Sea People: In Search of the Ancient Navigators of the Pacific by Christina Thompson - review by Peter Moore

Peter Moore

Where Every Man is an Island

Sea People: In Search of the Ancient Navigators of the Pacific


William Collins 365pp £20 order from our bookshop

On 1 May 1976, a sixty-foot Polynesian voyaging canoe named Hōkūle‘a sailed southeast into the Pacific Ocean from the Hawaiian island of Maui. Double-hulled, steered by a long paddle and powered by two crab-claw sails, Hōkūle‘a carried no technical instruments for navigation. Instead it was to progress to its destination in Tahiti under the sole guidance of a master navigator called Pius Piailug or ‘Mau’. Ben Finney, a Californian anthropologist who had helped organise the voyage, observed Mau closely over the month that followed. Mau almost never slept, instead spending nearly all his time leaning over the deck railings, gazing at the sea by day and the stars by night. Watching him, Finney recalled the old wisdom that ‘you can tell the experienced navigators by their bloodshot eyes’.

After about a month of sailing in the open ocean, Mau calmly informed the crew that they would approach an island the next day. Sure enough, the coral atoll of Mataiva in the Tuamotu Archipelago rose up out of the Pacific as predicted. Several days later, on 4

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