Way out in the middle of the Pacific, untethered to any continent or pole, is a vast region known as the Polynesian Triangle. Covering 10 million square miles of open sea and sprinkled with over 1,000 archipelagos, its corners are staked by three main island groups: New Zealand to the south, Easter Island to the east, and to the north: Hawaii.
It was from these “Islands of Wonder” (as Polynesia is so often called) that a culture of people who shared a common ancestry and common language grew. And though these people and their palm-studded lands and ancient traditions have long held the fascination of the West—ever since Captain Cook and Louis-Antoine de Bougainville first sent word back to Europe in the 1770s—one of these peoples’ most important traditions was, for a long time, largely misunderstood. For until fairly recently, most of the world barely knew that the early Polynesians were the greatest explorers on earth.