Sea People by Christina Thompson

4 out of 5 stars

The Pacific is a vast ocean and I mean vast. When seen from space as the Earth rotates it takes us one complete half of the globe. It is 12,000 by 10,00 miles and all the landmasses on the earth can fit inside this area with still room for a second set of the American Continents. From space, it looks empty, just endless waves and swell and the ocean ebbs and flows with the tides.

But f you were to zoom in then suddenly specks of land appear in the blue. There are around 10,000 islands in this ocean. When the European explorers arrived several hundred years ago they often missed them. You can see why, because at sea level you would be hard pushed to see them unless you knew where to look. Or more importantly, knew how to find them in the endless water. Even in the modern age, these three regions of islands, Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia can be troublesome to navigate.

There have been people here living on these tiny dots of sand for a thousand years. They can trace their roots back to a group of voyagers who set out into the unknown ocean. This book is their story.

Thompson is well placed to write this, she is married to a Maori and him and his sons can trace their lineage directly back to these people. As they spread over the islands they developed their own societies, culture and folklore as well as learning how to read the waves and the swell and use the night sky to move between the island showed them where the next land was. It was something that the Europeans could not do, they would either miss them or come across them by accident.

The vessels that they used to get between the islands were specially designed for the sea journeys and were easy to make with the scarce resources that they had. She goes back through their history tracing their expansion across the ocean and they are chapters on how people tried to work out how they could be such successful navigators. They didn’t have metals and it was only relatively recently there it was discovered that they did have pottery when sites were excavated.

I thought that this was a fascinating book about a place that I knew almost nothing of before reading it. Her prose is sensitively written and well researched and the facts and details she reveals are fascinating. The people that populated the Pacific have a fairly unique set of skills when it comes to navigation across this vast ocean and Thompson teases out the details of the way that they manage it. If you want to learn more about how humanity is capable of adapting to the challenges that the planet throughs at it then I would suggest reading this book.

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  1. Liz Dexter

    Oh this sounds wonderful. I’ve read a few books about Oceania and this would add a lot to them.

    • Paul

      I think that you’d like it. I haven’t read that many on the region yet, but this has prompted me to look for more.

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