘hetes’ which he thought were in the vicinity betokened Tahitian traditional knowledge of the Fiji Group.
  • (4) Pages 106, 127-128. I suggest that the ‘Manua’ which Tupaea thought was three days' sail north-east of ‘Oheteroa’ betokened Tahitian traditional knowledge of the Manua Group in Samoa.
  • (5) Pages 105, 123. I think it an overstatement to conclude that the Mangaian reference to invasion from an island to the north-east referred to attacks from Atiu. The reference is explicable by warfare within Mangaia, particularly if the word used was fenua, meaning land or people.
  • (6) Pages 107, 126. On the first of these pages Dening accepts as a conclusion that the people of Mauke were in touch with Maria Atoll at a distance of 230 miles, but on the second
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  • page says the Maukeans might have got indirect knowledge of the island from a whaler. The atoll was in my opinion beyond the range of effective contact from Mauke. See Hilder on pages 81-90.

On the whole, with the above minor exceptions, Dening, on pages 109, 125-126, appears to agree with me on the authenticated range of Polynesian two-way contacts at the time of European early contact with Polynesia, namely that the Tongans were in touch with Fiji, Samoa, Rotuma and the Ellice Islands over distances ranging up to 350 miles without intervening islands, that the Tahitian islands and the nearer Tuamotus were another area of two-way contacts over distances of up to 230 miles without intervening islands, that Atiu and Rarotonga in the Cooks were in touch over a distance of about 116 miles, and that two-way contacts elsewhere were between islands less than 100 miles apart.


I think that the main weakness in the conventional views is that the margin of error from unknown set and drift on long northing and southing voyages of discovery in waters with which the voyagers, being discoverers, were unfamiliar, made in Stone Age vessels with steering paddles, and without any means of knowing of the occurrence or extent of longitudinal deviation of the vessels from the supposed courses, is not examined in any detail. The conclusion that two-way voyaging could have been established and sustained between Micronesia-Polynesia, Tahiti-Hawaii, the Marquesas-Hawaii, Tahiti-Rarotonga-New Zealand, the Marquesas-Easter Island, the Northern Cooks-Southern Cooks, and the other islands which have figured in the conventional reconstructions cannot be sustained in the face of unknown set and drift on the initial voyages of discovery, whether by explorers, voluntary exiles, involuntary exiles, or waifs of the storm. The only suggestion I have heard which evades the problem of longitude is that the discoverers, realising that they had no clue to longitude as the result of unknown set and drift, deliberately compensated for this by sailing so far to the west or east of their home islands on supposed return northings that they were reasonably sure they were then in fact to the west or east of their home islands, and then sailed to their objectives with the aid of the stars which passed overhead in their home islands. This theory, however, credits the discoverers with a sophistication concerning unknown set and drift which is hard to account for, and is indeed illogical in view of their unknown character. Furthermore, it presupposes that the discoverers had deduced that the stars which they had seen passing overhead in their home region traced out a series of sub-stellar points on the surface of the sea due west and east of their home region for an indefinite distance; in other words, that they had deduced the apparent rotation of these stars from east to west in relation to a symmetrically curved sea. This theory has the further disadvantage of crediting the discoverers with an unrealistic resolution to embark on circuitous courses over distances of well over 2,000 miles without rest or re-fitting. There comes a point where even the most open-minded scholar must take account of the principle of least - 396 causes. The attics of science are filled with the ghosts of elaborate and unnecessary speculations which no longer have friends because simple and realistic explanations fit the facts.

I desire to thank Mr. Golson and contributors and coadjutors for taking notice of my book.

Ancient Voyagers in Polynesia
21s. (N.Z.)

This new book is a fascinating and lively version of Mr. Sharp's earlier work, Ancient Voyagers in the Pacific, which threw great doubts on the belief that detached Pacific islands were deliberately colonised by Polynesian explorers from other islands. Mr. Sharp has rewritten the book, answering the arguments of his critics and incorporating interesting new material and deductions. Ancient Voyagers in Polynesia will appeal strongly to scholars and to general readers.

The book is being published simultaneously by Paul's Book Arcade in New Zealand, by Angus & Robertson in Australia and England, and by the University of California Press in the U.S.A. and Canada.