Here I share the history and ancient lore of the Pacific peoples and recent archaeological research. Placing the latest scientific studies alongside the histories of the ancestors is an exciting experience. Here I attempt to answer some of the questions that others pursue.

When the elders asked me to bring the ancient lore of the Maori/Polynesian people into the world, I had no idea that might mean. It brought an astounding library of over 3,000 chants into play in a powerful way. Some lasted for hours and some for days. They encapsulated an ethos for a life lived in a good way, philosophies and principles based on a remarkable understanding of people and the world we live in.

Few understand that the Pacific World knew peace for over 2,500 years. The old histories that cover those years speak of the days without conflict, say to take the life of another is to destroy your own. Archaeological excavations find no weapons of war in the sites of those times. Warfare in the Pacific is a tragic development born of natural devastating events that tore apart their world soon after 1200 AD.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Polynesian World Calling

 ‘With compassion and courage we have the power to heal the pain of the nations and the planet. While we cannot change the past we can heal the past, and heal it now. That is the challenge and the path of hope.’
                                                                                      Barry Brailsford

Journeying into the sacred knowledge of Indigenous Nations

The Power of Place

My love of the land and the mystery of the past is my birthright. I was born in Cobden near the lagoon named Te Ake Ake o Poutini, the ancient anchorage of the great navigator Poutini. Nurtured by the wild coastlines and forested mountains of Westland, I enjoyed a childhood where the spirit soared.

Maori and the Author

In 1988, Te Pani Manawatu, of the Rangitane people of the old Nation of Waitaha, Chief of the Tuahuriri Runanga of Ngai Tahu, asked me to tell the story of Waitaha to bring their ancient lore to the world.

This was the first time the sacred knowledge held in their Higher School of Learning was to shared beyond its walls. It remains a mystery why they asked a Pakeha, a white person, a teacher within the academic world, to become the custodian of their greatest treasure.

When setting forth the task in 1988, Te Pani Manawatu said…

‘You have been chosen to write the record of our ancestors and tell the story of Waitaha because of your skill and the awhi you gave the people of Ngai Tahu during the Tribunal hearings. This is not the easiest of tasks because of the things that have been hidden away from the majority of the people.

‘People will ridicule all the things you say and do in the name of Waitaha… it is a dangerous journey, it is a hard journey; you must walk it as a student…. Write what you learn and hear in peace and love…Carry your cross well for it is a heavy one that you bear.’

This decision to reveal the knowledge kept secret for so long was made possible by a unique alignment of the stars, an event foretold some four centuries ago. The decision was bound in prophecy. Those stars freed them to share all they held sacred and to announce to the world that it was time for the peoples of peace to stand tall.

In all a team of five was created for the journey. There were two Maori, a man and a woman to liaise with the elders, an art director to design the book and an administrator to assist with the work. The Nga Tapuwae Trust was established to formalize the task.

Opening the Ancient Peace Trail

In 1988 I was called to lead a party of 12 over the mountains to open the old trail used for moving Pounamu, their sacred stone. Known as Te Huarahi o Rongo-marae-roa, or the Peace Trail, it had been closed for over 130 years because blood had been spilt on it in anger by gold miners. Lifting the tapu on that trail, which crossed the high passes of the Southern Alps, was achieved in a long nine-day journey. Completing that task opened the way for the old lore to be written.

The gifting of Song of Waitaha

In 1990 the team of five was called to a meeting in Whangarei to sit with the representatives of 142 tribes gathered from the old Nation of Waitaha to discuss the release of their knowledge. After five days the representatives stood one by one to say... 'Tautoko... we support you to the death'. This meant — ‘we give you everything we have, our lives, our dreams, our prayers, all bound in the most sacred of treasures, the wisdom gifted by the ancestors.’

Thus followed four years of journeys and writing to bring the old wisdom to the modern world in Song of Waitaha: the Histories of a Nation.

                                    'SONG OF THE SACRED PROMISE'

That astonishing pool of knowledge grew deeper as Hawaiian lore and that of the Hopi of Arizona, the Haida of the North West Pacific and the Chumash of California was also placed in my basket. This incredible store of priceless indigenous wisdom has been my guide and my joy.

Tuti Aranui speaks of Barry’s work

"I speak as a Maori elder. And while these words are my own, they echo the thoughts of my children and many others who have discovered in his work a great re-awakening… a journey into the strength, power and spiritual wisdom of our peoples.

