Wednesday, June 16, 2021

History of Maori Antarctica

Maori carving at New Zealand's Scott Base, Antarctica

"Discovery" is mostly out of fashion these days, but Smithsonian Online has a nifty story up about the possibilities of a Polynesian discovery of Antarctica a thousand or so years ago.

They are not pulling artifacts out of the melting ice, but they are compiling extensive oral testimonies that broadly fit a pattern of Polynesian seafaring expansion from the south Asian islands throughout Polynesia to Hawaii, possibly South America, and New Zealand.  

Oral histories kept by Māori tribal groups Ngāti Rārua and Te Āti Awa tell of an explorer named Hui Te Rangiora who led the vessel Te Iwi-o-Atea to “a foggy, misty and dark place not seen by the sun,” finding summits that “pierce the skies” but are “completely bare and without vegetation on them.” Beyond describing Antarctic icebergs, the narratives include what appear to be references to marine mammals.

Coldwater voyaging in open boats, even to iceberg territory north of the southern continent, is surely a substantial expansion of the Polynesian range. On the other hand, the article cites evidence on the authority of oral traditions -- included the research of Mi'kmaq scholar Stephen Augustine of Cape Breton University on oral record-keeping.

Image: Smithsonian Online.  

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