I don’t generally go to the Washington Post’s obituaries section to find blog post ideas, but lo and behold I was struck the other day to read about the life of Mau Piailug of Satawal in Micronesia. Mr. Piailug was one of the last master navigators of the Pacific, knowledgeable of the art of wayfaring using only the environment. He became a teacher of his craft and successfully returned it to a proper level of respect. The piece, by Emma Brown, says it best:
In 1976, Mr. Piailug made international headlines when — using nothing but nature’s clues and the lessons he’d learned from his grandfather, a master navigator schooled in traditional Micronesian wayfaring — he steered a traditional sailing canoe more than 3,000 miles from Hawaii to Tahiti… Many scientists had believed that Polynesians, unable to navigate across vast seas, had arrived on various islands by accident when their boats had floated off course. Mr. Piailug’s feat showed instead that indigenous peoples could indeed have deliberately explored and colonized Pacific islands… the journey also showed the world that traditional navigation was rooted in profound skill. Among Pacific peoples, who were fast becoming westernized, it led to a resurgence of cultural pride and a renewed interest in ancient wayfaring skills.
Here’s hoping we captured all his knowledge to preserve these amazing skills.