Pacific Explorers Essay Research Paper Andrew Sharp

Pacific Explorers Essay, Research Paper

Andrew Sharp claims in his Ancient Voyagers in the Pacific

published in 1956 that the Pacific Islanders did not possess

the necessary navigational and sailing technology to

deliberately navigate the distances between islands of the

Pacific when colonizing these islands. He claims

colonization was random and accidental. However, more

recent studies from 1972 on of Pacific navigation suggest

deliberate navigation and colonization was possible and did

take place. These studies have been supported by

reenactments of voyages, computer simulations, and newly

acquired information regarding preparation for distant

voyages. Andrew Sharp supports his claim of accidental

colonization by citing numerous examples of lost voyagers

landing on populated islands, their testimony or second

hand information recorded by Captain Cook. Sharp claims

the only distant voyages were confined to "Western

Polynesia-Fiji and the Tahiti-Tuamotu archipelago" (Sharp

1956:2). He states that the longest offshore voyages made

without landing on intermediate islands included distances

of up to three hundred miles, separating Tonga, Fiji,

Samoa, Rotuma and the Ellice Islands, and distances up to

two-hundred and thirty miles, separating Tahiti from the

Tuamotu islands. Sharp refers to an account by Captain

Cook’s interpreter, Omai, who discovered three of his own

countrymen from Tahiti, who landed on Atiu, six hundred

miles away. They were the sole survivors of twenty people,

blown off course in a sudden gale while attempting to

voyage from Tahiti to Raiatea, one hundred miles away.

Sharp relies on generalizations given in Cook’s logs

referring to colonization of the remote islands of Polynesia.

Cook refers to the accidental voyage to Atiu stating "this

will serve to explain, better than a thousand conjectures of

speculative reason, how the detached parts of the earth,

and in particular, how the South Seas, may have been

peopled; especially those that lie remote from any inhabited

continent, or from each other." (Sharp 1956:4) Sharp uses

examples procured from Cook’s log book, citing

observations of Anderson, ship surgeon in charge of natural

history observations. "The knowledge they have of other

islands is no doubt, traditional; and has been communicated

to them by the natives of those islands, driven accidentally

upon their coasts, who besides giving them the names,

could easily inform them of the direction in which the places

lie from whence they came, and of the number of days they

had upon the sea." (Sharp 1956:7) Sharp discusses the

navigational technology of the Tongans, with most of his

knowledge based on Cook’s observations. "The sun is their

guide by day and the stars at night. When these are

obscured, they have recourse to the points from which the

winds and waves come upon the vessel. If during the

obstruction the winds and waves should shift. . . they are

then bewildered, frequently miss their intended port and are

never heard of more." (Sharp 1956:16) Sharp further states

that if difficulties existed in water the Tongans were

presumably more familiar with then even more difficulties

existed in sailing in "unknown seas, since on long voyages

good visibility is not assured." (Sharp 1956:16). Sharp

claims the canoes used, efficient enough to take the

Tongans off-shore, would not hold against bad weather.

Furthermore, the Tongans related to Cook when courses

were reset using the stars, using directional angles with

east-west or north-south lines or points on the horizon

marked by stars, they resulted in faulty courses. Sharp

claims the "primitive voyager" did not have precise means

of determining distance traveled, and when the distance of

the journey was increased the degree of error for dead

reckoning increased. Sharp’s biased views are best

described in his own words, "Centuries of navigation by the

highly sophisticated system of latitude and longitude, which

took 5,000 years to evolve, have made us forget the

limitations of off-shore navigation without instruments, as

well as its romance and achievements." (Sharp 1956:17)

Recent published studies since 1972 of navigational

technology in Polynesia contradict Sharp’s findings and

shed light on the capabilities of Polynesians as navigators

supporting deliberate colonization of the remote Polynesian

islands. This more recent evidence contradicts statements

and reasoning by Sharp, supporting the probability of

deliberate distant voyages and colonization. Seaworthiness

was necessary to make distant voyages. Edward Doran Jr.,

in his 1976 publication "Wa, Vinta and Trimaran",

describes the Caroline Islanders’ technique for righting an

overturned canoe. "The mast is rigged from under side of

float to a sheer legs erected above the bottom of the

capsized boat. Four men climb quickly up the inclined mast

their weight forcing the float to submerge to a point directly

underneath the main hull. . ." taking the canoe to an righted

position. (Doran 1976:45) It seems reasonable that on any

occasion of sailing out to sea, righting ones vessel would be

a necessary skill. Edwin Doran’s study included the wa or

single outrigger canoes of the Caroline Islands and the vinta

or double rigger canoes of the Sulu Archipelago. The

vessels had "excellent speed and performance,

seaworthiness, and general voyaging capacity of the wa

and the vinta cannot be seriously questioned. Their

performance in comparison with modern sailing yachts is

remarkably good." (Doran 1976:45) Geoffrey Irwin, in his

The Prehistoric Explanation and Colonisation of the Pacific

points out the materials with which the Pacific canoes were

built allowed them to give rather than break; furthermore, in

gale winds averaging 34 knots, although a canoe could not

sail, it could survive intact. (Irwin 1992:44) Some canoes

could easily average 100 – 150 sea miles in twenty four

hours. "Some of the first Europeans to reach Polynesia saw

canoes over 30m long while others saw local canoes

literally sail rings around their own more ponderous

vessels." (Irwin 1992:43) David Lewis, in his 1972

publication, We, the Navigator: The Ancient Art of

Landfinding in the Pacific, discusses the frequency of

overcast days stating that while at sea for 273 days

"position could not be determined on 7, or one in 39."

