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Mau Piailug, One of many Final Wayfinders, Adopted the Stars to Tahiti

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Within the mid-1970s, a handful of visionaries constructed a twin-hulled Hawaiian voyaging canoe, with the plan to sail it to Tahiti and again with out assistance from map, compass or trendy devices of any sort. The voyage would function dwelling proof that Polynesian individuals had not populated the Pacific by chance, as many lecturers theorized on the time, however purposefully.

The canoe was prepared, the crew ready. They lacked solely a navigator able to guiding the craft 2,300 nautical miles from Hawaii to Tahiti. That data, handed down by means of the generations for hundreds of years, had been misplaced. The would-be voyagers scoured the Pacific for somebody who carried the traditional data. Nobody in Polynesia—a swath of ocean spanning three,000 miles, from Hawaii to Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Rapa Nui (Easter Island), with Tahiti roughly within the heart—possessed the data anymore to information the canoe to Tahiti within the previous method, with out trendy devices.

The search finally led them four,000 miles west, to the tiny Micronesian island of Satawal and its most expert navigator, Pius “Mau” Piailug. Born in 1932, Mau was chosen by his grandfather as an toddler to develop into a standard wayfinder. Within the early 1950s, when Mau was about 20, he was initiated as a Pwo navigator, or Palu, an excellent honor that got here with the solemn duty to supply for the village, and to protect and maintain shut the wayfinding data on which the complete group relied.

Some sources say he earned the title Mau, which means sturdy or laborious within the Satawalese language, as a result of he was consistently at sea, even in unhealthy climate. Others mentioned the title got here from his quick and highly effective physique, with ridges of muscle in his again that resembled the tough shell of a hawksbill turtle. As a younger man he voyaged all through the Caroline Islands and by no means misplaced his method, although the Economist studies a hurricane as soon as left him shipwrecked on an uninhabited island for seven months. He was by all accounts robust, headstrong, and fearless. “Mau would by no means enable himself to doubt his selections and navigational techniques,” recalled his nephew, Tom Raffipiy.

Satawal is a speck within the sea, a half-mile lengthy and a mile huge. Its reef doesn’t produce sufficient fish to help the individuals who dwell there, so islanders should journey over the horizon to fish hidden reefs and uninhabited atolls. To commerce or go to different islands—the closest of any dimension is Chuuk, greater than 300 miles away—requires longer voyages. In crusing canoes, with out the good thing about compass or chart, not to mention GPS, such journey requires nice talent and data. However when Mau was a younger man, motorboats got here to the island and started to basically change the function of navigators. Folks started to lose curiosity within the artwork.

Mau was the youngest Palu in Micronesia, and by 1976 he appeared destined to be the final. He frightened that the artwork of wayfinding would die with him. That’s when the Hawaiians got here calling.

The voyage they envisioned from Hawaii to Tahiti was past even Mau’s huge data, however he was assured he might make the journey. “If I’ve braveness it’s as a result of I place confidence in the data of my ancestors,” he mentioned, although if his forefathers ever sailed to Hawaii or Tahiti, they didn’t inform of it of their songs and tales. However those that knew Mau additionally say he beloved a problem.

When Mau and Hokule’a arrived in Tahiti in 1976, 17,000 individuals greeted the canoe. Screengrab from Papa Mau: The Wayfinder, a movie by Nāʻālehu Anthony.

Guiding the voyaging canoe Hokule’a to Tahiti was a daring act, not solely as a check of navigation and seamanship, however it could finally put Mau at odds along with his personal individuals. A lot of the data he handed to Hawaiians was intently held, to be shared solely with a selected few throughout the residence islands. However Mau determined that preserving the navigational data was a better calling than protecting it within the household.

He guided Hokule’a on its month-long journey from Maui to Tahiti in 1976, nearly all the time seated in the identical spot on the canoe, aiming towards a picture of the island he saved in his head. He appeared by no means to sleep, synthesizing lots of of knowledge factors—not solely the rising and setting of stars, but in addition the motion of the solar and clouds, wind and swell, fish and birds. Two thousand miles after leaving Maui, he watched a flight of terns wing previous Hokule’a towards an unseen island. The following day Mataiva Atoll rose out of the ocean to greet the canoe. Once they reached Tahiti days later, 17,000 individuals—absolutely half the island’s inhabitants—greeted them.

The voyage despatched a shock of satisfaction by means of the Pacific. Mau was much less impressed. On the voyage a schism had grown within the crew between those that considered the journey as a form of scientific experiment, and others who regarded it extra as an journey and cultural expertise. The battle led to a breakdown of self-discipline and an trade of blows.

Mau was disgusted. Because the celebrations continued in Tahiti, he tape-recorded directions for the best way to sail again to Hawaii, vowed by no means to voyage once more with Hawaiians, and slipped away. Hokule’a returned to Hawaii utilizing trendy devices.

A second voyage in 1978, additionally with out Mau, resulted in tragedy. The canoe launched from Honolulu in 30-knot trades as an Eight-10 foot Northeast swell funneled by means of the Kaiwi Channel between the islands of Oahu and Molokai. The canoe had sailed in such circumstances earlier than, however now it was closely loaded with recent water and provisions. The leeward hull crammed with water and the canoe capsized simply after sundown.

The 16 crewmembers gathered on the overturned hulls. With no working radio onboard, nobody knew the canoe had met with catastrophe simply 12 miles offshore. The following morning Eddie Aikau went to summon hope. Aikau was a legend in browsing circles, an archetypical Hawaiian waterman who in 10 years as a lifeguard on Oahu’s North Shore had participated in about 500 rescues. If anybody was able to paddling a dozen miles to shore on a surfboard, it was Aikau. He paddled away within the path of Lanai and was by no means seen once more.

