July 29, 2010
Mau Piailug : Last of the Pacific Navigators Finds his Way HomeJul 13, 2010 Brien Foerster
The last of the old traditional way finding navigators of the Pacific, Mau Piailug, died July 12, 2010, on his home island, Satawal.
When European explorers first ventured into the Pacific in the early 1500s, they found people on all the major islands. How the people got there was a mystery to them. They had no idea that they had happened upon a people who were the greatest explorers and navigators in the world; a people so skilled that they needed no maps or instruments to find their way across the vast ocean.
The last of these great traditional navigators, Mau Piailug, who guided the Hawaiian voyaging canoe Hokule'a on its first trip to Tahiti, using only non-instrument navigation in 1976, died on July 12, 2010, on the island of his birth, Satawal, in Micronesia.
The Education of the Navigator
Mau Piailug was born in 1932 on Satawal, a tiny Pacific island no wider than a mile in Micronesia. When he was still a little baby, his grandfather put him in a tide pool as though he were putting him in a cradle. There the sea gently rocked him back and forth with the rhythm of the tides.
When Mau was six, his grandfather began to teach him about navigation. He started by telling him about the stars; the grandfather made a star compass out of a circle of coral rocks, and in the center he put a little canoe he had made of palm fronds. Then he explained how the stars rose in the sky and traveled from east to west.
As he grew older, Mau spent his evenings in the canoe house. There he asked the elders to teach him about navigation. In this way, and with his grandfather's help, he learned the paths of more than a hundred stars. He also learned that when clouds covered the sky, he could use the direction of the ocean waves to guide the canoe. He could also follow the birds toward land when they headed home in the evening, and he studied the creatures of the sea, for in times of trouble they, too, could help him find land.
At the age of 11 or 12, he was so eager to learn that he was sent to a master navigator, a Palu, who lived on a nearby island. And when Mau was 18 or so he was made a Palu, too, in a special ceremony called Pwo.
For the next 20 years, Mau sailed his canoe in the old way. He fished, and he raised a family. He took pride in being a Palu, but during those years Satawal was changing. An elementary school was built on the island, and the children turned to books instead of their elders for learning.
They no longer came to the canoe house to seek wisdom, and the Pwo ceremony was stopped. On island after island across the Pacific, the old navigators died without passing on their knowledge. And Mau was now afraid that this would happen on Satawal, too.
In 1974 he was invited by the Polynesian Voyaging Society of Hawaii to assist them in reviving the ancient art and science of Hawaiian way-finding. As oral tradition and even archaeological evidence had shown, the Hawaiians had come from Tahiti as far back as the 12th century, if not the time of Christ.
Many western scholars had suggested that the discovery of Hawaii had been accidental, that a canoe had been blown off course. Hawaiian oral tradition knew better; they have a complete geneology going back to when the great voyager Hawai'iloa, along with his navigator Makali'i had first set foot on Hawaiian soil.
Indeed, Captain James Cook was only able to "discover" Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Hawaii with the aid of traditional navigators from the island of Raiatea in Tahiti, who sailed with Cook and guided him to these islands. Cook had blank charts of the areas, and the navigators held the knowledge of the precise locations of them in their minds.
Renaissance of Hawaiian Voyaging
Mau was asked to navigate the Hokule'a; it was an honor, but he did not know if he could make the 2,500-mile journey to Tahiti. He was unfamiliar with the seas, the winds, or even the stars that far south. A visit was made to the local planetarium in Honolulu, where Mau could look at the star map overhead and memorize the positions of those stars that would guide him and the crew of Hokule'a safely to Tahiti.
For 33 days, from May 1 to June 4, 1976, Mau seemed never to sleep. He watched the changing colours of the sky and the sea; he felt the temperature of the air and the water, and he tasted the saltiness of the ocean and listened to the sound of the waves slapping against the hull.
When the Hokule'a arrived safely in Tahiti, reporters spread the news around the world. The successful voyage not only bolstered the pride of the Hawaiians, but all of the people of the Pacific whose ancestors could smile, knowing that their knowledge was alive and growing.
He spent the majority of his final years back home on Satawal. To say that he will be missed is obvious; to say that he acted as a bridge of knowledge from the past to the future is accurate; and to say that he was a great man with a gentle heart and a mind that was a navigational computer is true.
