Traditional Navigation in the Western Pacific


Navigator as Ritual Specialist


Protective ritual is another part of what a navigator must learn. He is said to be the "father" of his crew, who depend on him for their welfare.

Properly invoking patron spirits of navigation, carefully observing necessary taboos, employing spells to prevent storms and ward off sharks, providing protective amulets for the vessel are also among a navigator's responsibilities and among the things he must learn. He should also know enough of the special rhetoric and spells associated with politics and diplomacy to ensure hospitality and safe conduct for himself and his crew on arrival at other islands.

Such knowledge is especially useful where voyagers do not have kin connections and where people are likely therefore to be suspicious and even overtly hostile.

fig 13, A venerable navigator at 
home on Satawal

Their ritual knowledge, particularly, sets navigators apart. To exercise their office, they must observe various taboos. They must avoid sexual intercourse before undertaking a voyage and until safe return home. They may eat only such food as has been separately prepared for them. The boathouse is their special preserve.




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