Yesterday I described how a claim by Wehi et al. that the Polynesians were the first to discover Antarctica (in the eighth century!) had been debunked—twice. The claim was based purely on oral legend written down in the 19th century and then mistranslated and misinterpreted. There’s no doubt that Wehi et al.’s claims were dead wrong, even on the basis that the Polynesians didn’t have boats then that could go anywhere near Antarctica. I’ve put references to the Wehi et al. paper and the two rebuttals at the bottom of this post.
Now I’ve discovered that the same Priscilla Wehi, along with several of her colleagues on the Roy Soc NZ paper, also wrote a related paper in Nature Ecology & Evolution that same year, making the same bogus claim about the Polynesians discovering Antarctica, and even expanding it. Click to read:
Here’s part of the claim:
Human voyaging into Antarctic waters by Hui Te Rangiora and his crew on the vessel Te Ivi o Atea in around the seventh century (Fig. 1) may have followed cetacean migratory routes from Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. In so doing, they were perhaps the first humans to set eyes on Antarctica; evidence of their likely discovery lies in its name Te tai-uka-a-pia which denotes the frozen ocean, as well as oral accounts handed down through the generations. Similarly, accounts of the flora, fauna and physical geography indicate sub-Antarctic as well as likely Antarctic visitation by Hui Te Rangiora and his crew (Fig. 1); thirteenth century Māori sub-Antarctic exploration is well-established archaeologically. Later nineteenth century sealing and whaling and Māori and Moriori settlement in the Auckland Islands continues this voyaging legacy. Other noted Māori explorers of the Antarctic region include Tamarereti, who pursued the origins of the aurora australis (Fig. 1). These traditions record enormous ice cliffs with towering mountain ranges behind them, with nowhere to gain a footing, and suggest that those with Tamarereti gained an understanding of the physicality of the Antarctic region, including the Antarctic Circle. Hui Te Rangiora’s descendant Te Aru Tanga Nuku hundreds of years later also journeyed far into southern waters
And part of the timeline of human events occurring in Antarctica, clearly showing the Polynesian precedence:
Every bit of the above is wrong. Antarctica was first glimpsed by a Russian expedition and a separate British expedition in 1820—within three days of each other. Publishing what’s above is like saying “ancient narratives of the people of South America show that they were the first to settle Polynesia.” (That’s what the Kon-Tiki expedition tried to prove.) But that’s wrong.
Nature E&E is of course far more prestigious than the Proceedings of the Royal Society of New Zealand and Polar Record, where the original paper and rebuttals were published.
The rest of the paper is a long argument for including Indigenous peoples’ knowledge in the management of Antarctica, implying that they’ve been excluded by colonialism. I have no strong feelings about this except that there are other possible reasons besides bigotry. But the falsity of the claim above does somewhat deflate their argument:
By highlighting Māori connections with Antarctica the continent, Antarctica the seascape and Antarctica the living entity of human-kin relationships, we challenge the intellectual legacies of Antarctica framed within existing mindsets and expand these to grow alternative conceptions of human relationships and responsibilities to Antarctica and the seas that surround it.
My point instead is that Nature Ecology & Evolution published something palpably wrong and, worse, OBVIOUSLY wrong—but they didn’t catch it or correct it. A colleague told me to write a response, but it’s not worth my time, and besides, this uber-woke journal wouldn’t accept it.
Let the readers of this journal continue to believe false claims, or, if you’re a Nature editor reading this, why don’t you issue a correction? It would take only two lines.
Wehi, Priscilla M., Nigel J. Scott, Jacinta Beckwith, Rata Pryor Rodgers, Tasman Gillies, Vincent Van Uitregt, and Krushil Watene. 2021. “A short scan of Māori journeys to Antarctica.” Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand: 1-12.
Anderson, Atholl, Tipene O’Regan, Puamiria Parata-Goodall, Michael Stevens and Te Maire Tau. 2021 “A southern Māori perspective on stories of Polynesian polar voyaging.” Polar Record 57: 1-3.