The following are the words of an ancient Satawal chant, telling the people to accept the gifts of the past and be ready to pass them on :
'I will reach behind.
I will reach ahead.'
pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu/index/our_founders_our_teachers.htmlRead more at Suite101: Mau Piailug : Last of the Pacific Navigators Finds his Way Home http://news.suite101.com/article.cfm/mau-piailug--the-last-star-navigator-finds-his-way-home-a261042#ixzz0v5wo2mtC
Master Navigator, Master Teacher: Reflections on Mau Piailug, by Nainoa Thompson (1996)
Hōkūle’a accompanied Alingano Maisu on this voyage, and the two canoes arrived at Satawal on March 14, 2007.
Hōkūle’a accompanied Alingano Maisu on this voyage, and the two canoes arrived at Satawal on March 14, 2007.
An unexpected gift of this visit to Satawal was Mau’s initiation of five Hawaiians along with eleven Micronesians into pwo, an acknowledgement of their knowledge, achievements, and ability to serve their people as navigators.
The five Hawaiians – Chad Baybayan, Shorty Bertelmann, Nainoa Thompson, Chadd Paishon, and Bruce Blankenfeld (left to right above) – served as captains and navigators of Maisu and Hōkūle’a during the 2007 Voyages to Micronesia and Japan.
Nainoa Thompson reflects on his teacher Mau:
We realized we did not know enough [to navigate Hōkūle’a as Mau had done in 1976]. We needed a teacher. Mau became essential. Mau is one of the few traditional master navigators of the Pacific left. And Mau was the only one who was willing and able to reach beyond his culture to ours.
I searched for Mau Piailug. Finally, I found him and flew to meet him. Mau is a man of few words, and all he said in answer to my plea for help was, "We will see. I will let you know." For several months I heard nothing. Then one day I got a phone call; Mau was going to be in Honolulu with his son the next day. When Mau arrived here back in 1979, he said, "I will train you to find Tahiti because I don’t want you to die." He had heard somehow that Eddie had been lost at sea.
I asked him to teach me in the traditional ways. But Mau knew better. He said, "You take paper and pencil! You write down! I teach you little bit at a time. I tell you once, and you don’t forget." He recognized that I could not learn the way he had learned.
Mau Piailug is from the island of Satawal. It’s a mile and a half long and a mile wide. Population 600. Navigation’s not about cultural revival, it’s about survival. Not enough food can be produced on a small island like that. Their navigators have to go out to sea to catch fish so they can eat.
Mau was not like me, who learned by using both science and tradition. I started at an old age, at about 21. He started at one. He was picked by his grandfather, the master navigator for his people, taken to the tide pools at different parts of the island to sit in the water and sense the subtle changes in the water’s movements. To feel the wind. To connect himself to that ocean world at a young age. His grandfather took him out to sail with him at age four. Mau told me that he would get seasick and when he was seven years old, his grandfather would tie his hands and drag him behind the canoe to get rid of that. This was not abuse. This was to get him ready for the task of serving his community as a navigator.
Mau learned to turn the clues from the heavens and the ocean into knowledge by growing up at the side of his grandfather-he had been an apprentice in the traditional way. He had learned to remember many things through chants and would still chant to himself to "revisit information."
Mau’s greatness as a teacher was to recognize that I had to learn differently. I was an adult; I needed to experiment, and Mau let me. He never impeded my experimenting and sometimes even joined in.
I never knew when a lesson started. Mau would suddenly sit down on the ground and teach me something about the stars. He’d draw a circle in the sand for the heavens; stones or shells would be the stars; coconut fronds were shaped into the form of a canoe; and single fronds represented the swells. He used string to trace the paths of the stars across the heaven or to connect important points.
The best was going out on my fishing boat with Mau ... every day! I watched what he watched, listened to what he listened to, felt what he felt. The hardest for me was to learn to read the ocean swells the way he can. Mau is able to tell so much from the swells-the direction we are traveling, the approach of an island. But this knowledge is hard to transmit. We don’t sense things in exactly the same way as the next person does. To help me become sensitive to the movements of the ocean, Mau would steer different courses into the waves, and I would try to get the feel and remember the feel.