Furthermore, he states that when the sun was not obscured

the whole day, but just during the desired sight time; the

stars were not obscured on corresponding nights. (Lewis

1972:82) Swells could guide the vessel when the stars or

sun were obscured. The use of swells was "more feel than

sight?which emphasizes the value of the art on overcast

nights." Lewis describes how the navigator Tevake would

lie down in the outrigger and direct the helmsman by

"analyzing the roll and pitch of the vessel as it corkscrewed

over the waves." (Lewis 1972:86) R. Gerard Ward, John

W. Webb and M. Levison in their publication "The

settlement of the Polynesian Outliers: A Computer

Simulation", work with computer simulations of the

settlement of Polynesia to show that drift or accident alone

would be extremely unlikely to bring people into the

"Polynesian triangle from East, North, West, or South,

though it could account for settlement throughout the

Fiji-Tonga- Samoa groups once an entry had been made to

one the three archipelagos. . . Hawaii, New Zealand and

Easter Island could not have been settled by a drift

process." (Ward et al. 1976:57) The individuals who ran

the canoes spent their whole life learning the complex

sidereal compass as used in the Caroline Islands and

steering by swells as used in the Marshall Islands. (Irwin

1992:45) A lack of knowledge in some cases led to lost

navigators. As Lewis points out, "Accidental voyages

involving inshore canoes and untrained Islanders must have

occurred with increasing frequency as the general

navigational level declined and specialized deep-sea canoes

became obsolete. Rash adventurers in unsuitable vessels,

and ill-equipped fishermen, would readily get blown away

and often lack the skill to come again to land." (Lewis

1972:25) This could explain the many references that

Sharp takes from Cook’s logs, such as the discovery by

Omai of three of his fellow islanders from Tahiti who were

stranded on Atiu. Irwin points out that colonization was

deliberate "because explorers took with them the plants

and animals, women and men necessary to establish viable

settlements". (Irwin 1992:7) In some cases this was made

possible by using canoes that had huge storage capacities;

food during the long-term Carolinian voyages might include:

pre-cooked fermented breadfruit, pounded taro, drinking

and eating coconuts and baked fish, while the Santa Cruz

"sea-going diet. . . included a variety of thick pastes of

puddings of banana or taro in coconut oil, dried breadfruit

chips and nyali nuts. All these are said to keep indefinitely.

They are supplemented by baked sweet potato and

breadfruit and plentiful supply of drinking coconuts", in

other cases Gilbertese created a paste from Pandanus that

would keep for two months. (Lewis 1972:274) It is

obvious that the diet of the voyager was created to stay

edible for long periods of time when stored in the proper

area of the canoe. This, coupled with the average speeds of

Micronesian and Polynesian canoes’ "100-150 miles a day,

this would give a range, in winds that were not contrary, or

3000-4500 miles" covering the furthest reaches of

Polynesia. (Lewis 1972:275) Colonization of the Pacific

required an extensive knowledge of the celestial system and

intimate knowledge of the Pacific. Preparation for

successful distant voyages required careful practice,

experience and careful preparation of supplies. Scholars

have rejected Andrew Sharp’s view that the Pacific was

colonized by accident. Most scholars today support

deliberate colonization of the Pacific with reenactments,

computer simulations, and newly acquired knowledge

regarding the preparation process for distant voyages.

Bibliography Doran, E. Jr. "Wa, Vinta, and Trimaran."

Pacific Navigation and Voyaging Ed. Ben R. Finney. New

Zealand: 1976. 29-46 Farrall, Lyndsay et al. Unwritten

Knowledge: Case Study of the Navigators of Micronesia.

Australia: Deakin University, 1979. Gladwin, Thomas. East

Is a Big Bird: Navigation & Logic on Puluwat Atoll.

Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1970. Irwin,

Geoffrey. The Exploration and Colonisation of the Pacific

New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. Lewis,

David. We, the Navigators Honolulu: The University Press

of Hawaii, 1972. Lewis, David. "A Return Voyage

Between Puluwat and Saipan Using Micronesian

Navigational Techniques". Pacific Navigation and Voyaging

Ed. Ben R. Finney. New Zealand: 1976 15-28 Sharp,

Andrew. Ancient Voyagers in the Pacific. New Zealand:

Polynesian Society, 1956 Ward, R. G., Webb, J.W.,

Levison, M. The Settlement of the Polynesian Outliers: A

Computer Simulation. Ed. Ben R. Finney. New Zealand:

1976. 57-68

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