When early Europeans eventually explored the islands of the Pacific Ocean, they discovered they weren’t the first to find them. In fact, they were many hundreds of years late. The people they encountered on these islands were dispersed over thousands of kilometres, but had similar beliefs and customs. These were the Polynesian islanders, and their perfected navigational skills enabled them to travel distances of over 3,000 kilometres between landmasses. As they made these vast voyages, they discovered a plethora of remote islands, one by one, and became the first humans to set foot on them.
As groups of island hoppers ended their time at sea, families settled and established their home on one of 10,000 Polynesian islands. As time passed and with permanent settlers on these islands, new cultures, beliefs and language variations emerged to produce today’s communities. DNA analysis shows that all early Polynesian settlers descended from a single race of people. Studies of their past have led most to believe they originated in southeast Asia, leaving in boats to form the new populations.
The ambition of these islanders is shown in the evidence of the equipment they brought with them and the intent in their navigation. Researchers rule out the possibility of drifters accidentally discovering the islands due to the resources they carried with them to start new lives. Food and animals were taken on boats, including three known domesticated animals: pigs, dogs and chickens.
Dealing with crowded boats of people, animals and supplies, groups tackled the ocean’s menacing moods with patience and respect. Part of the Polynesian culture, living in a water-orientated part of the world, these particularly brave and persistent individuals embraced open-sea voyages despite their vulnerability, travelling for many weeks at a time. By adopting and spreading successful seafaring methods, the islanders tuned into the tides in a way most modern sailors can only begin to imagine. With none of the technology of today, could this mean these ancient people are the best navigators of all time?