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Environment and History

Star Path to a New World: Reappraising an Account of a Polynesian Voyage to the American Continent from an Environmental History Perspective

Adrian Howkins

Environment and History 22 (2016): 29-48. doi: 10.3197/096734016X14497391602161

For the past two centuries, scholars from many fields have attempted to prove that Pacific Islanders reached the American continent in pre-Columbian times. Guided by DNA analysis and radiocarbon dating on items like chicken bones and sweet potatoes, recent scholarship has brought to light strong evidence to support this argument. This article contributes to this long-standing debate, focusing on the Hawaiian Song of Kualii. The most compelling feature of this particular narrative is its reference to a pre-contact voyage towards a distant land called Kahiki, which is allegedly located on the American continent. This study revisits the document to determine the plausibility of such a destination and to ascertain the geographic area where the explorers may have landed. After reconstructing the star path followed by the Hawaiian explorers and analysing the descriptions of the unknown land's environment, the article proves that Hawaiian explorers discovered a country vastly different from their tropical homeland. The cold climate, the unknown forest trees and the strange people inhabiting the land all appeared to them as if they belonged to another world. Comparing the key elements of the explorers' sea route to the Eastern Pacific and prevailing winds in the Late Holocene, this study concludes that the coast of Southern California was their most plausible destination.

KEYWORDS: Polynesians, pre-Columbian contacts, oral traditions, Song of Kualii, Hawaii, California, Late Holocene

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