The Washington Post has published an obituary for Mau Piailug, the master Navigator from the island of Satawal.
In 1976, Mr. Piailug made international headlines when -- using nothing but nature's clues and the lessons he'd learned from his grandfather, a master navigator schooled in traditional Micronesian wayfaring -- he steered a traditional sailing canoe more than 3,000 miles from Hawaii to Tahiti.
The journey was a project of the Honolulu-based Polynesian Voyaging Society, co-founded by anthropologists interested in the enduring mystery of how the Pacific's scattered islands, often separated by hundreds of miles of water, had become populated by peoples who lacked nautical technologies such as the compass and sextant.
Many scientists had believed that Polynesians, unable to navigate across vast seas, had arrived on various islands by accident when their boats had floated off course. Mr. Piailug's feat showed insteadthat indigenous peoples could indeed have deliberately explored and colonized Pacific islands.
Featured in a National Geographic special, the journey also showed the world that traditional navigation was rooted in profound skill. Among Pacific peoples, who were fast becoming westernized, it led to a resurgence of cultural pride and a renewed interest in ancient wayfaring skills.
"The rebirth of non-instrument navigation came about largely due to this man, Mau Piailug," said former Smithsonian secretary Lawrence Small at a 2000 ceremony in Washington honoring Mr. Piailug (pronounced Pee-EYE-lug).
He became an eager teacher, breaking with tradition to share among cultures his closely guarded navigation secrets that had traditionally been passed down only within families.
The full obituary can be read here.
Sadly, Mau's death is directly attributable to the lack of a reliable and consistent network of transportation in the Outer Islands of Micronesia. The insulin that he needed to survive could not reach him.