Likewise, the researchers weren’t the first to learn that Maori travelers might have reached Antarctica so long ago; the feat was well known in certain communities, such as near Bluff, New Zealand’s southernmost town, said Dr. Watene. She and her colleagues relied on the archives of oral tradition to understand the early connection between Maori and Antarctica.
“People have very clear transmission roots of knowledge and very secure methods of passing on information,” said Dr. Wehi and rejected the notion of some historians that oral tradition was an unreliable source.
“Why wouldn’t we find a continent if we could find the most remote islands in the world?” Asked Keolu Fox, a geneticist at the University of California, San Diego, who was born in Hawaii and was not involved in the studies. Native Hawaiians and Maori are both Polynesian peoples.
Dr. Fox pointed to a traditional, double-hulled touring canoe dating from 1975 that has sailed around the world using traditional Polynesian wayfinding techniques. “Do we literally have to saddle Hokulea to prove it to you?”
In the fall of 2020, the authors hosted a series of virtual seminars to bring researchers and the Maori community together to discuss this story. (The coronavirus pandemic derailed their original plan to meet in person.) Attendees shared stories that expanded the team’s knowledge of existing narratives, such as Hui Te Rangiora’s, and revealed numerous new ones to attendees Dr. Watene.
The team also consulted traditional carvings, some of which depict the voyage of Hui Te Rangiora and the presence of the southern oceans on the navigational charts of the early Polynesian navigators of the sky. And archaeologists have observed ovens, hollows, and stone tools on sub-Antarctic islands as early as the 14th century, suggesting that Polynesians lived in the region for at least one summer.
The researchers found many more connections than expected in recent history. In 1840, the Maori sailor Te Atu was the first New Zealander to see the Antarctic coast on board a US expedition to the southern oceans. At the turn of the 20th century, Maori sailors were recruited for whaling expeditions because of their harpoon experience. And from the 1950s, three Maori men joined the New Zealand Antarctic program as foremen, sailors and diesel engineers. Engineer Robert Sopp carved a figurehead with a saying about friends to give to McMurdo Station, one of the United States’ Antarctic outposts.