Radio New Zealand recently ran a short article about Harvard Professor John Huth’s book titled The Lost Art of Finding Our Way. Professor Huth wants to further document traditional Marshallese navigation methods to help boost the islands’ indigenous culture. Marshall Islands wave piloting is one of the navigation techniques featured in the book.
Professor Huth said his research found its use of ocean swells to navigate was extremely accurate. He says he hopes further research will help revive Marshallese culture. “I almost have in my mind that we want to publish a wave piloting manual or something like that, that we could give back to the Marshallese to allow them to reclaim their heritage. Because I think it’s a very rich heritage,” Professor Huth said. The professor also said modern GPS systems could sometimes fail, and wave piloting could still be useful to help keep oriented at sea.
About the Marshall Islands…
The Marshall Islands consists of some of the easternmost islands of Micronesia. The Marshalls are composed of more than 1,200 islands and islets in two parallel chains of coral atolls- the Ratak, or Sunrise, to the east and the Ralik, or Sunset, to the west. The chains lie about 125 miles (200 kilometers) apart and extend some 800 miles northwest to southeast.
Micronesian peoples were the first inhabitants of the archipelago. The islands were explored by the Spanish in the 16th century and were named for a British captain in 1788. Germany unsuccessfully attempted to colonize the islands in 1885. Japan claimed them in 1914, but after several battles during World War II, the U.S. seized them from them. In 1947, the UN made the island group, along with the Mariana and Caroline archipelagos, a U.S. trust territory. In 1986 the islands gained independence under a Compact of Free Association with the United States. Under the terms of that agreement, the U.S. would provide significant financial aid, that to date now exceeds $1 billion.
The most populous atolls are Majuro and Kwajalein, which offers employment at the U.S. missile testing range; together they have almost three-fourths of the country’s total population. The rest of the population lives in traditional villages on the outer islands away from the two urban centers.
The clear-blue waters, surrounding the Marshall Islands, boasts of over 800 species of fish and 160 species of coral. The numerous offshore World War II shipwrecks add another dimension to local scuba diving and snorkeling attractions.