Traditional Navigation in the Western Pacific


Keeping the Knowledge Alive


As should now be evident, sustaining the total body of navigational knowledge in the absence of writing is accomplished first by organizing it, making it systematic and schematic. It is taught and learned in this organized form. Indeed, it is over-learned with the use of standardized drills and exercises that build in redundancy and that are continually rehearsed.

fig 17, Instruction on the

For memory storage much of the lore is also embedded in chants. The metric and tonal structures of Carolinian chant forms provide aids to recall. These chants are often cryptic in content, requiring commentary in order to understand them.

A trainee will learn the words of a chant first. When he has the words down, his teacher will supply the necessary interpretive commentary. If a teacher should die without having passed on the commentary, his pupil must make the best sense of the chant he can. In time, he will develop his own interpretation and commentary in the light of his other knowledge and actual experience. It is interesting to note that this new interpretation may be quite different from the original and yet still be workably consistent with reality.

Interesting, too, is the evident elaboration of navigational lore beyond practical requirements. The record shows that navigators have enjoyed playing with the possibilities within their system, elaborating on them apparently for the fun of it and to show off virtuosity. Since European entry into Micronesia, navigators have added sailing directions to new places they had not known before; and they have equated newly encountered places with formerly mythical ones, thus validating them. By playing with their system and adding to it whenever possible, they keep it alive.




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