The substance of Polynesian voyaging

Colin Richards

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The prehistory of Polynesia has been seen as a story of cultural dispersal of people throughout the eastern Pacific Ocean. Central to that story is the voyaging capabilities of Polynesians. However, the description of the dispersal as 'exploration' and 'colonization' promotes coherence to a form of practice for which there seems little evidence of consistency in intention or purpose. In Robert Suggs' words, 'the cause of the continuance of eastward expansion is frankly anyone's guess' (1960: 93). This paper examines the nature of Polynesian voyaging in a different manner. Here voyaging is argued to be a strategy for the negotiation and transformation of Polynesian social identity through a phenomenological intersection of materiality, cosmology and practice. Specifically, it is suggested that the elemental nature of the blue water of the Pacific Ocean as a medium and metaphor of transformation is grounded in phenomenology.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)206-223
Number of pages17
JournalWorld Archaeology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008


  • Blue water
  • Cosmology
  • Materiality
  • Phenomenology
  • Polynesia
  • Sacred canoes


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