Aotearoa/New Zealand, 1280.
The maritime plan of most of human civilization during our period went as follows:
- Get boats.
- Put weapons on boats.
- Conquer neighboring countries either by military force or by overwhelming trade dominance.
- Instagram shots of you in front of London/Indrapura/Mogadishu.
- Go home.
The Polynesians, on the other hand, appeared to have a different plan:
- Build canoes.
- Sail out into the open ocean for four thousand miles.
- Sweet, Hawai’i!
As the world looked on in tolerant, baffled wonder for thousands of years [sidebar on Vikings], Polynesians repeated steps 1-4, especially step 3, which when you peeled off the little sticker with the question marks turned out to be “employ an array of sophisticated navigational techniques which remain in cultural transmission and even active use today. Also, when you reach an island, use an equally sophisticated array of terraforming techniques to make an unfamiliar landscape ecologically viable for human life. Also, eat a balanced diet, because scurvy is for white people.”
The Polynesians did their eastern Pacific exploration around our period, and may have settled Easter Island and Hawai’i around then, too, if not a little earlier. Polynesian colonies were set up on little stubs of volcanic rock, hideously isolated archipelagos, even sub-polar islands. They probably hung out with medieval Peruvians, or at least, they made enough American contact to get ahold of sweet potatoes. [Sidebar on sweet potatoes.] And they found New Zealand, and settled in, and those who stuck around became the Māori.
And then hundreds of years later the islands of the Polynesian triangle were conquered by Europeans and the Europeans did their damndest to put that little ??? sticker back on the four-part plan, because, you know, people without shirts could not possibly be world explorers. But we do not have to listen to them. When I said those navigational techniques are still in use today, I mean literally, today, because in August of this year a group of Maori sailors took off from New Zealand for Rapa Nui, the last leg of the Polynesian triangle that no one’s completed in the modern era, and according to their website they should be landing, in, like, twelve hours, if they haven’t already.