John Grayzel


Polynesian civilization was configured—prior to Western colonization—in ways similar to that sometimes described as necessary for humanity's interstellar migration into space. Over thousands of years and miles, across open ocean, a core population expanded to settle on hundreds of scattered islands, while maintaining shared identity, continued awareness and repetitive contact with each other. Key to their expansion was their development of robust ocean-going vessels and their extraordinary abilities to navigate across vast expanses of open water. The first half of the 1800s saw a surge in contacts between Polynesia and western missionaries and whalers, followed by significant depopulation due to disease and, after 1850, the imposition of Western political control. The result was a dramatic disruption of many elements of Polynesian life. At the same time, the propensity of many outsiders was to characterize Polynesia as uncivilized or as an “arrested” civilization. However, in the 1970s, there began a pan-Polynesian revitalization, including, and exhilarated by, the resurrection of traditional blue ocean navigation. This paper explores this role of navigation as a major institutional repository of Polynesian civilization writ large, as well as the analytic importance of differentiating between “culture” and “civilization”, and the possibility that Polynesian civilization is beginning a “gregarious flowering”1 in preparation for its participation in the coming dispersal of humanity into interstellar space.