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Peopling the Pacific
Using the night sky
Other navigational signs
Making landfall
Voyaging canoes
Voyaging Sources

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Within the seafaring Polynesian society, navigators were highly respected and valued. Their rigorous training sharpened their skills of observation and memory. They also acquired the powers of kahuna, or priests, capable of conducting all of the rituals required for preparing and undertaking a journey by sea.

The navigator held a vast quantity of knowledge in his head, taking no written notes and sailing without instruments or charts. Star navigation was the backbone of Polynesian long distance voyaging and a navigator knew the rising and setting points of over 150 stars. On overcast nights, he was able to know where he was based on the positions of only one or two visible stars. He had memorized long sequences of star maps, series of individual stars linked together to guide a canoe to its destination. A navigator was assigned to every long voyage. Each navigator probably had as his particular knowledge the star paths for two or three long voyages to specific islands or island groups.

The most famous navigator from Hawaiian legends is Mo`ikeha. As the story was written by David Malo in his Hawaiian Antiquities, Mo`ikeha arrived in Hawai`i as a child from Tahiti during the reign of Kalapana. He sailed back to Tahiti as a young man, then returned to Hawai`i again where he settled on Kaua`i to marry and raise a family. All navigators since that mythical time trace their lineage back to Mo`ikeha.

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