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Pacific Giant Mau Piailug Dies on Satawal

Pius Mau Piailug
1932 - 2010

HONOLULU (Pacific Islands Report, July 14, 2010) – Legendary Micronesian master navigator Mau Piailug, among the last of his kind, reportedly died Sunday on his home island of Satawal in the Federated States of Micronesia.  He was 78.

Satawal is a remote atoll in the island chain of Yap, one of four states in the Federated States of Micronesia south of Guam.

Working with the Hawaii-based Polynesian Voyaging Society, Piailug in 1976 navigated the double-hulled voyaging canoe Hokule'a from Hawaii to Tahiti on its maiden voyage.

The Hokule’a – Honolulu Star Bulletin

The revered traditional navigator used the ancient skills he learned as a boy, guiding Hokule'a 2,500 miles across the open ocean between Hawaii and Tahiti without charts or instruments.

Piailug is credited with a revival of ancient navigational skills used by Pacific explorers – using only observations of stars, moon, wind, currents and birds to criss-cross the vast ocean long before Western explorers arrived.

Honolulu Star Bulletin - MONTE COSTA
Hundreds of Tahitians swam out to greet the Hokule'a on June 4, 1976, after the canoe arrived in Tahiti. Some climbed aboard and rode the final distance to shore.

The Honolulu newspaper quoted Piailug protégé Nainoa Thompson – President of the Polynesian Voyaging Society – as a giant among Pacific islanders whose contributions to cultural preservation are beyond measure.

"Thousands of people are sharing in the sadness," Thompson said. "His contribution to Hawaii and humankind is immeasurable."

The Star-Advertiser notes that, beside Hawaii, other island cultures have since formed voyaging societies to promote native voyaging, including in Taiwan, New Zealand, Samoa, Fiji, Guam, Saipan, Palau, Chuuk, Pohnpei, the Marshall Islands and Tahiti.

Piailug is survived by more than a dozen children and numerous grandchildren.

Pacific Islands Report (
Copyright © 2009 Pacific Islands Report. All Rights Reserved

  • 2007 Story of Mau Piailug:

  • July 21, 2010 Washington Post Story on Mau Piailug: