Teaching Pacific Islands from

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Introduction i

Using this Guide ii

Figure: Community Website structure iv

Introductory Lesson: Geography 1

Lesson 1: Arrival 5

Lesson 2: A Native Place 9

Lesson 3: The Sea 12

Lesson 4: The Land 16

Lesson 5: Footprints (Storied Places) 21

Lesson 6: Visitors 23

Lesson 7: Memories 27

Lesson 8: Onwards 30

Teaching Pacific Islands from Indigenous Perspectives:
A Pacific Worlds Teachers’ Resource Guide
Welcome to Pacific Worlds! This project is aimed at providing a cultural and educational resource on indigenous geography, history, environment and culture in the Pacific. The project is comprised of a growing collection of websites on locations in the Pacific region, which each website presenting a standardized package of information on culture, environment, history, and geography about a specific community.
With multiple websites following a similar format, Pacific Worlds aims to provide a tool for the comparative consideration of indigenous Geography of the Pacific Islands. As of 2004, this project has a small but growing number of sites, concentrated in the North Pacific. But the communities in which we live also provide an additional point of comparison. Therefore, the exercises presented here aim at combining your own local area with the existing community websites for an integrated course of study.
The course of study presented here, however, is not a substitute for a semester course in Pacific Island cultures or in Geography, but can be used either in its entirety, or in selected pieces, to accompany or enhance existing courses. At the same time, this package does provide a start-to-finish program for those who wish to use it as such.
Teachers themselves know best what works for them, and hold a wealth of experience and information on teaching methods and exercises. Therefore, Pacific Worlds invites and encourages input from the many skilled teachers in our Islands, to share their wisdom, their successes, and their recommendations for making this guide—and this project—better serve its purpose.
This is a resource for all Pacific Island teachers, and we hope that in the future, it will be mostly authored by Pacific Island teachers who chose to share their experience and wisdom. Please consider this document to be merely a seed. We invite you to help it grow.
Using this Guide:
The Guide is divided into an introductory and eight thematic “Lessons” based on the format of the Pacific Worlds website. There is a chronological order to the lessons, as students can build on information they have collected along the way, but they need not be done as a whole or in order. For those who wish to use this Guide extensively, please consider the following:

  • Have students organize a notebook or folder in which to compile their exercises and the data they collect;

  • Produce a “blank” base map of your local land division on a sheet of paper. It may (and perhaps should) include some sense of the topography. Run off copies of this base-map for the students to use in each lesson.

  • For some lessons, a blank outline map of your island is necessary as well.

Orientation to the Website:
(A) The Pacific Worlds Home-Page is the pivot-point for reaching other portions of the website, and contains pages with general information about the project, including educational resources. From here, one can go directly to specific Community Websites either by clicking hot-spots on the map, or selecting from the drop-down menu.
(B) The Community Websites are connected to the home page. Each of community website is a complete and detailed presentation of a local community in the Pacific, which are chosen to be representative of their larger island context.
A Community website is composed of an introductory section, which introduces the location, the community participants, an orientation to the land division, and provides an “entry” to the location, as though you had flown in and had to make your journey to this area. There is also a site map and a “map library” for each Community Website, as well as a list of credits for all those who contributed to producing that community’s website.
(C) These Community Websites are broken into eight chapters. The chapters pertain to particular themes (the Sea, the Land, eg), and contain

  • A chapter contents page, that provides a quick glance at the content of each page;

  • Four to Six topical pages;

  • A Glossary of related terms in the local language;

  • A list of references and citations, both printed and on-line.

(D) Some websites have additional information placed on special javascript pop-up windows. These are separate windows that “pop up” when a link is clicked, and provide additional material on the topic being discussed. A list of these special pages, with links to where they are found, is located on the Site Map for each Community Website.

(E) Interlinking: Finally, it is the intent of this project that any given page in a community website is linked directly to the same topical page on every other website in the Pacific Worlds network. Thus, if you are on the “Beaches” page of “THE SEA” chapter on, say, Guam, you could select another location from a pull-down menu and see the the “Beaches” page of “THE SEA” chapter in another community. This is what will provide the comparative capability of the project. This stage of the project’s development is currently underway.

Each page includes top and bottom navigation links that allow you to move across the chapters and pages, to the other resource pages, and to the Pacific Worlds Home Page. you get lost, you can always go to the Site Map (there is a link at the bottom of each page), which shows the layout of that Community Website, with direct links to each page.