Aikau, aboard the Hokule’a.

An airline pilot later noticed the overturned canoe, and the others have been rescued after about 24 hours within the water. Hokule’a was recovered and repaired. A 3rd voyage was deliberate for early 1980 with a person named Nainoa Thompson as navigator. However because the departure drew nearer the younger Hawaiian was nonetheless uncertain of his abilities.

Working on the College of Hawaii, Nainoa had reconstructed a 32-point star compass. He knew the place the celebs rose and set, and, in principle, the best way to use that data to navigate huge tracts of ocean as his Hawaiian ancestors had. However he’d joined the Hokule’a in Tahiti after Mau had left the canoe, and missed the chance to study from him.

The answer was apparent. Nainoa needed to discover Mau and persuade him to share his data. He tracked the navigator down on the island of Saipan and flew there to make his pitch. Mau was noncommittal.

“Mau is a person of few phrases, and all he mentioned in reply to my plea for assist was, ‘We are going to see. I’ll let ,’” Nainoa recalled. Months later Mau gave his reply. “He mentioned, ‘I’ll prepare you to search out Tahiti as a result of I don’t need you to die,’” Nainoa mentioned. “He had heard by some means that Eddie had been misplaced at sea.”

Thus started a partnership that in the end revived conventional wayfinding traditions in Hawaii and throughout the Pacific.

A mural of “Papa Mau” on Cooke Avenue, Honolulu by artist Kamea Hadar. Picture through Flickr.

“When Nainoa was in a position to work with Mau and noticed his star compass, it simply reconfirmed that Nainoa had mainly reinvented that system,” mentioned Chad Kalepa Baybayan, a grasp navigator who voyaged with each males. “Nainoa had the maths and science, whereas Mau’s was a system that was handed down from technology to technology.”

Once they started to work collectively, Nainoa requested Mau to show him within the conventional method. The older man refused. “You get paper and pencil,” he mentioned. There was an excessive amount of to decide to reminiscence, and the data was encoded in songs and tales within the Satawalese language, which Nainoa doesn’t perceive. Mau delivered his classes in easy, efficient English. Nainoa wrote them down.

“Mau’s greatness as a trainer was to acknowledge that I needed to study otherwise,” Nainoa mentioned. Mau’s type of wayfinding mixed deep data of the ocean and the heavens with a lifetime of sensible expertise. It was a holistic system, lifeless reckoning raised to a superb artwork.

Mau would draw a circle within the sand, and mark the celebs with stones or shells. Palm fronds represented the canoe and swell path. Bits of string marked the trail of the celebs throughout the sky. The fashions made intuitive sense to Nainoa, educated from his college days to learn phrases, maps, and graphs. Different abilities have been tougher to convey.

“The toughest for me was to study to learn the ocean swells the way in which he can,” Nainoa mentioned. “Mau is ready to inform a lot from the swells—the path we’re touring, the method of an island. However this information is tough to transmit. We don’t sense issues in precisely the identical method as the following individual does.”

The voyaging canoe Hokule’a returns to Hawaii from Tahiti, 1976. Wikimedia Commons.

Someday close to the top of 1979, Nainoa went with Mau to the Lanai Lookout on Oahu. Mau requested Nainoa to level within the path of Tahiti. Nainoa pointed. Then he requested, “Are you able to see the island?”

Tahiti was greater than 2,200 miles away. Nainoa thought earlier than answering.

“I can not see the island however I can see a picture of the island in my thoughts,” he mentioned ultimately.

“Good,” mentioned Mau. “Don’t ever lose that picture or you may be misplaced.”

In 1980, Nainoa guided Hokule’a to Tahiti and again once more, utilizing the normal wayfinding methods he had helped to get better. Mau sailed as an observer.

From 1985-87 Hokule’a sailed 12,000 miles all through Polynesia, touring so far as New Zealand and alluring individuals from different Polynesian islands to affix the crew for parts of the voyage. On an evening passage to the island of Nomuka in Tonga, skilled Tongan sea captain Sione Taupeamuhu expressed his doubts that Nainoa might discover the island with out assistance from devices. When the island appeared on the horizon at daybreak, Taupeamuhu mentioned, “Now I can imagine the tales of my ancestors.”

Mau, crusing once more as an observer, regarded on.

Thanks in no small half to Mau, Hokule’a and the Polynesian Voyaging Society sparked a resurgence of curiosity in conventional navigation all through the Pacific. When Hokule’a and two different Hawaiian canoes returned to Tahitian waters in 1995 they have been joined by voyaging canoes from different Polynesian islands. This time Nainoa was the observer. His apprentices guided the canoes from Hawaii, and their apprentices navigated the final leg from the Tuamotus to Tahiti.

Mau Pialuig presides over a Pwo ceremony for conventional wayfinders on Satawal, 2007. Picture by Hawaiki Rising writer Sam Low.

Quickly sufficient, the revival led again to Satawal. In 2007 a bunch of buddies spearheaded by navigator Shorty Bertelmann constructed a Hawaiian-style voyaging canoe and sailed it four,000 miles to Satawal to current to Mau. The canoe is named Maisu, a Satawalese phrase for breadfruit that has fallen to the bottom in a storm, and is thus free for anybody to take. The title is a metaphor for the voyaging data that Mau shared so freely. The canoe now resides on the island of Yap the place it serves as a floating classroom for Micronesian navigators.

On that go to, Mau inducted 16 individuals into the Pwo brotherhood. The honorees, anointed with yellow turmeric and adorned with garlands of flowers, included 5 Hawaiians, amongst them Nainoa, Baybayan, and Bertelmann. The ceremony was the primary on Satawal since Mau’s personal induction 56 years earlier than.

Mau died three years later, in 2010, however the wayfinding custom he vowed to guard lives on.

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