Once upon a time Polynesian sailors could cross 6,000 miles of open ocean and land on a tiny pinpoint of an island using only the stars and waves as guides. Most of those navigators have died, and their secret knowledge with them. This film records one of the last navigators as he teaches his art to fairly clueless students. To demonstrate his skill for the benefit of the students and skeptical Westerners, he navigates across the Pacific with a film crew. The last navigator uses an oral ballad handed down through generations and encoded with instructions as the compass, and without sleeping much he watches the complex interactions of the waves to gauge speed and direction. At the end of weeks he arrives in Hawaii on schedule. A simple film showing what the human mind can do. It also honors the sophistication of supposedly simple societies.
(This film was formerly only available at overpriced “educational” prices, but it is now available as a low resolution digital download for a reasonable consumer price, which is how I watched it. While the price is great, the quality is just barely acceptable. Think YouTube.)
The Navigators: Pathfinders of the Pacific
1983, 59 min.
Available from Documentary Educational Resources