Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Polynesian Voyagers. The Maori as a Deep-sea Navigator, Explorer, and Colonizer

Fijians and Tongans

Fijians and Tongans

In the account of the sojourn of the American ship “Glide” at the Fiji Isles in 1829 occur the following remarks: “Among the visitors aboard were several Tonga-tapu natives. Their residence on Coro and other islands of the group is accounted for by the fact that the Friendly-Islanders frequently ply their large double canoes to and from the Fijis, a distance of about three hundred miles. Taking advantage of favourable winds, and directing their course in the daytime by the sun and in the night by the moon and stars, they rarely deviate from a straight course between the groups. I have frequently seen their canoes sailing in a heavy sea at the rate of nine or ten knots an hour. The incredible swiftness of these canoes I regard as an argument in support of the supposition which refers the origin of this people to the Asiatic continent.”

The following remarks by the historian of the D'Entrecasteux Expedition (1793) shows how Polynesian voyagers puzzled and astonished early European navigators. Soon after the arrival of this expedition at Tonga-tapu a Fijian chief arrived at the island. He informed the Europeans that it would take him three days to sail back to Fiji in his double canoe, with a south-west wind, hence it was judged that Fiji must be about 150 leagues distant. Labillardiere remarks: “This is an immense voyage for people who, having no instruments, steer only by observing the sun and stars with the naked eye, as soon as they are out of sight of land; but it is still more difficult to conceive how they can reach Tongatapu from such a distance, when they have to work up against the south-east winds, and they must be very sure of their marks in the heavens, not to miss the land, after being obliged to ply to windward, as they are sometimes, for more than a month.”

The following remarks are from the appendix to the Rev. W. Lawry's Friendly and Feejee Island (London, 1850): “The Friendly-Islanders build their canoes in Feejee. They did not learn navigation from Feejeans, but from the situation of their islands, being more exposed to a rough ocean, they have probably become better and more adventurous navigators. They are of a superior and enterprising spirit in affairs of navigation, which may be said to constitute a feature of their national character. Their superiority in this respect was so great when Mariner was among them that no native of Feejee would venture to Tonga except in a canoe manned with Tongan people, nor return to his own islands unless under the same guidance and protection.”

Unlike the Polynesians, the Fijians have preserved no clear traditions of the settling of their ancestors in the Fiji Group, nor of any deep-sea voyaging performed by such ancestors.