Pacific Explorers

Andrew Sharp claims in his Ancient Voyagers in the Pacific
published in 1956 that the Pacific Islanders did not possess
the necessary navigational and sailing technology to
deliberately navigate the distances between islands of the
Pacific when colonizing these islands. He claims
colonization was random and accidental. However, more
recent studies from 1972 on of Pacific navigation suggest
deliberate navigation and colonization was possible and did
take place. These studies have been supported by
reenactments of voyages, computer simulations, and newly
acquired information regarding preparation for distant
voyages. Andrew Sharp supports his claim of accidental
colonization by citing numerous examples of lost voyagers
landing on populated islands, their testimony or second
hand information recorded by Captain Cook. Sharp claims
the only distant voyages were confined to "Western
Polynesia-Fiji and the Tahiti-Tuamotu archipelago" (Sharp
1956:2). He states that the longest offshore voyages made
without landing on intermediate islands included distances
of up to three hundred miles, separating Tonga, Fiji,
Samoa, Rotuma and the Ellice Islands, and distances up to
two-hundred and thirty miles, separating Tahiti from the
Tuamotu islands. Sharp refers to an account by Captain
Cook's interpreter, Omai, who discovered three of his own
countrymen from Tahiti, who landed on Atiu, six hundred
miles away. They were the sole survivors of twenty people,
blown off course in a sudden gale while attempting to
voyage from Tahiti to Raiatea, one hundred miles away.
Sharp relies on generalizations given in Cook's logs
referring to colonization of the remote islands of Polynesia.
Cook refers to the accidental voyage to Atiu stating "this
will serve to explain, better than a thousand conjectures of
speculative reason, how the detached parts of the earth,
and in particular, how the South Seas, may have been
peopled; especially those that lie remote from any inhabited
continent, or from each other." (Sharp 1956:4) Sharp uses
examples procured from Cook's log book, citing
observations of Anderson, ship surgeon in charge of natural
history observations. "The knowledge they have of other
islands is no doubt, traditional; and has been communicated
to them by the natives of those islands, driven accidentally
upon their coasts, who besides giving them the names,
could easily inform them of the direction in which the places
lie from whence they came, and of the number of days they
had upon the sea." (Sharp 1956:7) Sharp discusses the
navigational technology of the Tongans, with most of his
knowledge based on Cook's observations. "The sun is their
guide by day and the stars at night. When these are
obscured, they have recourse to the points from which the
winds and waves come upon the vessel. If during the
obstruction the winds and waves should shift. . . they are
then bewildered, frequently miss their intended port and are
never heard of more." (Sharp 1956:16) Sharp further states
that if difficulties existed in water the Tongans were
presumably more familiar with then even more difficulties
existed in sailing in "unknown seas, since on long voyages
good visibility is not assured." (Sharp 1956:16). Sharp
claims the canoes used, efficient enough to take the
Tongans off-shore, would not hold against bad weather.
Furthermore, the Tongans related to Cook when courses
were reset using the stars, using directional angles with
east-west or north-south lines or points on the horizon
marked by stars, they resulted in faulty courses. Sharp
claims the "primitive voyager" did not have precise means
of determining distance traveled, and when the distance of
the journey was increased the degree of error for dead
reckoning increased. Sharp's biased views are best
described in his own words, "Centuries of navigation by the
highly sophisticated system of latitude and longitude, which
took 5,000 years to evolve, have made us forget the
limitations of off-shore navigation without instruments, as
well as its romance and achievements." (Sharp 1956:17)
Recent published studies since 1972 of navigational
technology in Polynesia contradict Sharp's findings and
shed light on the capabilities of Polynesians as navigators
supporting deliberate colonization of the remote Polynesian
islands. This more recent evidence contradicts statements
and reasoning by Sharp, supporting the probability of
deliberate distant voyages and colonization. Seaworthiness
was necessary to make distant voyages. Edward Doran Jr.,
in his 1976 publication "Wa, Vinta and Trimaran",
describes the Caroline Islanders' technique for righting an
overturned canoe. "The mast is rigged from under side of
float to a sheer legs erected above the bottom of the
capsized boat. Four men climb quickly up the inclined mast
their weight forcing the float to submerge to a point directly
underneath the main hull. . ." taking the canoe to an righted
position. (Doran 1976:45) It seems reasonable that on any
occasion of sailing out to sea, righting ones vessel would be
a necessary skill. Edwin Doran's study included the wa or
single outrigger canoes of the Caroline Islands and the