Sad loss: RIP Mau Piailug

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.

3 Comments for “Sad loss: RIP Mau Piailug”


[…] Back to NatGeo’s post: it is a good overview of the voyage and its goals and also links to some nice related resources. You can find a map of the voyage and links to the Pacific Voyaging Society‘s site, where you can learn more about the voyage and support it in multiple ways. Finally, there is a nice explanation of wayfinding by Nainoa Thompson, President of Pacific Voyaging Society and navigator on past Hōkūle‘a voyages. Thompson learned from master Micronesian navigator Mau Piailug. […]

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