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Never Lost: Polynesian Navigation

Found In: Arts, Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, 6-8, 9-12

Navigation or wayfinding is the subject of the Exploratorium website Never Lost: Polynesian Navigation. The website requires Flash and can be viewed in English and Hawaiian.

Polynesia, a triangle bounded by Hawai’i, Rapa Nui (Easter Island), and Aotearoa (New Zealand), covers an area of the Pacific Ocean equivalent to North and South America, though the land mass contained within that vast triangle is equivalent to about a third of New York state.

Polynesians purposefully sailed, not drifted, thousands of miles using their knowledge of the stars, winds, currents, and animal behavior. Polynesians probably visited South America. The sweet potato important in their diet originated in South America, and the Polynesian word for sweet potato, kumara, is the same word used by Peruvian Indians.

Never Lost is a large site providing a lot of information and many ideas for projects and activities in social studies, language arts, science, art, and math.

Four sections cover

  1. Polynesian origins,
  2. the canoe,
  3. navigation, and
  4. voyaging.

Each section contains print, video, artifacts, recipes, and other interactive features such as a planetarium and canoe. Users learn about traditional tools, horticulture, Hula, canoe building, knot tying, swell patterns, provisioning, and more.

A good place to start is one section of Voyage: Talking Stories, a collection of twelve short videos relating aspects of voyages and their cultural and individual importance.

Additional Resources


Stick charts are the traditional navigation maps Polynesians fashioned to record island locations, swell patterns, and wave breaks.

Polynesian Myth

Maui is a major figure in Polynesian myth, credited with fishing up the islands. Polynesian Mythology

Oceanic/Pacific Literature, Art & Music

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has essays and examples of Oceanic/Pacific Art. Another section of this website features musical instruments of Oceania



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