Celebrating an ancient trek
To travel across the sea from Taiwan to Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture and the rest of the Ryukyu Islands, you have to cross the strong northward-flowing Kuroshio Current.
The “Cross the Kuroshio” project, officially titled the “Holistic Re-enactment Project of the Voyage 30,000 Years Ago,” is a collaboration initiated by Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science and Taiwan’s National Museum of Prehistory.
The project started in 2016 with experimental use of a straw boat, followed by another experimental short sea journey in Taiwan in 2017, this time using a bamboo raft. Finally, it was decided to attempt the challenge of crossing the Kuroshio this year using a wooden dugout canoe.
On July 7, the canoe set out from the Wushihbi Fishing Harbor (烏石鼻) in Taitung County’s Changbin Township (長濱) with a crew of five people, including one woman.
Two days later, they completed the challenging 46-hour, 226km journey, landing on Yonaguni Island in Okinawa Prefecture.
Apart from being a magnificent achievement in itself, the purpose of paddling a canoe across the sea from Taitung to Yonaguni was to test a theory long proposed by some academics concerning the geographic origin of the Austronesian-speaking peoples.
As the organizers say, the aim was to confirm the possibility that one of the routes by which humans reached Japan might have been by sea, from Taiwan to the Ryukyu Islands.
Most of Taiwan’s Aborigines have legends about having originated from across the seas, but how did the Austronesians travel thousands of years ago, when navigation techniques and equipment were nothing like those of today?
What navigation techniques did they use? These questions can only be answered by trying things out in practice, so this successful voyage by dugout canoe from Taiwan to Yonaguni goes a long way to proving that Austronesians could have made the journey by sea.
When they paddled canoes out on the open sea, those ancient people did not have modern navigational tools such as magnetic compasses and global positioning systems, so canoe crews had to judge their direction by observing the sun, moon and stars.
Thousands of years ago, they must have first learned how to use navigational aids such as the angle of the sun, the position of constellations and the flow of ocean currents to keep adjusting their bearings to eventually reach Yonaguni.
The success of the “Cross the Yonaguni” dugout canoe team illustrates the everyday wisdom of Taiwan’s Aborigines and their courage as seafarers.
As well as celebrating this successful crossing by people from Taiwan and Japan, we should also cheer for Taiwan’s Aborigines, because it is their bravery that paved the way for the diverse nature of Taiwanese society today.
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