The discovery of Hawai'i could not have resulted from an accidental drift voyage of helpless storm-wrecked fishermen; the way north demanded close-reaching against the wind through three different regions of prevailing winds and ocean currents. A coconut cannot drift from the South Pacific to Hawaii through these zones. Those who sailed were on a purposeful voyage of exploration. They knew of canoes which had sailed and never returned; but their ancestors had always found new islands in their ocean world, and the spirits of their most powerful ancestors would guide them now.
They may have been driven by population pressures, a famine caused by a period of drought, or lost a battle. They may have been led by an ambitious chief, perhaps one whose older brothers had left him with few expectations at home. Not all vayages were driven by necessity. South Pacific legends also tell of explorations made purely for adventure or to satisfy curiosity about the girls of another island.
No less than twenty-four species of plants upon which their culture depended were brought by canoe. Their domestic animals were the pig, a chicken of iridescent red and black plumage and a small dog. A species of small black rat probably arrived as a stowaway.
These plants and animals were of a Southeast Asian origin with the exception of the sweet potato. Believed to be of South American origin, its wide distribution in Polynesia suggests that it arrived at a very early time. The Polynesian term for sweet potato, kumara, is also a Peruvian Indian term(in Hawaiian kumara has become 'uala). Whether it was brought by Indians on a raft, or as a prize taken home by early Polynesian explorers, we will never know. The raft theory, launched by Thor Heyerdahl's Kon Tiki vayage, involves a one-way trip and may seem the most economical. But Indians were accustomed to saiking in the comforting presence of a continent. Those on a raft blown out to sea would have struggled to get back to land, no doubt consuming any vegetable on board. Polynesians were open-ocean sailors, knowing only islands, and accustomed to conserving rations and protecting plants from seawater over long vayages. (To be continued)