In Rapa Nui

Epic sail to Chile’s Easter Island will recover lost knowledge

Guided only by stars, ocean currents, the sun, moon and animal life, 24 voyagers will sail traditional canoes from New Zealand to the middle of the Pacific. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012 Category: Education
Construction of the waka hourua in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Waka Tapu / Facebook. Construction of the waka hourua in Auckland, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Waka Tapu / Facebook.

A group of intrepid Māori sailors from New Zealand will take on the world’s biggest ocean, the Pacific, in an attempt to sail to Easter Island, or Rapa Nui in its indigenous language, the most remote inhabited place on Earth, without GPS, charts, maps, or even a compass.


Instead the group will be guided by the traditional techniques that helped the Polynesian people traverse the wide expanses of the Pacific and settle the islands of Hawaii, New Zealand and Tonga, to name just a few - techniques like the movement of the stars, the sun and moon, oceanic currents and bird and animal life.


Twenty years in the making, this epic journey is beginning to attract global academic, scientific and media attention, now that the departure date for the 24 person team has been set for August 17, 2012.


Traveling on two waka hourua, that is, double-hulled traditional Māori canoes, the team will sail from Auckland and make the 10,000-nautical-mile return voyage to Rapa Nui, the Chilean territory famed for its giant moai statues.


The sailing odyssey is part of an effort to by Polynesian academic and cultural groups to reclaim the navigational knowledge of their forebears, much of which was lost after European colonization.


It is also a bid to traverse to two extremities of the Polynesian Triangle, the area of the Pacific which was settled by this seafaring people - with New Zealand representing its most southern and eastern point, and Rapa Nui its western frontier -and reconnect the communities from the two distant islands.


This academic and cultural adventure was organized by the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute and has secured the full support of the Chilean government, as well as academics and anthropologists from the Andean nation.


New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute Director, Karl Johnstone, says the voyage aims to close the final corner of the Polynesian Triangle, as it is the last, and most difficult voyage to be undertaken using traditional methods in modern times.


“While this voyage will close one chapter of our history, it also enables new chapters to be written and old knowledge to be re-learnt. While some historians believe the ancestors of Maori discovered this country by accident, there’s no doubt their voyages to and from New Zealand were deliberate and planned; the Pacific Ocean was a highway, not a barrier as many of us see it today,” Johnstone said.


“They compiled star maps, traded knowledge, studied the flight path of birds, the migration patterns of whales, and used tidal movements and other environmental indicators to reach their destination safely and accurately. And that’s what we will emulate.”


For more information on this extraordinary expedition, see the official website.

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