Disclaimer and Apology:
The circumstances in each island entity are distinct and vary quite considerably across the Pacific, from highly modernized areas and areas that are subsumed by larger colonial powers to areas that are more remote and/or remain highly traditional in leadership and customs. Also from large and/or high islands to low islands and coral atolls. As we write this guide, we attempt to provide tools and exercises that are applicable everywhere, but this is not possible. Therefore, we ask our users to adapt these lessons to the circumstances of their local settings, and to translate our terms into terms that are locally appropriate.
As you use this Guide, we hope that you will let us know what works or does not work for you, and keep us informed of any suggestions you have. Information can be sent to

Doug Herman


Towson University

8000 York Road

Towson, MD 21252


Good luck!

Navigation structure for the community websites.

Introductory Lesson: Geographic Basics
Overview and Preparation:

In each Pacific Island entity, territory (both land and sea) is divided in accordance with that culture’s specific system. These land divisions are the units of study for Pacific Worlds websites and for this Guide. It allows for a finite and focused study, and one that is personal and immediate, allowing for field and out-of-classroom exercises, contact with local elders and specialists, and the development of a sense in which culture and history play out in one’s immediate local geography.

In preparation for the lessons that follow, you are encouraged to identify the “land” division in which your school is located or that is of most immediate relevance to your students. You ought to find or produce a map of that area, defining its boundaries as best as is possible, so that the focus area is clear. We emphasize that these “land divisions” also usually incorporate the ocean offshore.
Location: Following that, students will collect some standard geographic information about your division’s location, in both “absolute” and “relative” terms, as well as within the local system of place names.
“Absolute” location means using the grid of longitude and latitude. Since this system has nothing to do with traditional cultural understandings of geography, we are putting this task “outside” the main lessons.
Traditional systems often present a different way of looking at “location.” For example, the Hawaiian system identifies places in a nested hierarchy: mokupuni (island), then moku ‘aina (“district”), then ahupua‘a (administrative division), then by ‘ili or strips of cultivated land.
Getting Here: “Relative” location describes where you are in terms of other places or phenomena, e.g. “in the Tropics,” “West of California,” “Northwest of Fiji,” etc. This exercise approaches relative location through describing the journey required to get to your area for an outsider. The purpose is to understand where we are in relation to other places or geographical features. Other relative-location concepts can be explored.

Lesson at a glance: Students will identify their area and use maps to describe its location using both longitude & latitude, and in terms of their relative location to other landmarks as chosen by the teacher, or as they themselves determine to be relevant.
Key Concepts: Absolute location, Relative location, Longitude & Latitude, your local Land Division system.
Lesson Outcomes: The students will:

  • be familiarized with the concept of the land division system in your culture;

  • understand how to determine Longitude & Latitude using a map;

  • discern their location using the local land-division system;

  • describe the relative location of their land division.


  • An appropriate Atlas or map for your part of the Pacific

  • Map of your Island group (where appropriate)

  • Map showing the traditional administrative divisions of your island or group


National Geographic Expedition has three relevant exercises:

  • “Introduction to Latitude and Longitude” for the K-2 Level,

  • “Which Direction Should I Go?” (on compass directions) for Grades 3-5, and

  • “Latitude, Longitude, and Mapmaking” for the Grades 6-8 Level:

Go to http://www.nationalgeographic.com/xpeditions/

Choose “Lesson Plans” and search through their lists to find the appropriate lesson.

Note: these lessons were written for U.S. Mainland students, so you might want to use maps of the Pacific where they say to use a map of the United States.
A Lesson on time zones produced by the Hawai‘i Geographic Alliance for Grade 3 is available online at http://www.hawaii.edu/hga/Lessons/timezones.html
Maps of Countries that show Longitude and Latitude

 Exercise 1: Your Land division

Website: Welcome and Location pages.
Using the blank map, draw in the land division boundaries for your area. Or, if your entire island or atoll is a single division, use a blank map of your island group and designate the divisions within it.
Land divisions are often defined as a natural-resource area, designed to include all available natural-resource zones (e.g. from the mountains to the sea, or from the island center outwards). These divisions also have some political basis that varies from place to place.
(a) use a blank map of your land division and have students discuss and sketch in where the traditional resource zones are or would have been:

  • Agricultural land

  • Forest Zone

  • Zone of habitation

  • Etc.

 Exercise 2: Absolute Location (Longitude and Latitude)

Website: Location pages.
Using an atlas or a good map of your region, determine the Longitude and Latitude of your land division as closely as possible. Depending on the scale of the map, you might use your school as the target location.
You can also pick another location in another portion of the Pacific, on the other side of the 180-degree meridian, and have them determine the longitude and latitude of that location. This will show how the system of longitude meridians goes half-way around the world in each direction.
This exercise can be extended to include a discussion of time zones, by choosing different locations in and around the Pacific and asking what time it is in each location, given the time where you are.
 Exercise 3: Local-style Location and Direction
Describe your location in terms of your own culture’s system of geographical divisions. Discuss how these terms serve as a means of conceptually “mapping” where places were.
What are the words for (compass) directions in your language? How do they differ from the North-South-East-West system commonly used today? Do you even have four directions, or is your system different altogether?
In Western culture we tend to think of North as the starting point. But how is your own indigenous system set up? What does it tell you about your own culture’s geography?
 Exercise 4: Relative Location

Website: Getting Here pages
Explain the concept of relative location, and then invite students to describe the relative location of your land division in as many ways as you or they feel are significant. You might start with describing the journey a visitor to your island would have to take—what landmarks would they pass?