Mau can unlock the signs of the ocean world and can feel his way through the ocean. Mau is so powerful. The first time Mau was in Hawai‘i, I was in awe of him-I would just watch him and didn’t dare to ask him questions. One night, when we were in Snug Harbor, someone asked him where the Southern Cross was. Mau, without turning around or moving his head, pointed in the direction of a brightly lit street lamp. I was curious and checked it. I ran around the street light and there, just where Mau had pointed, was the Southern Cross. It’s like magic; Mau knows where something is without seeing it.
I spent two Hawaiian winters with Mau. In the summer, ninety-five percent of the wind is trades, so it’s easy to predict the weather. Tomorrow is going to be like today. But in wintertime you have many wind shifts. When I had spent enough time with him, I realized that he was not looking at a still picture of the sky. If you took a snapshot of the clouds and asked him, "Mau, tell me what the weather is going to be," he could not give you an answer. But if you gave him a sequence of pictures on different days, he would tell you.
He said, "If you want to find the first sign of a weather change, look high." He pointed to the high-level cirrus clouds. "If you see the clouds moving in the same direction as the surface winds, then nothing will change. But if you see the clouds moving in a different direction, then the surface winds might change to the direction the clouds are moving. That’s only the first indication, but you don’t really know yet. If clouds form lower down and are going in the same direction as the clouds up high, there is more of a chance that the winds will change in that direction. When the clouds get even lower then you know the wind direction will change."
Satellite technology was in its infancy then, and many times Mau’s predictions would be right and the National Weather Service would be wrong.
He used the same clouds that we use to predict the weather--mare’s tails, mackerel clouds. But in his world, he practices a kind of science that is a blend of observation and instinct. Mau observes the natural world all day. That’s how he relates to nature. There are no distractions, so his instincts are strong.
In November of 1979, Mau and I went to observe the sky at Lāna‘i Lookout. We would leave for Tahiti soon. I was concerned-more like a little bit afraid. It was an awesome challenge.
Then he asked, "Can you point to the direction of Tahiti?" I pointed. Then he asked, "Can you see the island?"
I was puzzled by the question. Of course I could not actually see the island; it was over 2,200 miles away. But the question was a serious one. I had to consider it carefully. Finally, I said, "I cannot see the island but I can see an image of the island in my mind."
Mau said, "Good. Don’t ever lose that image or you will be lost." Then he turned to me and said, "Let’s get in the car, let’s go home."
That was the last lesson. Mau was telling me that I had to trust myself and that if I had a vision of where I wanted to go and held onto it, I would get there.
On Mau’s Legacy
Year after year Mau came and took us by the hand as we prepared for our voyages. He cares about people, about tradition; he has a vision. His impact will be carried beyond himself. His teaching has become his legacy, and he will not soon be forgotten.
On the 1980 voyage to Tahiti Mau Piailug made a fundamental step. He became, instead of the navigator, our teacher. This was an incredible feat, considering he could barely speak English. He was the one who came to Hawai‘i and made this enormous cultural jump. I believe that the great genius of Mau Piailug is not just in being a navigator, but that he could cross great cultural boundaries and help us find our way at sea. All of this came from a very powerful sense of caring on his part.
At the end of the 1980 voyage, Mau told me, "Everything is there in the ocean for you to learn, but it will take you 20 years to see." Mau is right. For me to learn all the faces of the ocean, to sense the subtle cues, the slight differences in ocean swells, in the colors of the ocean, the shapes of the clouds and the winds, and to unlock these clues and glean information from them in the way Mau can, will take many more years.
Mau also told me,"Because of your age, you’ll never see it all. If you want Hawai‘i to have a navigator that knows all and sees all, send your children."
Mau is one of the last. He’s 64 years old now. He was initiated in the ceremony called po, which is for the graduation of deep sea navigators. Not mastery. And let’s keep in mind, I’ll make it real clear right now. I’m not a master navigator, not by a long shot. I’m just a student. Mau graduated because he could sail long. But mastery is only something that is bestowed upon a deep sea navigator at the death of his teacher. Mau became a master navigator when his grandfather died. Mastery is not accomplishment, it’s responsibility. He had the responsibility to carry on the survival of his people--an unbroken tradition three thousand years old.
Mau worries about the future of his way of life. He is one of five master navigators left in Micronesia.