Barry’s stories help us unravel our beginnings, rediscover our ancestral past and travel familiar, yet unmapped ‘pathways’. Skillfully weaving together science, ancient lore and spirituality, he creates narratives so rich in human interest we cannot put them down.

Thus does he honour the precious knowledge placed in his hands by our Maori Elders. It is for all peoples for it is of a timeless realm where spirit knows no bounds. Every book Barry has written has its own magic."


 ‘We walk each step in humility.

Humility steps beyond smallness,
is a above pettiness and greed,
seeks only to be true to self,
serves without asking for attention or reward,
never dominates or stands over others
to shut out the light.

The gentleness of humility is our cloak.’

Song of the Circle

Barry graduated MA (Hons) from Canterbury University, was a member of the NZ Archaeology Association Council and a Principal Lecturer at the Christchurch College of Education. In 1990 he was awarded an MBE for his contribution to education and Maori scholarship.

What is wisdom?

My reply has always been — wisdom is increased awareness. The anguish of the dark valley of the soul and the euphoria of the mountain peak, both help us on our way. As our awareness grows we learn to trust the journey and step forth in hope.

The mountain peak may seem hard to attain but we discover the truth of who we are in small steps. Much is written about enlightenment, a mythical state of perfection that apparently takes years to attain. That is not my journey. We can be enlightened every day in small and important ways. Remember the journey is the destination and it is only three hand spans across — from the head to the heart. The Elders say we should honour head, heart and spirit as one. Then, keeping our feet on the ground we can walk in the sacred everyday.

‘Te Wai Pounamu… is the Maori place name for the South Island today… the waters of the Pounamu… and that’s true, but those words were used in a different way long ago. Then it wasn’t a place, it was a state of mind… the waters of the Pounamu described a stream of consciousnessa trail to the higher mind… the way to ultimate awareness.’

We see people walking in that realm of ultimate awareness every day. It’s in young mothers and fathers who truly listen to their little ones and find time to share their precious moments. It’s in random acts of kindness that seek no reward, in the service and self-sacrifice of volunteers who simply care, in the healers and the dreamers who weave their magic and the doers who walk the reality that says, just get on with it! It’s not a head thing that exalts in the power of the mind and loses itself in the mind, but of mind, heart and spirit.

Our power is diminished by separation.
When we see ourselves as greater than others,
when we place humankind above other
creatures, above and beyond the realms of the
birds and the fishes, outside the world
of stone and the colours,
we give away our power.
Only when we see we are part of everything,
joined to creation, bound to all the realms and
integrated into the Web of Life,
do we begin to call on our full potential.

                                                           From Song of the Silence

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Who were the Waitaha?

The history of the Nation of Waitaha was first shared in Song of Waitaha, a book published in 1994. The release of this knowledge was authorised by Te Pani Manawatu, the Ariki or chief of Tuahuriri Ngai Tahu, a senior Runanga of that tribe.

The source of all that is written in Song of Waitaha is Te Whare Wananga o Kahukura, an ancient School of Learning. The elders in the photographs below are the ancestors who carried those teachings into today. [Photos of Elders in Song of Waitaha]

Early in 1990 the representatives of 143 iwi, remnants of some 200 tribes that had been the Nation of Waitaha, gathered for a Hui at the marae in Whangarei to decide how much knowledge would be shared with the world. Some 400 people discussed this for five days then those who carried the power to stand in the name of their people rose one by one to say — ‘Tautoko — unto the death’, meaning we agree to the opening of all the baskets of knowledge; we hold nothing back; we release the sacred lore that is the very life of us.

What was shared became Song of Waitaha: the Histories of a Nation. Every word written was placed under strict tapu until read and approved by the leading kaumatua of the Waitaha realm.

The Waitaha of the Histories

They were the children of Te Kupenga Te Ao and Kiwa and the children of other ancestors that brought other colours into the weave that became a nation. They were Polynesians who are directly related to the tribes that migrated to Aotearoa/New Zealand after 1200AD. Waitaha eventually settled all of Aotearoa and have a place in the genealogies of many of the leading iwi of today.