 Exercise 5: Orientation

Website: Orientation pages
Have students describe their land division as it is today:

  • What makes for the boundaries that define your area?

  • What are the important landmarks or locations, both in the physical landscape and the built landscape?

  • Does your land division comprise more than one valley, or more than one island, and if so, why?

You can do this exercise as though they had to describe their land division to an outsider.
Lesson 1: Arrival
Overview: The concept of “Arrival” as used in the Pacific Worlds website follows from the Location and Getting Here
Come Ashore focuses on the first peoples who might have landed their canoes on your shore. What did this place have to offer them? Knowing what you know about your land division system, would this have been a good place to settle, or maybe not so great? Is it well-watered or dry, for example? A protective reef? Shelter from the winds?
The Ancients explores who these earliest peoples might have been, and when they arrived. Both local tradition and modern archaeological viewpoints are engaged. This is an opportunity to discuss the following ideas:

  • The prevailing migration theory of Pacific Island settlements

  • The possibility of a people previous to your own having been here earlier

  • Archaeological perspectives—how do archaeologists date things?

  • The tension between scientific approaches and indigenous approaches to understanding ancient times.

Legendary Setting: mythology relevant to your area is the next theme. Stories of legendary figures or gods may touch on your area. Or perhaps stories of famous chiefs, or warriors, or priests. The aim here is to identify some indigenous historical or mythological connection that is distinct to your area. It may be lodged in the place names.
Neighbors: This is a continuation of the “relative location” theme but emphasizes more the intimate and traditional relationships between neighboring places. In some cases there are important reciprocal (or hostile) relationships. Looking at neighboring places, their place names, and proverbs or sayings associated with them helps to enrichen the indigenous sense of place.

Lesson at a glance: Students will use maps, local proverbs, books and the Pacific Worlds web site examples to explore the origins of habitation and the legendary setting in their land division.
Key Concepts: Pacific Island Migrations: when, how, and where they would have landed and why. Also, the comparison of scientific ideas about Pacific Island settlements, versus the traditions of your own culture.
Warning: there is a danger here of presenting Western, scientific accounts as “true” and local legendary accounts as “false.” It is hoped that teachers will focus on what the local stories have to tell today’s generations, rather than discounting them as “superstitious.” They are important to islander identity.
Lesson Outcomes: The students will:

  • learn the basic principles and methods of archaeology

  • learn the principles of Pacific Islander navigation and land-finding

  • be familiar with theories and notions of the settlement of your island entity

  • investigate the origins of peoples in their land division

  • learn meanings of place names in their land division


  • An appropriate Atlas

  • Books, materials or resources on archaeology of your area

  • Books, materials or resources on legends of your culture

  • Books, materials or resources on place names of your culture

The Polynesian Voyaging Society website has a range of information and educational materials regarding traditional Polynesian navigation:

Traditional Navigation in the Western Pacific, a website by the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, is a sequence of dynamic pages on the art and science of navigation.

Let’s Go Voyaging Teacher’s Guide is a complete set of lessons in pdf format, focused on Hawai‘i and Polynesia, produced by the Moanalua Gardens Foundation and available on the web at

A user-friendly Archaeology Lesson Plan with exercises is available at the Center for Archaeological Studies' Old Mobile Archaeology website:

A more detailed Archaeology Lesson Plan for middle school grades (6-8) is available from DiscoverySchool.com at

How Islands Form is another lesson plan from DiscoverySchool.com, this one on island-building (Grades 6-8)


 Exercise 1: Come Ashore

Website: Arrival >Come Ashore pages
• Use the Traditional Navigation in the Western Pacific website to familiarize students with the principles of traditional navigation in the Pacific. Micronesian and Hawaiian star charts can be found on the Polynesian Voyaging Society web site.
• Read the essay, “Voyaging” linked from the top of the Arrival home page.
--Why would people leave their homes and go off in seach of other islands?
--What would they need to take with them?
--What would life be like on a long ocean journey with no clear destination?
--What are the characteristics of a “good home” on a Pacific Island to an ancient voyager?
--Explore the voyaging or sailing/navigation tradition in your culture, and/or nearby cultures. Are there any traditional canoes to be seen today?

