Closing the Triangle: A Quest for Rapa Nui

Polynesian Voyaging Society

Virtual Voyaging / Research and Action Projects

Students sign on as crew members and organize a virtual voyage aboard Hokule'a; they can follow the Polynesian Voyaging Society voyage to Rapa Nui (June 1999 - January 2000) via the PVS web-site or, in Hawai'i, via occassional televsion, newspaper and radio reports.

Telling the Story of the Voyage

Students imagine they are crew members on an ancient canoe and recreate in writing how Polynesian conducted their voyages of exploration and settlement of the Pacific centuries ago; or they write as modern travelers learning about the world of the open ocean and about peoples and cultures of the islands the canoe visits. As virtual crew members on the voyage, they write postcards, letters, or journals (daily or weekly) and, if they are writing on a computer connected to the internet, e-mail them to friends, family members, classmates, or students at other schools. These postcards, letters, or journal entries, brief, yet informative and perhaps imaginative and entertaining, will help spread the story of the voyage across the globe. Digital photos downloaded from an associated website may be attached to the e-mail as well.

The writing could include elements of fiction, with students creating scenarios on the canoe. (Such a fictional voyage could be set in ancient or modern times: What is daily life like? What sorts of cooperation or conflicts might be experienced on a 30-day voyage? What would be the consequences of conflicts? What sorts of hardships might be experienced? How would conflicts or hardships be resolved or overcome? etc. Scenarios could used to explore ethics and values of human interaction in a small space--the deck of the about ten feet by 40 feet, the ten canvas sleeping compartments 3 feet by 6 feet.)

The context of the student writing, like the student voyage itself, would be imaginary. If the virtual voyage is set in the distant past, the convention of writing a postcard, letter, or journal would be anachronistic, but still possible, as long as the students assume the virtual reality of the assignment. On a modern voyage, letters and postcards could not be sent until the canoe reaches an inhabited island with a post office, but a computer on board, with a satellite phone link, is being used to e-mail messages back to land.


Planning and Preparing for the Virtual Voyage

For each step of planning and preparing, students first brainstorm, then do research and refine their plans and preparations. Each step is an occassion for a short, informal essay or oral report.


Step 1. Getting to Know Your Vessel

Students research what Hokule'a looks like and how she sails (e.g., points of sail, tacking, and windward ability). This information will help the student understand the course strategy for different legs, the great sailing skill it would take to reach Rapa Nui today, and the great sailing skill it took for Polynesians to reach the island over 1500 years ago.

On-Line Resources:


Step 2. Sail Planning

Questions for Students: On a map of the Pacific trace out how you would sail to each of the destinations. How long would the canoe take to sail to each destinations? Are your routes and plans similar or different from the course strategies PVS plans to use? How can you account for the difference?

On-line Resources:


Step 3. Becoming a Crew Member

Questions for Students: You may either decide to join the actual crew of the canoe as a observer and reporter, or come up with your own crew of 12 from classmates, friends or people you know; or make-up an imaginary crew of 12 people. If you select a crew, whom did you choose? What roles would each crew member play? What criteria did you use to make your selections? Visit the PVS website to find information on crew positions and selection. Did you come up with a similar list of crew positions? Did you use the same kinds of criteria for selecting crew members? How can you account for any similarites and differences?

On-line Resources:


Step 4. Provisioning the Vessel

Questions for Students: What would you take with you to insure your survival and good health for 3-5 weeks at sea? Make lists of the following:

Remember that there are limits of weight and space on the canoe. Each person is limited to carrying what can be fitted into a 48 quart cooler--about the size of a regular suitcase. You may want to start by looking at the stuff you have in your house--bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, living room. How much of the stuff you have in your house is essential for survival or good-health? How much of it is non-essential? How do your lists of supplies compare with what others would bring? How can you account for any differences? Would you add or subtract anything from your lists?

On-line Resources:


Step 5. Preparing for the Voyage

Questions for Students: How would you prepare yourself--physically, mentally, spiritually--to fulfill your role for a voyage of 3-5 weeks? Compare your preparation plans with those of your classmates. How can you account for any differences? Would you modify the way you would prepare?