The homelands from which they voyaged to settle Aotearoa were in Eastern Polynesia and Easter Island was their final place of departure. However, there were distant homelands behind those homelands. In simple terms they were Polynesians who were eventually given the name Maori. Their language is Maori and is understood by the indigenous people of Easter Island (Rapanui), the Cook Islands, Hawaii and other Polynesians.

Waitaha carry the Polynesian gene that has been traced back some 14,000 years to the islands of Eastern Indonesia. However, they also carry other genes because their remarkable voyaging produced a strong, dynamic gene pool..’

There are unsolved mysteries within the old histories of Waitaha. Issues that await further research that may be resolved with the aid of DNA analysis and other tools becoming available to science. One of these is the inclusion of three bloodlines in the whakapapa, the genealogies in the old lore — Maoriori — Urukehu — Kiritea.

It is clear that most Waitaha iwi were East Polynesian through and through and were Maoriori, but into that vast weave the Whare Wananga adds two slender threads. First The Urukehu, a pale-skinned, blue-eyed fair or red haired people, who had freckles and were the descendants of Kiwa. Secondly, the Kiritea of the golden skin, black-shining hair and dark, almond-shaped eyes with a double fold in the eyelid.

The Urukehu are said to have arrived out of the west. The Kiritea are said to have an Asian connection. In that regard Waitaha assert a relationship to Tibet.

When did Waitaha reach Aotearoa?

The Wananga records that Te Kupenga o Te Ao, who was born 77 generations ago, sailed from Easter Island to Aotearoa and then returned to that homeland. Such a long voyage would be made along a chain of islands with Rarotonga in the Cook Islands as the shore of final departure. If 25 years is allowed for each generation that means she reached Aotearoa some 1925 years ago. That predates the established history of settlement by some 1200 years. To add to the issue she records that there were already people here. Those earlier settlers are named and recorded in the old lore. 

Friday, 17 February 2012

What evidence supports the Waitaha Histories?

At present a fierce debate rages over when Aotearoa was first settled. While it remains largely unresolved a vast array of new material has been generated by the debate.

The Pacific Rat

In 1991 Dr Richard Holdaway, an extinction biologist, stunned the academic world when he published a paper that said Pacific Rat bones he had recovered during an excavation in a South Island cave returned a radio-carbon date that placed them in Aotearoa at least 2,000 years ago. This was a huge surprise to him and everyone else; they were here 1200 years too soon.

These rats were not native to Aotearoa and unlike the Norwegian Rat they can’t swim. They could only reach this far-flung land as stowaways on vessels navigated by people. Such was the excitement about this dating that Dr Holdaway was challenged to find and provide more rat bone to be C14 dated. He recovered more rat bone in a North Island cave in Hawkes Bay. In addition he recovered bird bone and ensured his finds were excavated below the ash of a known volcanic eruption reliably dated as 230 AD.

The results added fuel to the flames because the original 2,000-year-old dates held up and some bones were even older. This added credibility to his earlier results.

The presence of the rats as an indicator of human arrival is still a matter of great debate. However, at a New Zealand archaeological conference a few years ago, when asked for a show of hands, 52% voted that there were people here before the established date of 1200 AD.

The fires that burned too often

Pollen analysis: A whole new science has developed in recent decades to help reconstruct the landscape of the past and understand human impact upon it. This involves taking core samples through the bed of an existing lake or bed of a former lake. When the probe goes deep to gather cores it penetrates ancient layers of time that reveal landscapes that existed in the distant past. And record in several ways the intervention of humankind.

Two main components bring the past into today. Pollens that drifted in the air hit the water surface of the lake and sink to the bottom. There, in the sludge of that age, they survive. Protected, coated and clothed by nature and free of oxygen, they do not decay. When captured within the core, identified and counted layer upon layer they reveal a vivid picture of the past and a date. Charcoal fragment, minute particles born of fire also drift in the wind and find they way to the bottom of a lake and remain until captured by the core. They too tell their story and for those who study these things the fires suddenly become too frequent to be caused by lightning.

When the forests start to be replaced by bracken fern, an indicator of clearing for gardening, and the fires ramp up to suggest burning and clearing and cooking, people announce their presence. These things say we are here.

Pollen dating and fire frequency supports Holdaway’s work providing at dates that often exceed 2,000 years of occupation.


