The story of how Hawai’i found its place on the map in the mid-Pacific is a tale filled with discovery, adventure and conflict.
When European explorers first entered the Pacific, they found that the great ocean had already been mastered by navigators whose nautical skills rivaled their own: the Polynesians. The presence of the Polynesians throughout the ocean’s isles was testimony to an extraordinary seafaring heritage.
Starting from islands near Southeast Asia around 2500 BC the early peoples of the Pacific had island-hopped until they reached the Tonga and Samoa groups about a thousand years later.
When driven from an island by overpopulation, famine or defeat in battle, Polynesians would set off to colonize new lands: sometimes sending exploring parties ahead, sometimes simply trusting fate and their own exceptional abilities to lead them to their destination. They were not always rewarded; many expeditions perished at sea. Such long voyages were planned months in advance.
Even islanders forced into exile by conquering neighbors were given time to build massive double-hulled canoes that could carry scores of people on journeys of eight weeks or more.
Building a voyaging canoe was a community project, supervised by a master craftsman of near-priestly status. Workers shaped large tree trunks into rough hulls and then, with primitive tools of stone, shell and bone, constructed a sturdy sailing vessel measuring 100ft and weighing 10 tons that could cover 150 miles in a day.
The canoes were guided to their destinations by an elite fraternity of navigators, taught from childhood to read nautical information in a host of natural signs. They knew the year – round positions of more than 150 stars and had a vast knowledge of ocean currents, prevailing winds and the habits of migratory birds. When nearing islands beyond the horizon, they could actually smell land, feel echoes in the water from swells bouncing off atolls and see the greenish reflection of forests on the underside of clouds.
Read more at: The Story of Hawaii Museum