Re: Amerindian navigators and Eurocentrism in scholarship


From fjyurco@midway.uchicago.edu (Frank Joseph Yurco)
Date Mon, 15 Sep 1997 16:50:27 GMT
Newsgroups sci.archaeology.mesoamerican, sci.archaeology, sci.anthropology, alt.folklore.science
Organization The University of Chicago
References <5uvasm$n7p$1@titan.globalserve.net > <3417956A.365E@xnet.com > <5v90tb$b83$1@titan.globalserve.net > <5vflne$12m$1@news.megsinet.net >
Sender FJYurco

Given a large enough storm, and the winds blowing the right way, even a
log floating in the waters might be blown to Hawaii, or Easter Island,
from the Americas. Indeed, that is the way certain fauna and flora reached
places like Hawaii, long before any humans trod the islands. However, what
is the likelihood of a balsa raft, making it to Easter Island or Hawaii?
Sure if it gets caught in the right size storm with winds blowing in the
requisite way. However, under such circumstances, would anyone arrive
alive on the raft? Hardly likely. 

On the other hand, there is, as one poster remarked, a large amount of
evidence regarding the abilities of the Micronesians and Polynesians in
trans-oceanic sailing, from the pictorial evidence of their ocean going
canoes, to the fact that they settled every habitable island and atoll
group in the Pacific, to the survival of their star navigation and other
types of navigation among Micronesian pilots. One such pilot was recruited
to make a voyage from Hawaii to Tahiti, and it was done on a recreated
Polynesian style ocean crossing canoe. The pilot had no modern navigation
instruments, and using his traditional navigational methods, he took the
canoe to Tahiti Island, right to the capital city. 

What makes this voyage even more impressive, was that the pilot was a
Micronesian, who had not previously sailed the Hawaii-Tahiti route. Yet
using star navigation, plus oceanic currents and wave patterns, he made
the crossing successfully. This was several years ago broadcast, on PBS
perhaps in the Nova series. If so, Nova now has its programs available
on tapes, through WBGH PBS in Boston. 

There is even more evidence, but these are the most impressive items. 
So, as the one poster noted, he would not be encouraged to navigate a
balsa raft across the Pacific, but I would not hesitate to join a voyage
like the Micronesian Pilot navigator made from Hawaii to Tahiti, for,
as one Pacific sailor noted, a good Micronesian or Polynesian navigator
could sail circles around a European or American navigator with the most
up-to-date navigational aids. Yes, there's a lot of truth in this
assessment, for modern hi-tech equipment has a penchant for breaking down
just where help is unavailable. So, the Micronesian or Polynesian
navigator with his knowledge based on star movements, oceanic swells and
currents, and patterns of bird flights and cloud formations, does have
the edge. Can Yuri, or anyone else demonstrate that the Amerindian rafters
had such navigational skills? 

Most sincerely,

Frank J. Yurco
University of Chicago


-- 
Frank Joseph Yurco                           fjyurco@midway.uchicago.edu


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