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Voyaging In The Pacific


Voyaging Podcast

Play the audio file below as you click on each image to learn more


a display of boats in a glass case.

Hōkūle‘a Blog Post

Hōkū meaning star in Hawaiian, and leʻa meaning gladness; Hōkūleʻa is our star of joy or gladness. Also called Arcturus, our star of joy is an important tool for navigation along with Hikianalia or Spica. Before the use of modern instruments, our ancestors needed to rely on tools like the stars, currents, birds and wind patterns in order to navigate their way through the open ocean…


Experience the science of Hawai‘i in your own backyard using these family fun activities and resources!

Wind & Land Adventure Game

Observe different ways that land affects the wind and match it to the correct wind type. Learn about different types of wind and try to take advantage of the different winds surrounding your waʻa (canoe) to get to your final destination faster! Download the powerpoint file to start your journey at home!

Family Voyage

This ‘ohana scavenger hunt can be done inside or outside, the fun cannot be contained! One family member will be tasked with creating the scavenger hunt and writing down directions. It can be complicated or simple, depending on how much time you have and the age range of your group.


Wayfinders: Waves, Winds, and Stars (Video One)

The first of our videos about Polynesian navigation. Learn some basics of how Polynesian Voyaging Society navigators use the stars to find their way across vast stretches of open ocean. A virtual adaptation of our signature show Wayfinders: Waves, Winds, and Stars.

Wayfinders: Waves, Winds, and Stars (Video Two)

The second of our videos about Polynesian navigation. This video builds off the first one and introduces the basics of the Hawaiian Star Compass. A virtual adaptation of our signature show Wayfinders: Waves, Winds, and Stars.

Be a Part of Our Story

Celebrate the extraordinary history, culture, and environment of Hawaiʻi and the Pacific with a gift to Bishop Museum. As a partner in the Museum’s work, you can help to sustain vital collections, research, and knowledge, and inspire exploration and discovery with a tax-deductible donation.

a wooden wall with a map of australia on it.
Our Pacific Ocean is home to more than 20,000 inhabited islands and holds one-quarter of the world’s languages. Although our islands are spread apart geographically, we are a close-knit society of cultures that share many similarities. For example, Pacific Island languages share many  of the same root words and meanings.  
ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi (Hawaiian):   Honua — Moana — Ahi — Mea ʻai 
Gagana Sāmoa (Sāmoan): Fanua — Moana — Afi — Meaʻai 
Te Reo Māori (Māori):                Whenua — Moana — Ahi — Kai 
English:                                                  Land — Ocean — Fire — Food 
The term Oceania is also used commonly to refer to the “blue continent” of the Pacific Ocean, which includes the cultural areas sometimes called Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. These terms were created by people outside the Pacific to understand Oceania on their own terms, but as we are reminded by Pacific author Epeli Hauʻofa, “Oceania is vast, Oceania is expanding, Oceania is hospitable and generous, Oceania is humanity rising from the depths of brine and regions of fire deeper still, Oceania is us. We are the sea, we are the ocean.” 
a display of toothbrushes and toothpaste in a glass case.

Adzes made from shell are found in some parts of the Western Pacific and are common across coral atolls where volcanic stone is not readily available. Called koʻi, toʻi, or toki, adzes are tools that cut and carve materials like wood. Adzes are some of the most important tools needed to carve voyaging canoes, food-pounding boards, and house parts. The short, whitish adzes shown in this image are made from the thick shell of the giant clam (Tridacna gigas) that is found in warmer waters around the Pacific, but not in places like Hawaiʻi, Aotearoa New Zealand, or Rapa Nui. 

a close up of a piece of wood on display.

These shells come from sea snails in the Turbinidae family, sometimes referred to as turbo shells. There are many pan-Pacific species in Turbinidae, including an endemic species found only in Hawaiʻi! The shells shown here represent shell midden found during archaeological digs, which help archaeologists understand what kinds of foods people ate in the past and how much of it was available. 

a display case with a wooden bowl and some earrings.

Across the Pacific, specialized tools are used for gathering or hunting food in the environment. In Aotearoa New Zealand, hunting on land was tasked with experts who might use spears with bone points to bring down birds for food and feathers. On the water, tools like fishhooks were among the most common tools needed to bring home reliable sources of protein. This image shows two different fishhooks, both made from animal bone. The larger of the two shows an important aspect of using hooks to catch fish: the short distance between the shank (the back of the hook) and the point means that once the hook is caught in the corner of the fish’s mouth, it is extremely difficult for the fish to maneuver itself free! 

a display of boats and other items in a museum.

Fishhook technology in the Pacific has always been adapted to work in many contexts. These are fishing lures used predominantly for catching Pacific tuna species, like aku (skipjack tuna). In places where tuna are not readily found, the same idea of fishing lures was adapted to catch other varieties of fish, like kahawai (Arripis trutta) in Aotearoa New Zealand.  The hooks rely on a fish-like shape, made of pearl shell, to attract the target fish, and a curved, tapering point that hooks into the corner of the fish’s mouth. These lures are intended to work without needing bait, since they take the overall form of the baitfish the tuna want to eat. This display shows the similarities in design and reminds us of commonality across the Pacific Ocean. 

a display case with a variety of items on it.

Besides being used for catching food, shells from marine invertebrates are also used to prepare some of our favorite island food staples. In warm parts of the Pacific, bivalves are commonly eaten. Species like oysters, which grow large shells, can also be made into implements and adornments. Fishhooks in places like Tahiti and the Marquesas are often made from pieces of large black-lip pearl oyster (Pinctada margaritifera), attractive to fish because they shine underwater. These same shells can also be used to make scraping tools for barkcloth making and food preparation. The two long, curved pieces of pearl shell shown here are used for scraping the white meat of the niu, or coconut, out of its rounded shell. Sections of the shell are notched to create grating teeth, upon which is pressed the interior of the open coconut shell, full of white meat. Coconut grating tools are common in most of the island Pacific, and in some island groups, the notched shell grater is mounted onto a seat, so the person grating the coconut meat can simply sit down and grate whenever necessary. The shell is held in two hands and moved quickly and carefully, producing fine shaved bits of coconut meat. 

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