The genealogies or whakapapa, held by Waitaha and other iwi, support arrival some 2,000 years ago. That sacred chain of knowledge, that honours their ancestors through the ages, has been kept intact over many centuries.

Many marae have ancestors, of the time of the Nation of Waitaha, carved into their Meeting Houses. The knowledge of the ancient days is recorded not only in chants and stories but also by the sharp edge of the blade.

‘We know our story, we know the truth of our past,’ say the elders. ‘It is not for others to decide our past, to question if we ever existed and write our story to meet their expectations.’

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Did Polynesian voyagers reach South America?

For decades historians have wondered if the great Polynesian navigators reached South America. Many thought it was likely because kumara, the sweet potato, which was native to Peru, was growing in the Pacific islands long before Europeans sailed into those waters.

A huge breakthrough came in 2007, when chicken bones were found in an archaeological dig in South America. The news made headlines around he world.

When Dr Lisa Matisso-Smith, of the University of Auckland, an expert in unravelling migration patterns in the Pacific, examined the chicken bones excavated from an archaeological site in Chile, dated 1300 BP, [Before Present] her findings were startling.

Lisa matched them to an identical DNA sequence found in bones near Ha’afeva village in the Ha’apai chain of Tonga, and Fatumafutu, at the entrance to Pago Pago Harbour in American Samoa — 10,000 km from Chile.

That remarkable story, with its wonderful mix of mystery and science, reveals the potential of DNA analysis. It opens fascinating windows into the past.

Lisa focuses on domestic chickens, pigs and dogs, and stowaway rats, to map the movement of people across the vast waters of the Pacific. For a variety of reasons it’s easier to track animal DNA than that of people.

Michael Field, in an article in the Christchurch Press, shares the chicken news and provides a wider context for the story…

Bones tell the story

‘About 600 years ago, a family on the Chilean coast sat down to a chicken dinner. The bird had laid blue eggs and had no tail but that wasn’t what was odd; Mapuche Indians were not supposed to have that chicken at all.

‘Now, ground breaking New Zealand research has shown that rather than Columbus and the Spanish having taken the first chickens to South America, the Polynesians made a 10,000 kilometre, pre-European delivery.

“Who discovered America?” asks biological anthropologist Elizabeth Matisoo-Smith of Auckland University, where, along with Lower Hutt’s GNS Science’s Rafter Radiocarbon Laboratory, the research was done. “There were people in America when he arrived and there were people visiting them long before Columbus arrived.”

‘Horticulturalists lived on Chile’s Arauco Peninsula about 1,000 years ago, leaving ceramic litter behind them, which archaeologists have recently unearthed, along with 50 chicken bones, probably from about five birds…

‘Rafter said the bones were 622 years old, plus or minus 35 years — about 1385, when the Black Death was sweeping Europe. Columbus first arrived in America in 1492.

No wonder this was world news! It was presented to the scientific world in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a prestigious United States institution.

Michael field’s article continues…

‘But the paper doesn’t really answer a deeper mystery; who were the Polynesians who swept so fast out of Asia 3,000 years ago, populating a vast swathe of the Pacific, including New Zealand, and reaching South America 800 years ago?

“It was highly unlikely that when they got to the edge of eastern Polynesia triangle that they encountered any signs saying— NO MORE ISLANDS PAST THIS POINT — I think they have just continued voyaging. I always basically believed Polynesians reached South America; it was finding evidence that was the hard bit,” said Matisoo-Smith.

‘Polynesians, and their predecessors, the Lapita people, whose pottery can be found in Melanesia, arrived with chickens from Asia. Chicken bones were first found in Pacific archaeological sites 3000 years ago in the Solomon Islands. It was another 1500 to 2000 years before people and chickens reached central and east Polynesia.

‘What has been a mystery is the presence of kumara in Polynesia. It first showed up in Mangaia in the Cook Islands about 1000 AD.

‘In 1947, Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl built a balsawood raft, which he named Kon-Tiki, to demonstrate that the south Americans drifted to Polynesia with kumara… but critical scientists could not accept until now, that Polynesians went to South America and came back with it.’

‘Computer simulations show that although sailing into the winds from the islands to south America was a significant technological and navigational challenge, it was possible. Regular winds from Rapa Nui or Easter Island would actually take a sailor to the Arauco Peninsula.’

The chicken bones establish stunning scientific proof of a Polynesian—South America voyaging connection.

