The story of Ma¯ori voy­ages

The Northern Advocate - - Books - — Peter Shand

Path­way of the Birds The Voy­ag­ing Achieve­ments of Ma¯ori and their Poly­ne­sian An­ces­tors by An­drew Crowe, Bate­man, $49.99 On the nearly 100th Euro­pean voy­age into the Pa­cific, the as­tute Cap­tain James Cook saw the ocean for what it was: a vast tract of the planet set­tled by one peo­ple.

From 1769-79, Cook vis­ited more Pa­cific Is­lands than any other Euro­pean ex­plorer. He was ably helped by the as­ton­ish­ing knowl­edge of nav­i­ga­tor and priest Tu­paia, from the is­land of Ra’iatea, near Tahiti.

This man not only had an en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge of wayfind­ing in this enor­mous ocean, but could point to his home is­land from any­where they sailed, even Jakarta 11,000km away.

He was also able to con­verse with the in­hab­i­tants of is­lands sep­a­rated by thou­sands of kilo­me­tres of ocean.

“It is ex­tra­or­di­nary that the same na­tion should have spread them­selves over all the isles in this Vast Ocean from New Zealand to this is­land, which is al­most one-fourth part of the cir­cum­fer­ence of the globe [away].” Cook was clearly in awe of this “most ex­ten­sive na­tion upon Earth” which also stretched north be­yond the equa­tor to Hawaii, and west to Van­u­atu.

The jaw-drop­ping feats of Poly­ne­sian ex­plo­ration and coloni­sa­tion, at a time when their Euro­pean coun­ter­parts barely left sight of the shore, have al­most been lost to le­gend but An­drew Crowe fol­lows de­ter­minedly in their wake.

Part sci­ence writer and part de­tec­tive, he combs archaeology, palaeoe­col­ogy, ge­net­ics, eth­nol­ogy and lin­guis­tics — to show how Poly­ne­sians criss-crossed the Pa­cific, spread­ing plants and an­i­mals from Asia, and ku­mara from South Amer­ica.

He sailed bits him­self and taps the ver­bal his­to­ries of Ma¯ori and Is­landers. I’ve long won­dered how Aotearoa’s first peo­ple reached here, the white-capped, south­ern ex­tent of East Poly­ne­sia, and the largest chain of is­lands in the realm.

But equally, how did peo­ple get to the only other lo­ca­tion to get snow — Hawaii?

If it’s the sort of stuff that lights your fire, buy it be­fore it goes out of print.

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