Death of Mau Piailug-Master Pacific Navigator

Dec 2008
Truly the end of an era spanning thousands of years-his knowledge stretched back into the mists of time.I have Steven D Thomas' book on the table behind me-it's always to hand-Mau's world view is never far from my mind.

Legendary navigator revived an ancient art

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 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.

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Piailug had suffered from diabetes for many years.

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.....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.
Last edited:
Dec 2008
The Last Navigator by Steven D. Thomas.

In my haste to post the obit I mixed up the author Thomas with Nainoa Thompson (not for the first time ) now edited.


Forum Staff
Jun 2009
land of Califia
After researching Mau, I am going to look for that book. Thank you for sharing this story Whalebreath, I have had a fascination for pacific island seafaring after watching the end scene of the film Whale Rider. I just have never had the time to pursue it ,unfortunately.