Contemplating Polynesia At Sea

Apr 30, 2019 - National Geographic Orion


As we spent the day traveling at sea between the Tuamotus and the Marquesas, I thought often about the early Polynesians who made this journey on double-hulled canoes, likely constructed from pieces of wood that were woven together with pandanis fiber. Guided with ancient navigational skills that relied on the secrets of reading the stars, waves and winds, these wayfinders managed their way across hundreds of miles of open ocean, facing wind and currents that sought to lead them off course. Their vessels were expertly constructed, and they took only  necessary provisions to survive the journey out as well as the materials and animals to establish settlements in whatever new lands awaited them toward the other end of the horizon.

The first time today that I considered what the journey of these ancient explorers must have been like—the many adversities, the elements that battered them as they coursed out the same route we now follow—occurred while I was observing that afternoon’s dessert buffet, specifically at the pyramid of chocolate drizzled profiteroles.

Again I thought on their adventures as I sipped at the brim of my latte while listening to one of several fascinating lectures from our naturalists, photographers and cultural specialists.

How, I wondered, as I sat in Deck 6’s jacuzzi with a complimentary microbrew beside, did these Polynesian sailors survive their journey?

I found myself on the gym’s treadmill, wondering what motivated them to keep taking to the treacherous seas surrounding them?

Why, I mused while waiting for a massage from our ship’s wellness specialist, did they seek new lands?

When, I considered while lounging in a deck chair and soaking up some rays, did their journeys end?

Where, I deliberated while looking over the tray of hors d’oeuvres at recap, did these sailors come from, and how far did they go? And should I have a chicken skewer, a fried scampi or a vegetarian spring roll? Or what if I just went for it and took all three?

These were just a few of the thoughts that went through my mind as we traveled across the ocean today, following the path of these brave seafarers. As the sun set over the horizon, turning the sky a brilliant red, I realized I was witness to the same sunset gazed upon by these mysterious adventurers. I felt like a kindred spirit with these explorers of the Pacific, after all, here I was taking the same exact journey they did so many years ago.

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About the Author

Jacob Edgar

Cultural Specialist

Jacob Edgar is an Ethnomusicologist, world music tastemaker and global explorer with an insatiable curiosity for the diverse ways in which people express themselves through music. Jacob’s adventures have taken him to dozens of countries, and hundreds of the world’s greatest international music festivals, showcases and performance venues in search of exceptional musical talents. Since 1998, Jacob has been the main music researcher for the acclaimed world music compilations label Putumayo World Music, contributing songs and liner notes to over 300 Putumayo collections that combined have sold over 15 million copies. In 2006, Jacob founded the record label Cumbancha, whose artists include some of the top names in international music. In 2009, Jacob embarked on a new adventure as host of a new music and travel television program Music Voyager. The series invites viewers to discover the exciting sounds of the planet and broadcasts on PBS and other stations around the world. While pursuing his undergraduate degree at Oberlin College, where he was a double major in History and Latin American Studies, Jacob conducted field research on music and society in Central America. His love of music took him to the West Coast where Jacob was awarded the Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities and graduated from University of California, Los Angeles in 1994 with a Masters in Ethnomusicology.

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