On-line Resources:


Research and Action Projects for "A Quest for Rapa Nui"

The voyage to Rapa Nui can be used as the basis for on-line or library research or writing assignments in Social Studies / Hawaiian Studies, Polynesian / Pacific Islands Studies, Science or Applied Math, or Language Arts classes; or in an interdisciplinary curriculum. It can be adapted for students from K-12 or college, of varying ability. A teacher may design his or her own research and writing assignments, with different emphases, depending on the subject being taught.

Researching any of the following topics before or during the voyage will help the student understand and appreciate the voyage and write more informative postcards, letters, and journals for the virtual voyage project. Students could write research reports and present their research to their classmates at appropriate times during the voyage:


I. Why We Explore

II. Meteorology of the Pacific

III. Naked-Eye Astronomy and Non-Instrument Navigation

IV. Sealife (Fish, Birds, and Mammals of the Open Ocean)

V. Geography, History, Culture, and Ecology of Islands in the Central and Eastern Pacific


I. Why We Explore

On-line Resources

Students brainstorm and write about why people explore the world about them. Why did the people who came to be known as the Polynesians leave the world of continents and large islands in the Western Pacific to explore a vast unknown Ocean, discovering and settling small islands to the east and becoming the greatest explorers of their time? (Was their motive love of adventure? Or curiosity about the unknown oceanic space at the eastern frontier? Was the impetus for exploration population growth and a search for new land and resources? Or conflicts in the home country, with those defeated forced to leave? Why do we explore today?

Possible Activities: Students conduct explorations of their communities. Ask students to think about, discuss, or write about the following: Where would you like to explore if you could explore anywhere, real or imaginary? Why would you look to explore that place? What benefit would exploration of that place have for you, or for your family or community? How would you go about conducting your exploration? How would you keep your exploration safe?

If one of the places selected for exploration is in the neighborhood, the class could make an actual visit and carry out the exploration (under the supervision of teachers and parents for young children).


II. Meteorology of the Pacific

Students research seasonal wind and weather patterns over the route of the voyage. This information will help the student understand the wind and weather conditions encountered by the canoe as it travels to Rapa Nui. It will also help the student understand and appreciate (1) the timing of the voyage; (2) the course strategy to Rapa Nui and to other destinations; (3) the difficulty of sailing to Rapa Nui, which lies 1450 miles upwind of Mangareva. Advanced Research: How are these seasonal wind and weather patterns created? Do the seasonal wind and weather patterns change from year to year or decade to decade or century to century? What causes these changes (El Nino, La Nina, Effects of Global Warming on Climate, etc.).

On-line Resources

Possible Activities: Comparing weather where the student is to weather on the canoe: Is the weather outside the same or different from the weather on the canoe? What is creating the weather in both places?


III. Naked-Eye Astronomy and Non-Instrument Navigation

Students research how it is possible to navigate without modern instruments using celestial bodies and other clues of nature that can help a person tell direction and latitude at sea or find land. This knowledge will help the student understand and appreciate what a great challenge it is to find a small island such as Rapa Nui (a triangle 10 x 11 x 13 miles) in the open ocean and what a great accomplishment it was for Polynesians to dis cover and settle the island over 1500 years ago. Knowledge about astronomy will also help the student understand the navigator's reports on guiding stars and other clues to direction and latitude during the voyage to Rapa Nui.

On-Line Resources:


Possible Activity: Going out at night to identify stars used in navigation. Students in Hawai'i and elsewhere should be able to see some of the stars the navigators will be using for direction and latitude. Note: Those in the northern hemisphere will not be able to see some of the stars in the southern sky; those in the southern hemisphere will not be able to see some of the stars in the northern sky; the rising and setting points of stars and their altitudes as they cross the meridian will also differ at different latitudes.


IV. Sealife (Fish, Birds, and Mammals of the Open Ocean)

At the PVS website, students access short descriptions and illustrations of sealife. This information will help students anticipate and understand why the voyagers see certain kinds of birds in different region or catch certain kinds of fish while trolling. It will also help students understand which birds can be used for finding land. Students may also wish to do background research on the ecology of the open ocean--how these birds and fish survive in this environment and what the structure of the food chain is.

