Ocean Navigation in Micronesia
One of the classics of social science is Thomas Gladwin’s (1970) East Is a Big Bird. The subtitle, Navigation and Logic on Puluwat Atoll, captures the thrust of this work. It is spatial thinking in its purest and perhaps most remarkable form. The culture of this group of Micronesian islanders values ocean navigation in outrigger canoes (Figure 6.2). Voyages are undertaken over hundreds of miles and many days, but they use none of the navigational equipment that is common to Western culture. There are no maps, compasses, sextants, or GPS units, at least in the classic form of this way of life.
The voyages are guided by highly trained and skilled navigators who have mastered a system of knowledge that is rich, complex, efficient, and non-Western in organization and principle. It is complete, in that every conceivable situation at sea is accounted for; it is strategic, built on a vast amount of detailed information and employing a series of heuristics; it is specific, tailored to the environment in the
FIGURE 6.2 A Puluwatan canoe. SOURCE: The Pacific Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Reprinted with permission of the Trust Territory Archives, Pacific Collection, University of Hawaii Library.