The story of Ma¯ori voyages
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.