The Pacific Islands
There are hundreds of islands jutting their heads out of the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Many of them are grouped both culturally and politically. They are collectively referred to by numerous names, such as the Pacific Isles, Micronesia, Polynesia and so on. Despite the many islands being scattered across the vast distance of water, many of the local people share similar customs and traditions.
A Very Brief History of the Pacific Islands
Hundreds of years ago, waves of people, the Polynesians, set out into the Pacific to find new homes. They had many reasons for doing so - overpopulation, food needs, natural disasters and Pacific storms were just some of them. Long before European explorers like Roggeveen had arrived in the region, they had made their marks on more than 10,000 islands in the Pacific. It is estimated that people in Melanesia were voyaging in boats and trading in obsidian as early as BC 5500. Tahiti and the Marquesas Islands were reached, by AD 300. When the Polynesians made it to Hawai`i around 100 AD, they were already a developed sea-faring people, adept at building long-voyaging vessels and navigating the open seas. An excellent example of this was when Captain Cook was sailing to Rurutu from Tahiti in 1768. On his ship was a Tahitian navigator named Tupaia, who navigated the 300 mile journey without the use of the ship's charts. They did this by using the simplest, yet most precise and developed methods that did not involve the aid of sextants or compasses.
How did they navigate? In this section, we will look at how astronomical bodies played a major part in establishing human presence covering great distances in the Pacific.