In the footsteps of the brave Moana.

In the footsteps of the brave Moana.

Ancient canoes, women-sailors, tattoos for navigation on the stars - on the islands of the Pacific Ocean revives the traditional navigation.
Share on social media

The stars shine brightly over the Hawaiian island of Maui, named after the glorious demigod. On its west coast, a girl sits on the sand and looks out into the ocean. Her name is Kala Tanaka, a navigator and teacher of the dying art of stargazing.

Tomorrow Kala returns to Maalei Bay in a Mookiha o Piilani canoe. The girl has a special deep connection with him, and not just because she was involved in his creation: on this boat, Kala trains a new generation of sailors.

Together with a group of like-minded people, Cala, like the brave Moana, intends to revive the heritage of its ancestors and return the Polynesian lost status of great sailors.

Hostages of progress

Navigation played a major role in the settlement of the Polynesian island, it was an integral part of culture and a means of survival of numerous peoples of these lands. Aborigines managed to lay routes, and most importantly, to find in the middle of the ocean a saving land, without any equipment. Sailors of that time relied on astronautics, and each nation had its own methods of orientation in space.

With the arrival of Europeans to the islands, Polynesians had access to the then modern means of navigation - sextant and compass. This was the beginning of the oblivion of traditions that date back thousands of years.

Over time, renowned navigators have become hostages to progress. They stopped building large boats because communications with distant settlements provided trading companies with their fleet, and the colonization policy did their job. Later on, air traffic was established, which also did not benefit the old shipping customs.

The story of one journey.

The launch event for the revival of ancient culture took place in 1976. The boat Hokulea - reconstruction of an ancient Polynesian canoe (waka) - was able to successfully get from Hawaii to Tahiti without using modern navigation systems and engines.

At that time, there were no more people left in Polynesia able to navigate the stars, so the navigator for the transition had to look in Micronesia. It was Mau Piailug from the Caroline Atoll Satawal, one of the few Pacific islands where long-distance astronautics is still widely practiced.

On a 62-foot two-mast catamaran, the team overcame the equatorial calm and headwinds, and the navigator accurately set the course for the cherished goal, even when the sky was cloudy for days on end.

The journey lasted 34 days. On arrival at the port of Papeete, the expedition members were met as real heroes. 17,000 people gathered on the beach - more than half the island.

Originally it was planned that the return trip would also go by stars, but Mau had to leave the team and the canoe returned to Hawaii with the help of modern devices. However, this transition inspired volunteers from all over Polynesia to come together to revive their maritime culture.

Mysterious tattoos

The art of traditional astronavigation does not require any special devices. In the cartoon, Moana, once at sea, stretches her hand forward with her unbuttoned hand and her thumb protruded. In reality, the situation is absolutely similar - the hand is simple and the main tool of the navigator. With its help it is possible to measure an angle of an arrangement of stars, planets or the sun, and thus to define a course. Navigators also memorize the rising and setting points of the stars to help them navigate.

Once upon a time, local seafarers were also helped by special tattoos on their hands: combining the marks with the stars, they laid the course. And today many Polynesian women have similar tattoos. For example, Samoan women often have images of fish around their wrists, and on the back of their palms there are stars and special dots (togitogas) going up their fingers.

This suggests that in ancient times, women were the navigators in the Pacific Ocean.

Women sailors of the new generation

The knowledge gained from Mau Pyilaga has been carefully transmitted from mouth to mouth for decades. Thus, Kalepa Baybayan, being one of Hokulea navigators, received it from Nainoa Thompson, who personally participated in 1976 expedition. Kalepa, in turn, dedicated his daughter Kalu Tanaka to the sacraments of astronautics, who was one of the first women sailors to revive old traditions.

Dad's passion for the sea was not immediately transferred to the girl. Kala first went on a sailing trip in 2006, when she was already in college. In 2017, she became captain, and her first solo voyage was from Hawaii to Tahiti in a Hikianalia canoe.

«The stars have fascinated me since the moment I first went out to sea. Even now, I'm still fascinated by them. There's something about navigation that has fascinated me. It's the feeling that I - as a person - can feel connected to the world around me, you just have to open up,"»says Kala.

Cala is now captain and chief navigator of the Mookiha o Piilani canoe. There, with the support of the non-profit Okeanos Foundation for the Sea, she teaches astronautical skills to children and adults, transmitting the culture of the Polynesian seafaring peoples.

«I used to think it was up to us to find our way to different places. But this island - it's always been here, and all we have to do for our part is let it appear. That's the magic of navigation," she»adds.

Cala is not the only woman navigator involved in restoring lost traditions. She has many like-minded women. And each of them came to this craft in a different way.

Cecilia Selepeo, a resident of Saipan, found herself canoeing as a chef and, over time, became fond of navigating and operating the boat. Now she works as a waka captain.

«My husband asked me: "Why, why did you choose this life? Why did you choose to join the team?" I remember answering that I do not know that this waka chose me, - says Cecilia. - Living here on the water, it wasn't me who chose her, it was me who chose her.

Cecilia considers it her duty to pass on the legacy to the next generation. So it became her job and her calling.

Aunofo Havea from the Kingdom of Tonga has over 25 years experience in the marine industry and owns a whale watching tour company near the Wawau archipelago. Her love for these huge animals led her to work with the Okeanos Foundation.

The woman is concerned that the noise pollution of the oceans is just as damaging as the emissions from fossil fuels: whales can hear each other worse and therefore find it much harder for them to pair to continue their family.

Realizing that using a wax could save the day, Aunofo herself became captain of such a ship. Now she is actively promoting that tourism companies in her country abandon motor boats and switch to traditional canoes.

«The Wawau Archipelago is one of the ideal places to use waka. Here you can start teaching people how to move from something that pollutes the ocean to something that runs on clean energy. This is good for fish, the environment and whales.

Revival of tradition as salvation.

Polynesian efforts would not have been visible without the support of the German charity Okeanos Foundation for the Sea. The Foundation assists Pacific island states in building traditional canoes, and in developing them for daily passenger and cargo transportation.

Among the many environmental problems in Polynesia, global warming is particularly acute. Due to the melting of ice at the poles, the level of the world's oceans is rising and several island states may go under in the next decades.

Okeanos helps Polynesians to give up internal combustion engines and start using green technologies on water: sails, electric engines, solar panels. The Foundation finances the development and implementation of projects that can improve the environmental situation in the world, as well as educating society about the major threats to the flora and fauna of the oceans.

With the support of the Foundation, seven traditional Polynesian canoes were built, which went on a two-year voyage in the Pacific Ocean in April 2011. The expedition was named Te Mana O Te Moana. During their stay on board hundreds of sailors were able to learn astronautics, they have walked more than 210,000 nautical miles with wind power and solar-powered electric engines alone.

The expedition had one more important goal: the team took part in several conferences dedicated to ocean pollution problems. The crews showed with their own example how a person can live in harmony with the world and solve everyday problems without fossil resources. This year, Okeanos plans to release a film by Starchasers»«»about this journey.

Share on social media
Want your yacht SOLD?
Let us know whether you want to get a fast deal by selling instantly for cash or list your yacht on favorable terms. Leave a request and get a free valuation of your Boat.