The Canoe Is the People
Indigenous Navigation in the Pacific
As in dead reckoning, a Carolinian wayfinder keeps track of the waa’s heading GLOSSARY heading - the course or direction in which a boat is steered (different from its course made good) and speed and how the waa’s heading is changed by the leeway GLOSSARY leeway - the sideways movement of a boat, caused by the wind and currents GLOSSARY currents - the directional flow of the sea . But the wayfinder does not use any instruments and does not write anything down! Also, the wayfinder does not talk of his position in terms of compass points (north, south, west, east), kilometres, or hours and minutes.
Instead, the wayfinder imagines the waa and the stars as unmoving. The sea and the land move backwards – like a mat pulled out from under the waa. As the home island moves away, the destination island moves closer on this mat of sea. To both sides of the waa, unseen islands beyond the horizon GLOSSARY horizon - the line where the earth and sky seem to meet also move back. This is the way it actually looks when you watch what is happening around you as you are sailing along between islands.
1. The wayfinder chooses the star compass point that is closest to the destination island. The, he draws a course line to it in his/her mind.
2. The wayfinder also chooses an unseen island to one side of the course line as a reference (positioning) island. The wayfinder draws imaginary direction lines between it and each star compass point back to the course line. These imaginary lines make angles to the course line. Wayfinders pay attention to the angles.
3. When sailing, the reference island moves from under one star point to under another. (Remember, the stars are unmoving in this system, like the waa.) The wayfinder pays attention to the angles from the waa to the star of each etak. In this way, the wayfinder divides the course line into etaks (sections or stages, each of which is defined by a particular star and the angle of the course line to that star). The wayfinder understands the waa’s progress in terms of sailing from one etak to another. One etak is the movement of the reference island back by one star point as the waa sails towards its destination.
Journeys of all distances from Satawal to other islands are broken into six etaks:
• etakin mwaan – no more island birds from here
• palsapou – we’re far away from it
• alugaan metaw – middle of the sea
• sapalongon alugaan ponsapilong – we’re getting closer to the island
• etakin mwaan – the birds of the destination island can be seen
• etakin kena – looking for the island, it’s about to be seen.
The two last etaks are the etaks of birds – the range of the flight of homing birds from land (about 30 km).
Explaining star pairs
Taumako Voyager, Ambrose Miki
“Salo is the Taumako word for Taro. This group of stars resembles the Taro plant…the root and the leaves. We use the root to sail from Taumako to Vaeakau. If the wind changes direction on the way, then you follow one of the leaves instead. The star moves and its partner follows across the sky. When a navigational star begins to set, we stop following it. So when Salo goes below the horizon, we look for his partner and follow its path. Then you follow its partner star until daybreak. They always go in pairs.”
“From The Vaka Taumako Project.”