Anderson, Atholl, Sir Tipene O’Regan, Puamiria Parata-Goodall, Michael Stevens, and Te Maire Tau. 2021. “On the improbability of pre-European Polynesian voyages to Antarctica: a response to Priscilla Wehi and colleagues.” Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand: 1-7. [This link might work better for some readers. GCM]
14 thoughts on “Nature Ecology & Evolution buys into “indigenous fact claims are always right””
Hasty question :
What did Antarctica “look like” then?
[ must read]
Specifically “… evidence of their likely discovery lies in its name Te tai-uka-a-pia which denotes the frozen ocean”
“… These traditions record enormous ice cliffs with towering mountain ranges behind them, with nowhere to gain a footing”
.. appear on first-glance to be constructed the way a cold-reading psychic might work an audience, but I’ll take a closer read later.
Good grief – another credulous science journal. I hope that this nonsense ends soon, but I’m not holding my breath.
Huh – I thought it was the same one – what is it, Nature Behavior and Something…
Our host also wrote about this back in August, and quoted some incomprehensible mumbo-jumbo from Wehi appearing to retreat from the claim that the stories of Antarctic voyaging were meant to be taken literally. https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2022/08/11/once-again-did-the-maori-discover-antarctica/
Here are some additional indigenous claims that we must consider: Mary was a virgin and Noah’s ark was most definitely real.
The Islamic tradition of the Isra and Mi’raj tells how Mohammed travelled in one night first to Jerusalem (on the back of a flying horse), then to Heaven (for a colloquium with God and various prophets). The Heaven part of the trip clearly demonstrates Arab voyages to extra-terrestrial locations in the 7th century. This of course calls for the involvement of Islamic scholars and Saudi Arabian government representatives in all space programs. A paper on this matter will soon be submitted to Nature Ecology and Evolution—or, better yet, to Nature Astronomy.
I read the rebuttals, and have an observation. Apparently the Maori did not have a word for “ice” before European contact. But they lived on islands with Glaciers, and with snow covered mountains that are visible from much of both main islands.
I don’t draw particular conclusions from that, it is just interesting.
Wish I could find my copy of Vaka: Saga of a Polynesian Canoe, by Sir Tom Davis, Pa Tuterangi Ariki, KFE, “a navigator of some renown as well as a scientist of international repute and a former Prime Minister of the Cook Islands.” I read it almost 30 years ago, on Rarotonga, which I am now hearing launched expeditions to Antarctica! I don’t remember Sir Tom mentioning that, but it was a while I read it. According to book blurb on Amazon, the “Polynesians are people of the outrigger canoe. In the beginning, they sailed from south-east Asia, through the islands of Indonesia and Melanesia. those who “settled in Tonga and Samoa around 1500 BC and later sailed on to the Cook Islands, the Society Islands, Marquesas, Tuamotu, Easter Island, Hawaii, New Zealand, even to Micronesia.” Hmmm, no Antarctica. I hope my copy of Vaka turns up, since the book goes for $50 or more per Amazon.
Funny to see Kon Tiki mentioned also in this piece. Just last week I happened to pull out my old copy of Kon Tiki, which my dad probably got back around 1950 from Book of the Month Club. I read it as a kid and found it fascinating and wonderful. Remember feeling a bit let down to find out Heyerdahl’s claims were a bit over the top. I’m OK now, though, mostly.
[PS. I couldn’t get the “journal” article as it seemed to require an institutional subscription, and any institution I’m likely to be in these days, won’t have one.]
Obligatory and Entirely Meaningless Monty Python connection with
[ announcer’s deep voice ]
… I’m entirely uncertain what they were doing with that – an ad, perhaps…
FWIW, used-book prices are almost invariably better and usually much better at Alibris.com
For starts, pls tell me how these Polynesians had the foresight to set off with clothing up to Antarctic temps.
“By highlighting Māori connections with Antarctica the continent, Antarctica the seascape and Antarctica the living entity of human-kin relationships, we challenge the intellectual legacies of Antarctica framed within existing mindsets and expand these to grow alternative conceptions of human relationships and responsibilities to Antarctica and the seas that surround it.”
Does that actually convey any meaning?
The most I can get out of it us! “We think you should think differently about the Maori and Antarctica.”
“We think you should think the way we think about the Maori. We don’t give a fig about Antarctica.”