He’s 64 years old [born in1932], and he’s the youngest. Outside influences are changing the way young people in Micronesia look at life; it is a very confusing, turmoiled time. Young people are not learning the old ways. One of the things that he told me years ago is that a master navigator’s life is not fulfilled until there is someone to carry on his legacy after his death. That’s Mau’s concern: he has not trained someone among his people in navigation. Every time Mau came unselfishly to Hawai‘i to teach us about the old ways, we’d sit down and talk about that concern. Then in 1994, he came and told me. "It’s too late. I am too old, our children have too much to learn, and it’s too late." That’s something I never wanted to hear. But he said, "It’s okay. All navigators find a way out. When they put me in the ground, it’s all right because I already planted a seed in Hawai‘i. When my people want to learn, they can come to Hawai‘i and learn about me." Mau does not see navigation as cultural revival; it’s his way of life. His people will never come to learn from him until they want to live that way again.
July 27, 2010
Voyager guided rebirth of Cultures
by Gary T. Kubota, Star Advertiser of Honolulu
The way-finding navigator from an island of less than a square mile who ushered in a renaissance in open-ocean traditional native sailing across the Pacific has died.
Mau Piailug, 78, died Sunday night and was buried yesterday (Hawaii time) on his home island of Satawal in the western Pacific, said Kathy Muneno, a spokeswoman for the Polynesian Voyaging Society.
Piailug was the navigator who reintroduced Hawaiians to traditional Pacific navigational methods using the stars, moon, wind, currents and birds to find distant lands.
In 1976 he was the navigator sailing aboard the double-hulled sailing canoe Hokule'a on its historic voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti.
The Hokule'a voyage supported the assertion that Polynesians were capable of long-distance voyages centuries before European explorers.
Piailug had suffered from diabetes for many years.
Polynesian Voyage Society President Nainoa Thompson said Piailug's contribution to restoring the cultures of Pacific islanders was immense.
"Thousands of people are sharing in the sadness," Thompson said. "His contribution to Hawaii and humankind is immeasurable."
In the mid-1970s, Piailug chose to share his knowledge of Pacific way-finding with native Hawaiians when the island cultures here and in Micronesia were experiencing rapid westernization.
Piailug hoped that by sharing his knowledge, the information would be stored elsewhere and would be shared with his people in the future.
The historic Hawaiian voyage to Tahiti in 1976 helped to restore pride in Pacific island cultures and built bridges among various Pacific island cultures through double-hulled canoe voyaging.
Besides Hawaii, other island cultures have formed voyaging societies to promote native voyaging, including in Taiwan, New Zealand, Samoa, Fiji, Guam, Saipan, Palau, Chuuk, Pohnpe, the Marshall Islands and Tahiti.
Satawal island resident Thomas Raffipiy recalled as a youth the night when Piailug consulted with his family and made the decision to help the Hawaiians.
Traditionally, the knowledge was passed down through the family and did not cross cultures.
"It was a decision that he didn't take lightly," said Raffipiy, Piailug's nephew. "He was among the youngest of the surviving navigators and hoped the knowledge stored somewhere with someone would come back. ... Everything he said has come to pass."
Ben Finney, a founder of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, said Piailug was driven to help by his vision of what needed to be done to revive native cultures through sailing, including Satawal islanders.
"He said, 'That's exactly what we need,'" recalled Finney, a former professor at the University of Hawaii.
Finney said Piailug became well known among Polynesians from New Zealand to Hawaii for the generous way in which he shared his knowledge of way-finding navigation.
"He was really an aid giver of ancient knowledge," Finney said.
Piailug's work came full circle during the 2007 voyage to his home island of Satawal, when Hawaii crews delivered the double-hulled canoe Alingano Maisu as a gift to Piailug.
That year, for the first time in a half-century, Piailug held a "Po" ceremony to induct master navigators into the Weriyeng school of navigation. The group included five Hawaiians and about 10 Micronesians, including his son, Sesario Sewralur.
Sewralur, the captain and navigator of the Alingano Maisu, teaches native navigation at a community college on Palau.
Thompson said to honor Piailug, the Hokule'a plans to sail around the Hawaiian Islands in the near future with crews of young people.
"It's a very important time to focus on all our teachers, honor them and celebrate them," Thompson said. "We know how much he loved Hawaii, and we know how much he loved the people."
