Centuries before European explorers ventured beyond their shorelines, the ancestors of today’s Polynesians had sailed to every habitable island in the far corners of the Pacific. This ancient Polynesian sea voyaging tradition comes to life again in Wayfinders: A Pacific Odyssey. The film sweeps viewers into a seafaring adventure with a community of Pacific Islanders as they build traditional sailing canoes, learn how to follow the stars across the ocean and embark on a 2,000-mile voyage in the wake of their ancestors. As with many indigenous peoples, the cultural identity of Polynesians has become obscured by western belief systems, history and economics. Filmmaker Gail Evenari focuses on the revival of one area of this deeply rooted culture: “wayfinding” — the art of navigating a canoe across long distances using only natural signs: the sun, the moon, the stars and the ocean swells.
Through on-board interviews, training sessions, archival images and breathtaking sailing footage, Wayfinders: A Pacific Odyssey reveals how the legacy of wayfinding connects modern Polynesians to their past and helps them face the challenges of the future. The islanders embark on a wayfinding journey using oral traditions, archaeological discoveries and experimental voyages. Along the way, these techniques help them resolve controversial issues in their history and reclaim their cultural heritage as skilled oceanic explorers.
The origins of the Polynesians have fascinated explorers and historians for hundreds of years. Wayfinders: A Pacific Odyssey addresses the issue from a Polynesian point of view and challenges some commonly accepted theories, including Thor Heyerdahl’s claim that the first Polynesians drifted from South America.
To the Pacific Islanders, wayfinding has more significance than the act of sailing from one island to another. Nainoa Thompson is the first Hawaiian in hundreds of years to learn the ancient skills and spiritual dimension of celestial navigation. Since he began studying with Micronesian navigator Mau Piailug about 20 years ago, Thompson has become a master in his own right. He has navigated more than 50,000 miles to most of the major island groups of Polynesia. By teaching wayfinding to other Pacific Islanders, Thompson has begun the process of recovering the spirit and practice of ancestral seafaring traditions. Wayfinders: A Pacific Odyssey concludes as student navigators sail six canoes from the Marquesas Islands to Hawaii. The culmination of years of canoe building, training crews and navigators, and organizing logistics and safety precautions, the 2,000-mile voyage is a stunning success.
Running time: 47 minutes