Steering by the Stars

Nga tangata i wheturangitia … our ancestors, the people who have become stars.
Maori saying

Some wayfinders say the stars are their main guide. With learning and experience, they come to know the night sky so well that they know where all the stars are and can steer accurately when only one or two stars can be seen. A navigator knows the exact positions and times and seasons that particular stars rise and set around the horizon GLOSSARY horizon - the line where the earth and sky seem to meet .

People who use modern instruments to navigate have called the method that Micronesians wayfinders use to teach students where the stars will rise and set around the horizon the “star compass.”

In Satawal, rising and setting stars are called ururun mor. Wayfinders must know the position and sequence of star paths GLOSSARY star paths - the sequence of stars to follow from one island to another – the ururun mor to follow from one island to another. In Satawal, this knowledge is called ofanuw and is repeated in long chants GLOSSARY chants - songs . They also knows the zenith stars GLOSSARY zenith stars - a star that appears to pass directly over an island and all positions west and east of it , which pass directly above particular islands.

Paafu, areuum, amaas, Ofanuw and ururun mor

Satawalese wayfinder Jerome Rakilur

“The first thing I learned from my uncle was the names of the stars, paafu. The same person also taught me areuum and amaas. Amaas is knowing the star in front of the canoe and the star behind it. Areuum is knowing the stars in front and behind the tam (outrigger). Ofanuw is the knowledge about stars associated with an island destination. Then I started learning ururun mor – when each star rises and sets. If I just know how to sail but I don’t know when each star will rise, I will die in the ocean. ”