Piailug is survived by more than a dozen children and numerous grandchildren.
And this: by Emma Brown of the Washington Post:
Mau Piailug, who died July 12 at 78 on the western Pacific island of Satawal, was one of the last masters of the nearly lost traditional art of using stars, sun and wind to find safe passage across the ocean.
In 1976, Mr. Piailug made international headlines when -- using nothing but nature's clues and the lessons he'd learned from his grandfather, a master navigator schooled in traditional Micronesian wayfaring -- he steered a traditional sailing canoe more than 3,000 miles from Hawaii to Tahiti.
The journey was a project of the Honolulu-based Polynesian Voyaging Society, co-founded by anthropologists interested in the enduring mystery of how the Pacific's scattered islands, often separated by hundreds of miles of water, had become populated by peoples who lacked nautical technologies such as the compass and sextant.
Many scientists had believed that Polynesians, unable to navigate across vast seas, had arrived on various islands by accident when their boats had floated off course. Mr. Piailug's feat showed instead that indigenous peoples could indeed have deliberately explored and colonized Pacific islands.
Featured in a National Geographic special, the journey also showed the world that traditional navigation was rooted in profound skill. Among Pacific peoples, who were fast becoming westernized, it led to a resurgence of cultural pride and a renewed interest in ancient wayfaring skills.
"The rebirth of non-instrument navigation came about largely due to this man, Mau Piailug," said former Smithsonian secretary Lawrence Small at a 2000 ceremony in Washington honoring Mr. Piailug (pronounced Pee-EYE-lug).
He became an eager teacher, breaking with tradition to share among cultures his closely guarded navigation secrets that had traditionally been passed down only within families.
Among his students were Nainoa Thompson, a Hawaiian who became a master navigator, has many students and has completed long ocean-crossings; and Steve Thomas, a California native who made a documentary and wrote a 1987 book ("The Last Navigator") about the months he spent learning from Mr. Piailug in Micronesia.
Mr. Piailug feared that the powerful pull of Western culture on young Pacific Islanders would eventually lead to the extinction of traditional wayfaring, Thomas said Monday.
"He understood that he had to teach without restriction and without hesitation and spread as many seeds of interest as possible," Thomas said. "He taught me without holding back."
Mau Piailug was born in 1932 on Satawal, a low-lying island that stretched a mile from end to end and is now part of the Federated States of Micronesia in the western Pacific. His grandfather was a palu, a master navigator, and he chose Mau to follow in his footsteps.
Mr. Piailug's lessons began when he was a child. His grandfather had him sit in tide pools to learn the ocean's tug. Later, when Mr. Piailug begin traveling on the Pacific's wide swells and became seasick, his grandfather tied him to the stern of a canoe and dragged him through the water to cure him.
Mr. Piailug memorized the night sky's star map and learned how to read moving clouds and the ocean's swells and reefs. At 18, he was ceremonially initiated as a palu.
He used his skills largely to catch fish and turtles for his family until 1973, when he visited Hawaii at the invitation of his niece and her husband, a former Peace Corps volunteer named Mike McCoy. McCoy took Mr. Piailug to an early meeting of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, where plans were being made for the groundbreaking journey to Tahiti.
McCoy volunteered Mr. Piailug as a navigator, according to a story in the Honolulu Advertiser, and Mr. Piailug didn't protest.
A double-hulled canoe called Hokule'a, manned by 15 Hawaiians, departed on May 1, 1976. It arrived in Tahiti just over a month later despite a period of becalmed seas and mutinous behavior by some crew members, who were unhappy with the journey's white organizers.
According to news reports, Mr. Piailug had more than a dozen children. A complete list of survivors could not be confirmed.
In 2003, Mr. Piailug was the object of a Coast Guard search when he was two weeks overdue on a short 250-mile jaunt between the islands of Palau and Yap.
He and his crew were located by an Air Force C-130 from an Air Force base in Guam; after enduring strong headwinds from a typhoon, they were tired and thirsty -- but they were right on course and just 30 miles from their destination. They finished the voyage under their own power.
"I wasn't worried. I knew right away that it was the weather," said Junior Coleman, a Hawaiian who had previously sailed with Mr. Piailug, in an interview with the Honolulu Advertiser. "I told people to remember who is involved here. He's the Yoda of the Pacific."