• Fri. Mar 31st, 2023

The Enigmatic Te Lapa lights, Utilized by Polynesians for Ocean Navigation


Mar 10, 2023

The Polynesian peoples have lengthy been often known as extremely expert sailors, and have navigated the huge and seemingly empty expanse of ocean – seeking new islands to settle. This they did with superb success: Polynesians now inhabit various islands, massive and small, which can be scattered across the Pacific Ocean. A few of these islands are a whole lot and 1000’s of kilometers distant from each other, and this creates a sure puzzle – how did the traditional Polynesians cross such nice distances with solely the rudimentary expertise? An enduring enigma handed down the generations is perhaps the reply – the guiding Te Lapa lights.

Te Lapa – a Phenomenon That’s Onerous to Clarify

Older Polynesians have lengthy been speaking of the “Te Lapa”, a mysterious phenomenon that allegedly helped them discover new and distant islands. The time period denotes a light-weight, often mirrored upon the floor of the ocean, which was utilized by historic sailors as a useful navigation help. Following the lights would result in new islands. Trendy science, nonetheless, is having troubles explaining the precise nature behind “Te Lapa”.   

Whereas the phenomenon was lengthy identified amongst venerable Polynesians, it was solely realised by Western researchers in 1972, when David Lewis described it in his ebook, “We, the Navigators” . It rapidly posed a conundrum in scientific circles, just by being exhausting to ascribe to a naturally occurring phenomenon. As much as that time, science might clarify all conventional strategies of oceanic navigation – all besides Te Lapa. So that’s exactly why Dr. Marianne “Mimi” George launched into a quest to resolve the riddle of this Polynesian misplaced talent.

The island of Taumako a part of the Santa Cruz Islands the place Dr. Marianne George tried to review this historic type of navigation.  (Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Dr. George, a seasoned sailor and navigator, traveled to the Polynesian island of Taumako within the Santa Cruz Islands, the place she met with Te Aliki Kaveia in 1993, in an try to review the native navigation practices. Kaveia was the island Chief, and a veteran navigator who has seen Te Lapa many occasions. Along with Dr. George, he set sail as soon as extra – the previous manner – proving as soon as and for all that the sunshine phenomena did really exist.

Crusing the Ocean in an Outrigger Canoe

Dr. George finally noticed the Te Lapa lights and was rapidly fascinated by them. It was a real navigational help in each sense – however nonetheless exhausting to elucidate. Some proposed that it was bioluminescence, or some electromagnetic pure gentle. Different comparable pure phenomena had been rapidly dismissed.

Polynesian ancient navigators.  Ancient stories tell of a guiding light aiding them in their travels. (Public domain)

Polynesian historic navigators.  Historic tales inform of a guiding gentle aiding them of their travels. ( Public domain )

Te Lapa was described as a linear gentle showing on the horizon, finest seen at night time, and originating from islands. The Polynesian sailors would then comply with these lights to their supply, thus safely crusing in direction of such distant objectives. The lights had been described as “streaking”, “flashing”, and “darting” – and true to that, the Polynesian title “Te Lapa” interprets to “one thing that flashes”, or “flashing gentle”. This enigmatic gentle, Dr. George famous, is used for navigation not more than 120 miles (193 km) from shore, and as little as 2 miles (3 km). Te Aliki Kaveia confirmed this, including that the gap of 100 miles (160 km) is good for following Te Lapa. Both manner, it was realized that the better the gap, the slower Te Lapa sparkles, making it simpler to comply with as a tenet.

However none of this defined the supply of the sunshine. One attention-grabbing speculation was introduced up by George and Kaveia, and it was centered on oceanic swells. These highly effective massive swells unfold out the 4 diagonal corners of a compass, and journey the ocean pushed by seasonal storms. They then bounce off islands, assembly one another in predictable interference patterns. These patterns will be utilized by seasoned sailors as a sign of land shut by. And the raised curve of the intersecting waves may very well be performing as an enormous lens that displays the Te Lapa lights. Whereas the speculation is kind of believable, there’s nonetheless no clarification for the supply of the mirrored gentle. Dr. George suspected electromagnetic emissions from tectonic actions may very well be the supply.

When Even Science is Stumped

Many main scientists had been fast to dismiss any chance of Te Lapa as an unexplained phenomenon. They thought-about it just too obscure, poorly documented and researched to be able to examine intimately and totally affirm. However oral traditions are nonetheless there, proving the existence of those odd oceanic lights. In numerous islands settled by Polynesians, there are totally different phrases all denoting the identical incidence. On the distant island of Nikunau it is named “Te Mata”, or “The Glory of the Seas”, whereas on Tonga it is named “Te Tapa”, which means “To Burst Forth with Mild”.

Regardless of the true scientific clarification of Te Lapa is, the phenomenon nonetheless proves to us that science shouldn’t be almighty. There have been navigators and maritime explorers for hundreds of years earlier than the earliest European voyagers. The Polynesians stand out as probably the most expert, having conquered the huge Pacific Ocean on nothing however crudely constructed outrigger canoes. What their secrets and techniques had been, we might by no means know…

Prime picture: Historic Polynesian tales inform a few mysterious gentle guiding navigators throughout the Pacific Ocean. Supply: aleksandar nakovski /AdobeStock

By Aleksa Vučković

Lewis, G. 2019. Te Lapa: Mysterious island lights that assist Polynesians navigate. Accessible at:  https://www.stuff.co.nz/science/118330618/te-lapa-mysterious-island-lights-that-help-polynesians-navigate

Martins, Okay. 2020. Polynesian Navigation & Settlement of the Pacific. Accessible at:  https://www.worldhistory.org/article/1586/polynesian-navigation–settlement-of-the-pacific/

Unknown. 2009. Navigation and Piloting Utilizing Te Lapa. Accessible at:  https://www.vaka.org/post/navigation-and-piloting-using-te-lapa

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