                                                           Painting by Herb Kane

When we turn to the traditional teachings of Waitaha, in Aotearoa/New Zealand, they speak of the waka [canoe] Arai Te Uru, under the command of Tamatea Mai Tawhiti, sailing to South America and then returning to Easter Island with kumara. Then sixty-eight generations ago, when Ra Kai Hau sailed to Aotearoa, the chants document the kumara’s journey from Easter Island to Aotearoa. It was referred to as the ‘peace child’ and was strapped beneath the breast of the women on the colonising canoe. It was bound to them with fibre cloth for protection because it was considered vulnerable and so vital to their future it had to be nurtured day and night. And it remained with that woman until it was time to allow shoots to grow and be cut off to begin a garden where they made landfall. 

Did the navigators also reach North America? Michael Field writes…

‘Polynesians probably went to California as well. When they got to America, they left behind fragments of language, art and fish bones, as well as chickens, dogs and rats…’

But that’s another story that hold its own space in its own file. See you there!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

‘The unthinkable — Hawaii to California in a canoe’

‘Archaeological evidence led them to a remarkable conclusion’

Dr Terry Jones, of the California Polytechnic State University, and his colleague Dr Kathryn Klar, of the University of California, are making waves; big waves that have generated great tides of contention. Their research plunged them into troubled waters where others thought they could not swim.

Step-by-step, archaeological evidence led them to a startling conclusion. They detected sudden and remarkable changes in the life of the Chumash and Gabrielino Indian tribes of Southern California.

All cultures changed over time, that’s a given, and most changes in ancient societies are thought to pivot around the environment and how people adapt as it changes. The view that ‘environment is the engine of change’ has held sway for a number of decades. It’s dominated the American scientific scene. Jones and Klar concluded that the changes they saw in the two tribes — came from the ‘outside their environment’ not from ‘within’. Strangers had arrived to introduce significant, useful technologies that were very new.

‘It’s about building a better boat’

Sometime after 400 AD the Chumash and Gabrielino began building canoes that were remarkably different, in fact in a way that was unique in North America. They were ‘plank-sewn canoes’ that were totally unlike their old boats.

Jones and Klar explain…

‘The plank canoe, or tomolo, used by the Chumash and Gabrielino between the Channel Islands and the mainland of Southern California has long been recognised as a uniquely sophisticated craft for prehistoric America.

‘The distinguishing feature of these boats is their woodwork, which included hand-hewn planks, sewn together with cordage and caulked with Asphaltum sealer.’

First recorded in 1542, by Cabrillo, they have been documented in some detail by numerous European explorers since. However, John Peabody Harrison gathered the greatest collection of data between 1913 and 1957, running to 3,000 hand-written pages.

These canoes were up to 25 feet long, could carry a dozen people and were used for fishing, trade and carrying people from island to island and along the mainland shore. All other North American craft were dugouts, balsa log/rafts or skin/bark canoes. The only other sewn-plank canoe known in North, Central and South America was found in the Gulf of Coronado, in Central Chile.

                                                                                                  Bettina Barrett

The Chilean craft sends us back to the chicken bones sourced to Tonga and Samoa. Is it another link in the voyaging history of the Polynesians? For there is no doubt that the sewn-plank canoe was important in Polynesian life and the world of their ancestors. It’s an exported technology, a very special form of boat building that goes back to the Philippines and beyond and is found in island after island between. The list is endless — Guam, the Marianas, Carolines, New Hebrides, Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, Tuamotu, the Marquesas and Easter Island, are but a few.

‘It’s about a better hook to catch a fish’

If a better boat means a better way to catch a fish, then a better fishhook is even better. To suggest the sewn-plank boat design proves Polynesians, who held the patent on it, actually exported it to California, is not enough to prove that connection. There has to be more if we are allowed to think the ‘unthinkable’ — a Hawaiian-California connection.

That’s why the ‘sudden’ appearance of a new style of fishhook in the Santa Barbara Channel becomes important. The word ‘sudden’ might seem a bit odd when it’s applied to a few centuries but that sits better when we realise the ‘sudden bit’ is the first real change in perhaps 10,000 years.

