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Easter Island (off Chile's coast) in the south-east, and the huge islands of New Zealand in the southwest. And it is still a question subject t dispute today among anthropologists, geographers, historians and others concerned with reconstructing the history and movements of the Polynesian people.

Since 1956 the debate over Polynesian voyaging has been highly polarized. In that year a New Zealand scholar, the late Andrew Sharp, attacked the then dominant view that intentional voyages of exploration and colonization played a major role in Polynesian settlement by declaring that the discovery and settlement of the many islands of Polynesia was an accidental process that occurred through a fortuitous series of unintentional drift voyages and randomly directed exile voyages. Sharp maintained that the Polynesians did not have the means to sail out to distant and unknown islands and then send out colonizing expeditions on canoes loaded with men and women, domesticated animals and plants, and all the other ingredients necessary to found a new colony. Polynesians could, according to Sharp, carry out planned tow-way voyaging between islands separated by up to a few hundred miles, such as between Tahiti and the neighboring Tuamotu atolls, but beyond that range voyaging and any resultant discoveries and settlements could only have been "accidental," not intentional. In Sharp's scheme, distant islands like Hawaii were out of the range of Polynesian voyaging capabilities and could only have been discovered and settled by one or other of two means: either by the chance arrival of a canoe loaded of people driven by adverse winds from some short voyaging route (as between Tahiti and the Tuamotus); or by the fortuitous arrival of a canoe load of exiles who had been forced to leave their home island because of war, famine, or overpopulation , and who were searching blindly for an uninhabited island on which to settle. Once a canoe load of Polynesians had reached a distant island they were marooned there since according to Sharp, they did not have the means to return to their homeland.

Sharp's argument is based in large part on his negative assessment of Polynesian marine technology. He maintained, for example,

that since the Polynesian navigation system relied on non-instrument observations of the stars, winds, sea swells, and other phenomena it could not possibly be accurate enough to guide a canoe over hundreds, if not thousands of miles of open ocean to a landfall on a small island. Polynesian canoes also came in for severe criticism. Since they lacked keels or centerboards they could make little progress to windward. Since they were held together with vegetable fiber rope instead of metal fasteners they would easily break apart in rough seas And since they had a low freeboard they were easily swamped. To Sharp these and other technological deficiencies meant that long range and intentional two-way voyaging, involving exploratory probes followed by colonizing expeditions, was out of the question. Polynesian was settled "accidentally" and that was that.

Although a dose of Sharp's skepticism about Polynesian marine capabilities was perhaps a healthy corrective to some extravagant claims that the Polynesians sailed with ease and regularity throughout the Polynesian triangle, and at times, beyond it as far as Antarctica and South America, many students 9f Polynesian history felt that Sharp had gone too far in denying that the Polynesians had exercised any significant control over their movements. They argued that these movements--which archaeologists say occurred over the last three or four millennia and trace from Tonga and Samoa (the two candidates for the immediate "homeland" of the Polynesians) to the Marquesas and Tahiti and then to Hawaii, Easter Island, New Zealand and other islands in the triangle--mst have involved some degree of intentional and planned voyaging.

But it soon became apparent from the controversy which followed between Sharp and other partisans of the accidental voyaging thesis, and his critics, that we really had very little precise information on how well Polynesian canoes sailed, on how seaworthy they were on long voyages, on exactly how the Polynesians used starts for navigation and on many other technical points crucial to these questions. Since voyaging canoes were no longer to be seen in Polynesian waters, and traditional navigational skills had all but disappeared, investigators were forced to search for records of canoes and voyaging in old legends, explorers' accounts and other documents. However, the abundant traditions of long distance voyaging in past centuries proved to contain little information of a technical nature and, besides...

[Finney's discussion continues for 10 more pages in a scrapbook in the PVS Archives. Please come in to see it.]

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