On-line Resources:

Possible Activities: Field trip to a fish market to view and identify deep-sea fish; research into local fishing practices and fishing laws designed for sustainable recreational and commerical fishing; field trip to a bird island and sanctuary to view and identify sea birds; comparisons of reef fish with pelagic fish.


V. Geography, History, Culture, and Ecology of Islands in the Eastern Pacific

Students research the geography, history, and culture of any of the remote islands that will visited by Hokule'a--the Marquesas, Mangareva (Gambier Islands), Pitcairn, Rapa Nui, Rangiroa (Tuamotu Archipelago), and Tahiti. Research will be a challenge, as reports on these islands are neither numerous nor widely disseminated.

One of the themes of the voyage is sustainable living--on a canoe, on small islands in an ocean, on the planet earth, a small island in space: thus, a focus of research could be ecology and subsistence on small islands.

A. How have communities lived on these islands in the past? How did the Polynesians manage their resources to survive and flourish for ten or twenty or thirty centuries on their small islands? What cultural values and resouce management strategies did they use? What was the state of the different islands groups visited by European explorers, beginning in the sixteenth century? Were all the islands equally successful in protecting and conserving resources? What was the minimum land-base area needed to sustain a Polynesian settlement? What were the factors that brought about Rapa Nui's "tree-less" landscape? What kinds of lessons can we learn from the histories of these islands? What has happened to Hawai'i's forests since the coming of the Western economic systems. What is being done to restore and manage Hawai'i's forests. Are these steps sufficient?

B. How do communities live on small islands today? The small islands of the world have come under extreme pressures of modern Capitalism's expansion of population, consumption, and waste production and pollution. Many are suffering from environmental degradation and overcrowding. They are also in danger of losing land mass to rising seas that may be caused by the melting of the polar icecaps under global warming. Could these islands, like the canoe itself, be microcosms of the planet? Have they begun to manage the problems of limited resources and limited space and overconsumption and waste? If so, how? Are the industrial nations of the world doing anything about their wasteful consumption habits or the pollution that may be causing global warming? If so, what?

C. Taking Care of the World's Oceans: Students research ocean environmental issues such as pollution in the world's ocean, or why the stocks of ocean fisheries are declining today, and what steps are being taken to maintain a sustainable yield (One place to start the research of fishing is with Michael Parfit's article "Exploiting the Ocean's Bounty: Diminishing Returns" (National Geographic November 1995: 2-37.) Other Topics: Damage to/Loss of Coral Reef Habitats due to Global Warming, Pollution, and Human Use; Pollution of the World's Oceans from Shipping: Garbage and Oil Slicks Accumulating in Areas such as the Equatorial Doldrums. (See the Website for the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme [SPREP].)

D. Cultural Revival: Students research and write about the devastation of Polynesian population, cultures, and landscapes after the arrival of European and American explorers, imperialists, and colonialists; they could research the modern political and cultural movements to restore native culture and sovereignty in islands that have become colonies of Europe and America. For information and links about Hawaiian sovereignty, see the Nation of Hawai'i Website.

E. Malama Hawai'i? Students apply their ideas about living on islands to our island home: What is unique and special about our island home? What steps do we need to take today to protect what is unique and special? What could students do, or what have they done, to insure that their children and grandchildren and future generations will enjoy those things we love about Hawai'i today? What resources are being consumed daily in the communities where they live? What resources are renewable? unrenewable? What steps would they take to insure that the resources they have would be available to their children, grandchildren, and future generations in perpetuity? What groups in their communities have been active in working for a sustainable future? What kinds of potential conflicts are there in the community? How can these conflicts be resolved?

On-line Resources:

Possible Activities: Students do a project to restore, care for, enhance, or protect some part of Hawai'i's unique and precious heritage, environment, or community. See "Our Sacred Earth" and "Malama Hawai'i Projects" in this education packet.