For thousands of years the locals fished with a piece of straight bone sharpened to a wicked point at both ends; it was called a gorge. A line was tied to the centre and baited and if your luck held, lodged in the throat of a fish that you carefully hauled aboard. While, this method served well for years beyond recall, a simple two-piece bone hook— one being a straight shank and the other the sharp business end — was developed. It didn’t replace the gorge that had served them well, merely added to their kit. It clearly took longer to make and depended on a join that might break.

Then along came the fisherman who ground away at a shell some 3,000 years ago and made a curved hook. This also took on but didn’t displace the other two. Their kit was slowly improving as thousands of years slipped by. Then comes the ‘sudden change’ the focus of our story.

Sometime after 400 or 500 AD, it’s hard to be precise on this, an intriguing new style of fishhook appeared — a two-piece fishhook with a difference. Instead of
binding two straight pieces of bone together to catch a fish, this hook introduces curves. It’s a very stylish hook, a very successful hook and a very important hook because it mimics the beautifully curved Polynesian two-piece variety.

'Did they catch more fish?'

The ‘accidental’, ‘coincidental’ or ‘parallel invention’ of such an innovative and effective hook, just happened to overlap with the ‘arrival’, on the fishing scene, of the unique sewn-planked canoe. Moreover, this rather special hook doesn’t appear north or south of the Chumash–Gabrielino tribal area. It’s theirs and theirs alone, but does it give them an edge when fishing?

Changes in their catch are clear proof of that. This curved bone hook was better. Midden remains reveal an ever-increasing haul of swordfish, blue shark, short fin mako shark, albacore and other tuna. All are open-sea fish that can be reached in a better boat and caught with a better hook. So while, on archaeological grounds, the ‘unthinkable’ becomes more and more reasonable, there’s another line of enquiry still to purse. It’s from the world of historical linguistics, the place where the shape and sound of words can be tracked over thousands of years.  

‘Words open ancient trails that echo through the ages’

In the world of science it’s interesting to hear people speak about ‘words as artifacts’. When we think of artifacts, stone tools, carved wood, bone hooks, shell amulets, really solid pieces of the past usually come to mind. However, words that have been borrowed by one culture from a very different one can stand out. English is a wonderful example of how a language is enriched by borrowing and how we often sense the origin of a word, be it French, Spanish, Latin or Greek.

The words under scrutiny here are those used by the Chumash and Gabrielino for their boats. If you acquire a new boat design from a culture with a totally different language, you want to name it. After all its so unlike your old dugout design, the balsa/raft pulled up on the shore or the skin covered canoe, that it needs a new name. The suggestion is that those who brought the sewn-plank model to the Americas offered its name too.

                                                                                                  Bettina Barrett

However, borrowing from a totally unrelated language has its difficulties; they often lack corresponding sounds. For instance it’s impossible to bring the Zulu ‘click’ sound, that’s made in the back of the throat, into English. It’s very difficult to carry some English sounds into German, Chinese and Japanese because of the difficulty they have with ‘w’ and ‘v’. We speak of borrowed words, taken into English, as being anglicised, changed to suit the English tongue, modified to suit the speaker’s ability to best make that sound. So, linguistics is about words moving through time and different cultures, and how they change. It’s about the original sound for an object shifting, in subtle, but recognisable ways, to become comfortable in its adopted home.

The historical linguist looks behind a word, tracks its evolution, becomes a ‘sound detective’ who follows a logical, often predictable path of change to identify its language of birth. It’s a fascinating world of word research. It brings exciting new evidence of how, and where, and when, the lives of different peoples intersected. It’s that research into ‘word as artifact’ we venture into now.

‘One word seems to become another but they still might be sister and brother’

‘Axipenes’ was the Chumash word for their dugout canoe, but when they began constructing the sophisticated sewn-plank canoe, they called the radically new design ‘tomolo’. That word didn’t come from neighbouring tribes because they didn’t have such vessels. Furthermore, the Chumash language is totally isolated from others, it having no known language relatives in North America or elsewhere. ‘Tomolo’ was so different from ‘axipenes’ it got Kathryn Klar historical linguists thinking. Was it borrowed from somewhere outside of America?

