1000 Oceans
July 21, 2010 3:16 PM   Subscribe

Mau Piailug passed away last week at 78 years old. He was a Master Navigator from the tiny island of Satawal. In the seventies, he traveled to Hawaii to help the Polynesian Voyaging Society revive the wayfinder's art, navigating by the sun, moon, stars, animals, waves and clouds. In 1976, he steered the Hokule'a, a traditional sailing canoe, from Hawaii to Tahiti without even so much as a compass. He began teaching a new generation of navigators and helped launch a revival of Polynesian culture. To honor him, the Polynesian Voyaging Society is raising money to assist the people of Satawal, while also preparing for a world wide voyage on the Hokule'a, to use their ancient wisdom to help imagine a new relationship to the planet we share.
posted by cal71 (17 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:27 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

posted by barnacles at 3:40 PM on July 21, 2010

He was a man among men, that's for sure. I saw him once when the Hokulea returned from one of the voyages he navigated, and he was a very humble person. His navigational abilities didn't seem like anything out of the ordinary to him. Sail on, Mau!
posted by motown missile at 3:53 PM on July 21, 2010

Wow, what a badass.

posted by Tesseractive at 3:57 PM on July 21, 2010

posted by yeloson at 4:02 PM on July 21, 2010

posted by netbros at 4:10 PM on July 21, 2010

I'm sure it's been mentioned here before, but Steve Thomas' (yes, that Steve Thomas book The Last Navigator is a very interesting record of the time Thomas spent with Mau Piailug on his home island of Satawal. Well worth reading.

posted by 1adam12 at 4:23 PM on July 21, 2010

I read an interview from someone who was with him on an airplane over the pacific, and he could read the ocean even at high altitude... knew where islands were from swell patterns, weather formations... a totally different way of seeing the world.
posted by outsider at 4:30 PM on July 21, 2010

Very sad at his passing, but a fantastic post nonetheless; this is endlessly fascinating.
posted by digitalprimate at 4:42 PM on July 21, 2010

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ . ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
posted by vverse23 at 4:59 PM on July 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

"Traditional cultures like this seem to produce people that are far more in tune with their senses than instrument-addicted "modern" people"

We're all in tune with the world we know; I don't know that there is much sense to thinking that 'traditional cultures' are any better or worse than 'modern people.'

I know a couple navigators, though never met Mau. What was unique about him wasn't necessarily his skill level - there are still a couple dozen navigators of equal stature alive in Micronesia. He was unique in that he would share his knowledge outside his lineage.

In the traditional Micronesian islands wealth meant little, but knowledge meant power. You are expected to share all your material possessions, but you don't pass knowledge on to your children until they've proven themselves worthy, you don't pass it on to other lineages unless they offer you something of value in return, and you certainly don't give interviews to foreign authors, much less fly across the island to teach a bunch of strangers everything you know.

Mau recognized that the world had changed, and that he would have to share his mana`o with the wider world for that knowledge to survive. This was a pretty shocking and radical view back in the Central Carolines
posted by kanewai at 5:43 PM on July 21, 2010 [6 favorites]

Sad too at his passing, but a great thing that he passed his knowledge down. Tradition isn't always dead weight - sometimes it can be living and breathing.
posted by jhandey at 6:27 PM on July 21, 2010

posted by rtha at 7:51 PM on July 21, 2010

A fascinating subject. I first heard about this method of navigation from "The Navigator", by Morris West.
posted by Goofyy at 6:41 AM on July 22, 2010

I wonder, now, who navigated for Heyerdahl?
posted by infini at 7:19 AM on July 22, 2010

There was no navigation involved in Kon-Tiki, it just drifted. It was a raft, not a boat.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 9:47 PM on July 22, 2010

The Kon-Tiki was crewed by six men, all Norwegian except for Bengt Danielsson, who was from Sweden.

* Thor Heyerdahl (1914–2002) was expedition leader.
* Erik Hesselberg (1914–1972) was the navigator and artist. He painted the large Kon-Tiki figure on the raft's sail.

posted by infini at 12:47 AM on July 23, 2010

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