Cook Islands canoe builder and navigator Sir Tom Davis (Papa Tom):

The technology of building these ocean canoes that sailed from South East Asia to as far as South America and, in the other direction, as far as Africa and settled Madagascar, I think that’s something to be very proud of. And it teaches us self-esteem. We were something. We did something. Therefore we can do something now, and therefore we can see a future for ourselves.


Thousands of years ago, when most sailors were still hugging the coast, the island peoples of the Pacific held the knowledge and skills to explore the great ocean paths around and beyond their homes.

Modern instruments didn't exist - no compasses, no radio, no radar GLOSSARY radar - a system that uses electromagnetic waves to locate surrounding objects , no GPS GLOSSARY Global Positioning System (GPS) - a handheld computer that tells your position by communicating with satellites . The Pacific peoples navigated their canoes with their own sophisticated GLOSSARY sophisticated - highly developed techniques, using the seas, skies, and sea life to guide them. Their knowledge was built up through generations of experience.

It was handed down through careful teaching, stories, and songs.

An experienced Tongan navigator once said,
"The compass can go wrong, the stars never."
From David Lewis in Bader, H. and McCurdy, P., eds (1999).

And that is the beauty of Pacific navigation. Voyage into this site to find out more ...