By Virginia Beck

A starry night illuminates Kalalau Stream in this long-exposure picture taken by @molokaitodd in June.

The ancient Polynesian navigators used a highly trained awareness of the natural world to chart their way to these islands. They lived by the planetary clock, the planets, the tides, the currents, the seasons. Such was their acute sensitivity to the natural world that they could navigate by the stars, long before the sextant and compass were invented. Moana was a highly trained young woman when she left on her journey.

To put their phenomenal accomplishments in perspective, consider the development of navigation tools around the world. The Chinese invented the early compass, a magnetic lodestone, around 206 B.C., during the time of the Han Dynasty. The sextant, a Western navigation instrument was not invented until 1757.

Nathaniel Bowditch, the American mathematician, created key navigation tables, through measurements while at sea, in the late 1700s. His reference book, published in 1802, is still utilized aboard commissioned U.S. Naval vessels and many others.

The islands were discovered between 124 and 1025 BC. Continuing radiocarbon dating studies are still unravelling these mysteries, but the immense accomplishment of these talented early Hawaiians is still amazing.

Their understanding of the properties of the moon on each day of the month, gave them a valuable reference point in guiding their boats and their lives. The winds, the currents, the clouds, all led them onward.

The Hawaiians have their own calendar, beyond the created names for the Western calendar.

They followed a lunar calendar of 29.5 days. They conveniently divided it into three 10-day periods, each with its own qualities and name. Each day of the month had its name. Imagine how clever the children had to be to learn the names of 30 days, and the qualities associated with each day. They were much more aware than the missionaries ever knew.

To help with this complicated task, there were special chants to learn the names and activities for that time of the month. Much like the farmer’s almanac, it guided them when to plant, when to harvest, when to fish and when to hunt. And when to rest and celebrate!

Stand out under our starry nights, where the deep black ocean of space illuminates every star, planet, comet and satellite in pinprick brilliance. The night in Hawai‘i is almost more awesome than the day. On Kaua‘i, especially, there are so many places where the night sky is not drowned in artificial light. There are places where you can watch waves of brilliance flowing across the sky as each sparkling star or planet shimmers in the atmosphere.

The beach at night is one of many reasons for Kaua‘i’s music and flowers, and romance. No wonder so many honeymoons and wedding anniversaries are celebrated here.

Virginia Beck

You can learn more about Hawaiian navigation and astronomy at archive.hokulea.com, where you can download Hawaiian star maps, called the Hawaiian Star Lines, developed by Nainoa Thompson, the navigator for the Hawaiian voyaging canoe, Hōkūle‘a.

Hōkūle‘a just completed a three-year voyage around the world, sharing and teaching Hawaiian cultural values, and Mālama Honua, to protect the Earth.

For more information on the Four Star families and the Star paths, key navigation tools, visit www.imiloahawaii.org/71/star-pathsguides Or even better, take a trip to Hilo someday, and the whole family can learn.

Kaua‘i has her own voyaging canoe, the Namahoe, named after the twin stars we know as Gemini. It has been a 20-year project and a learning path for the entire community. Be sure to support it whenever you can.

  • Virginia Beck, NP and Certified Trager® Practitioner, offers Wellness Consultation, Trager Psychophysical Integration and teaches Malama Birth Training classes. She can be reached at 635-5618.