The Great Voyage | A Glimpse into Polynesian Mythology

Every branch of Polynesian mythology has tales of great voyages. They are stories that speak of heroes and heroines who set out on journeys to discover new lands, revisit old homelands, seek adventure or procure valuable goods.

The characters in Polynesian mythology are often said to make use of magical objects to aid them on their journey. From magic boats, to paddles, to fishhooks, to baskets: the protagonists of the stories always possess help to guide them on their quest. In addition to magical objects, supernatural phenomena also came to their aid. As a seafaring people, this included the winds, the meteors, the creatures under the sea and so on.

The sea was undoubtedly a hazardous place. There were monsters that lived in the sea, giant octopuses, whirlpools, storms and hidden reefs. Even the islands themselves could wander off or float away–never to return ever again. It was a wild world out at sea.

Despite how fantastically marvellous these stories were, they also contained extremely specific details and instructions that could be used in real life. For instance: what tools to use to prevent a boat from sinking, what food to eat, as well as how the stars are placed during certain points of the year.

As a general rule, voyages were made to fetch valuable objects–eggs, feathers, pearls and rocks. They were even made to find lost family members or to find a suitable spouse. In certain cases, a family member had set off to find new territory after a quarrel had ensued in the can. At other times, they sailed away due to famine, war or natural disaster.

In the Polynesian tradition, myths are interwoven with the knowledge that came from actual expeditions. Most of these voyaging stories detail successful journeys. Tragedy was not a popular genre among the Polynesians.

It seems, then, that stories of failure must not be worth narrating.


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