With the sewn-plank canoe so prominent in the Pacific, the hunt focused on that world. To cut the story short, linguists discovered ‘tumu-Raa‘au’ in Polynesia meant ‘wood that was made useful’ or if you will, tree trunks that were split and shaped and planked. When first borrowed into Chumash, the sounds of that Polynesian word became ‘tumula-o’ and later ‘tomolo’o’ and eventually just ‘tomolo’. It’s easy to follow the ‘tumu’ to ‘tomo’ shift. It’s harder for the uninitiated to see ‘raa’au’ becoming ‘la-o’ but it helps if you say the ‘raa’ and ‘la’ sounds over and over again and hear their closeness and imagine the shift. Finally, the Polynesian ‘au’ is a difficult one for most English speakers to handle well. It’s a challenging sound that generally comes out as a kind of ‘ah-oh’. So, it’s not hard to envisage the Chumash settling in time for a simple ‘o’. Thus we finish up with ‘tomolo’. The linguistic link with Polynesian sewn-plank canoes is very solid one.

Terry Jones and Kathryn Klar, end their paper on the Hawaii-California connection with these words…

‘Similarities in the style of the shared items are very strong, techniques of their construction are nearly identical, and their design, particularly for the planked watercraft, is elaborate and technically complex enough to make independent invention highly unlikely.’

‘… the combination of linguistic and archaeological findings… offer a classic case… that probably would not be questioned if not for the vast expanse of ocean separating the donor and the recipient cultures.’

‘Conquering the vast expanse of ocean’

Hawaii and California are 3,360 kilometres or 2,112 miles apart. That’s about 150 kilometres less than a voyage from Easter Island to Chile, the assumed place of departure for those who carried the famous chickens to the shores of South America some 700 years ago.

Those who sail modern yachts from Hawaii to California today, depart early in summer, around November – December, to pick up favourable winds. By sailing north from Hawaii, until the Pacific High is cleared, they come to strong westerly winds that fill your sails to speed their vessel east to California.

To satisfy the critics, who see the ocean between Hawaii and North America as a daunting physical barrier, let’s review the state of Polynesian voyaging around 400 to 900 AD. By this time the voyaging canoes were superb craft guided by navigators who were able to tap into centuries of accumulated lore relating to the location of countless islands fixed in memory by the stars. When they sailed to meet the challenge of tomorrow, they sailed with the wisdom of many yesterdays; knowledge sometimes won at great cost by their ancestors. As maritime nations they were complete.

It’s this expertise that saw voyaging canoes leave the southern hemisphere, cross the equatorial currents, conquer the doldrums and reach the Hawaiian Islands. In 2001, Hale Makua, one of the last Hawaiian kahuna, shared with me some crucial Polynesian voyaging lore.

I’d been trying to unravel the Hawaiian story and been intrigued by a particular people who seemed to drift in and out of the established history. Were they real or just a myth? There were associated with mysterious stone workings and other tantalising glimpses of earlier voyagers? So I’d asked Makua — Who were the Menehune of Hawaii?

He smiled and said, ‘I am Menehune. We existed and still exist and we hold the story of the past. Our ancestors who sailed from South America to Tahiti, on to the Tuamotus, the Marquesas and eventually to Hawaii.’ South America was not cited as his homeland of distant origin for he placed that elsewhere.

Makua assured me that return voyages were part of that age. He held a map of the location of a great school of learning in Tahiti, where the old lore was taught before Hawaii came into the Polynesian orbit and where they sailed for learning later. He went further, linking Hawaii, Tahiti and Aotearoa/New Zealand in a voyage made by Maoritu with a navigator named Hema. Then he surprised me by describing voyages from Hawaii to North and Central America. For him these long voyages were very ‘matter of fact’, a given that didn’t need to be proved.

The old knowledge joined all that has been with all was still to come. It wove ancestor into ancestor, creating a cord of remembrance touched by the sacred, for within it the spirit of the Ancestors lived on.

I love these words by Anais Nin…  ‘We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.’  When we probed the old knowledge from the past, what do we make of it? Sometimes good history and sometimes farce! 

We sailed too far

Crossed too many horizons
To convince some who
Now weigh us with their words

We trusted older tides
And deeper currents
Touched stars beyond the reach
Of those who try to follow
They circle the ocean
    We are of it 
 Copyright 2012  Barry Brailsford 


Terry L. Jones & Kathryn A. Klar — 2005, American Antiquity, 70 (3)]

Julienne L. Bernard — 2001, The Origins of Open-Ocean and Large Species Fishing in the Cumash Region of Southern California, Masters thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of California.