Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The First Pacific Ocean Explorers were Natives

Illustration from The Pacific Navigators. / Oliver E. Allen. Alexandria, Virginia: Time Life Books, 1980.

European explorers of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries encountered Pacific Islanders who matched their ability to navigate unknown waters. The illustration here depicts a band of travelers who migrated, or island-hopped, in search of home, resources and food. Since ancient times, not having adopted nation-statehood, they nonetheless defended themselves. When they lost wars, or ran out of food, the living environment became unsustainable, and they moved on. Polynesians were aggressive voyagers, their survival depended on it. Their story begins as an intimate conversation with nature, not with iron and steel; sailing by celestial navigation, they surpassed European knowledge of the Pacific.

They crossed 15 million square miles of unknown ocean, and by the eighth century had colonized virtually every habitable spec in a vast triangle bound by Hawaii on the north, New Zealand in the southwest and Easter Island to the east.” – Allen, p. 98.

Explanation of terms used:
argonaut: explained from ancient Greek and common useage.
European explorers of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries: Magellan was the first circumnavigator; the Dutch claimed the Spice Islands, and finally the British led enterprises of exploration across the Pacific Ocean.

More books about Pacific Islanders from historical points of view:

Argonauts of the Western Pacific. / Bronislaw Malinowski. New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, Inc., 1961. 527 p., illustrations, maps, index.

Malinowski's work considered the lives and customs of the Melanesians of New Guinea. His participation in an expedition there between 1914-1918 culminated in this book, originally published in 1922, became a classic in anthropology in the 20th century.

Ancient Voyagers in Polynesia. / Andrew Sharp. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1964. 136 p. plus sources and index.

Sharp's explanation of the history of Polynesian voyages of discovery was a lively scholarly debate when it was published in 1963.

Vikings of the Pacific. / Peter H. Buck. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press, 1972, c1959. 339 p., illustrations, index.

Written by a native of New Zealand and anthropologist at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, this account contains the view and the images, both modern and several hundreds of years old, from the collections of the Museum.

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