Popular perceptions of global exploration, in large part, still reflect a world view held by early
European cartographers and geographers. The traditional heroes include Christopher Columbus,
Ferdinand Magellan and Captain James Cook. On the other hand, a reference to Kupe, Hotu Matu'a
and Mo'ikeha, legendary voyagers who sailed by 1000 AD to, respectively, the distant islands of New
Zealand, Easter Island and Hawai'i, would probably evoke no recognition.
Hawaiian man wearing a gourd mask, by John Webber.
When European explorers first ventured into the Pacific they were surprised to find that island after
island was occupied by thriving societies of people still living in the age of stone. These wanderers
from another ocean had themselves just developed ocean-spanning technology, yet they found that
islanders lacking metal, and above all ships and navigational instruments, had preceded them into the
Where did these people come from, and how did they reach the far islands? Answering these questions has occupied amateur
and professional scholars over the last four centuries. It has been a highly interdisciplinary
effort: linguists, archaeologists, anthropologists, folklorists, historians, ethnobotanists,
oceanographers, and other specialists have applied their talents to the puzzle. However, what
really distinguishes this inquiry is that Polynesians have recently joined in the quest - with a
significant difference. They address the problem not as outsiders simply intrigued by an
intellectual puzzle, but as descendants of a long lineage of seafarers who explored and settled
the Pacific. Focusing upon the voyaging canoe, the artifact that made the migration possible,
Hawaiians, Tahitians, New Zealand and Cook Island Maori, and other Pacific Islanders have
begun to reconstruct their ancient craft and sail them over the long seaways of the Pacific in
order to rediscover their oceanic heritage.