Ways of Learning and Remembering

Dr. David Lewis remembered the chants GLOSSARY chants - songs he learned from his cousins when he was a small boy at the Native school in Rarotonga. In 1964 he put away his modern instruments and used a chant to find his way from Tahiti to Aotearoa GLOSSARY Aotearoa - New Zealand . This was the beginning of his research into ancient methods of wayfinding.

“It wasn’t until I started learning the Maori names for the European stars… and I realised I’ve seen these before somewhere… I [went] through my old songbook from my school days, and there it was…”
Navigator Jacko Thatcher from Aotearoa (New Zealand)

He had once learned a waiata (song) that named the same stars:

Takinga mai ra ko nga hui a Matariki,
Tuanga, Tautoru, Kangaroa-Atutahi,
mai Karewa, te tini o te whetu ariki.

Here above are the stars of Matariki,
Tuanga, Tautoru, Kangaroa-Atutahi,
and Karewa, the many chiefly stars.

Bader, H. and McCurdy, P., eds (1999).

Until modern times, knowledge about navigation wasn’t passed on through books … or CD-ROMs! It was passed on by careful watching, listening, repetition, and practice. Ways were developed to make the knowledge easier to remember and to preserve it over time. Everything had to be memorised because nothing was taken to sea — not like western compasses today. The sky and sea were often “mapped” using real objects (for example, stones or sticks to show stars or wave patterns) or mental images. Songs, chants, and stories helped navigators to remember the knowledge.

In Aotearoa, knowledge about the stars was recorded in some tukutuku (weavings), and in Samoa and other islands, it could be shown in tapa cloth (painted bark cloth) or in people’s tattoos — for example, on women’s legs.

Once you do it, you remember

Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr of Nga Kaihoe o Aotearoa (New Zealand Maori Polynesian Canoe Sporting Federation)

“So the next thing for us is to do what we do quite a lot with our young people. We take them out and show them. We take them somewhere, and then we say, “Look, you go and hold this, you touch this, you do this, and once you do it, you remember.” And so I think that one of the biggest differences for us is that as soon as we can after talking about something, we take them to do it. Whereas often if they were at school, they would have to spend maybe three to four weeks learning about something before they might get a chance to have a little bit of a practical demonstration of something.”