 Exercise 2: The Ancients

Website: Arrival >The Ancients pages
Note: The purpose of this exercise is to show that “tradition” and “science” are different ways of approaching the same topic.
Use the Old Mobile website (see Resources, above) and have your students perform Lesson 1: The importance of the Past and Lesson 2: Clues to the Past, in order to gain perspective on the relevance of the past to the present, and the way in which archaeology uses “garbage” to learn about cultures.
Have your students consider the following:
--Are archaeologists likely to find the first place where anyone lived in your island group or local area?
--What do your own traditions say, if anything, about the arrival of your people to these islands?
--Do your traditions agree with what archaeologists say? If not, what do you make of that difference? Who is right, or is anybody right?

 Exercise 3: Legendary Setting

Website: Arrival >Legendary Setting pages
If you wish to discuss the geological formation of islands, you can use the How Islands Form lesson plan from DiscoverySchool.com (see Resources, above).
--What stories are there about the creation of your island(s)? How do you interpret them? What lessons are to be learned from them? If you are doing a lesson on Pacific Island geology, you can compare the scientific version to the legendary version.
--Does your community fit within a geography defined by your creation story? Is it, for example, part of the body of a legendary figure? Or is there some other important legend associated with the origins of your geographical area? Again, what do these stories mean to you? What lessons do they teach?
--In some Pacific Island cultures, there is a geography associated with legendary figures: certain gods, demigods or traditional figures are associated with particular areas, or went on journeys that connected some places, not others. Is there such a situation within your own culture?

 Exercise 4: Neighbors

Website: Arrival >Neighbors pages
--Identify the areas nearby that would be considered “neighbors.” What are the land divisions on either side of yours? Do the neighboring areas or islands have traditional reputations, proverbs, or stories that say something about them?
--What other areas, if any, do you know of that had traditional ties with yours? Were they good ties, or hostile ties? Do these relationships define the geographical position of your area in any way? See examples on the Pacific Worlds websites.
--On the larger scale, what are your neighbor island entities, if any? How far away are they? How do you view these neighbors? Do they speak the same language?

Lesson 2: A Native Place
Overview: Pacific Worlds shows that there are layers to the landscape. The very place where you stand, or where your school is located, reveals layers of history going back to ancient times. In the last lesson, we investigated what can be learned about the most ancient layer. In this lesson, we look at features from your culture about which the histories are still known.
The purpose of the “Native Place” chapter is to show that whatever modern layers of the built environment exist, underneath it there is still a landscape of indigenous culture, where the ancestors lived, and worked, and prayed, and died. The emphasis is that culture manifests on the land, that the landscape as a “humanized environment” is itself a history book, and holds markers that are references to the history of indigenous culture in your area.
This lesson looks at the distinct landscape features of your culture that appear in your area. These are the human-made features that define your area as a “native place,” a place where your culture manifests in distinct and visible forms that have histories and meanings. These features become tools for teaching such topics as the traditional leadership structure, beliefs, cultural practices, and more.
Clearly there must be a lot of leeway in determining what sorts of features are distinctly indigenous. In some places, traditional landscape features are readily apparent. However, in areas where colonization has been severe, one may need to look at indigenous influences on more contemporary structures. Indigenous cultures, as we know, do not end with Western contact; they merely take new forms.

Lesson at a glance: Students will use sources on mythology, oral tradition, cultural sites, and other literature to learn about tradition and special sites pertaining to their area. Use and structure of particular features may be examined and compared to similar features in other locations.
Key Concepts: “built environment,” cultural landscape features including religious structures such as temple platforms, shrines, fishponds, meeting houses and birthing stones; the traditional leadership structure of your culture.
Lesson Outcomes: The students will:

1. identify local cultural sites and learn their significance


The references needed for these exercises will vary with each island entity. They would include books or other information on

--traditional architecture

--traditional social and political structure

--traditional beliefs
A Good discussion of Place Names can be found in the Appendix of Pukui, Elbert & Mo‘okini’s Place Names of Hawai‘i (University of Hawai‘i Press)


This lesson focuses on the traditional culture of your society, particularly the structure of a community and a village, and the nature and structure of the home or home compound.

Note also that there may be “storied places” in the landscape that are not human-produced sites. These include, for example, “natural” rock formations about which there is a legend or myth. Such sites are part of a later lesson. Here, our focus is on places created by people of the past.

 Exercise 1: Place Names

Place names represent one of the key ways in which a natural landscape becomes “humanized.” They are markers from the past, that tell of events, or observations, or activities, or ways of seeing.
--Compile a list of place names for your area. To the extent possible, find the meaning of each place name. Some place names come from so far back in the past that they have no contemporary meaning.
--Try to determine how the place names are arranged: are there names for larger regions, and then for sub-regions? How small a place can still have a name?
--What are the common words associated with place names, if any? For example, place names often contain words meaning “water, “ “hill”, and so on. Try to categorize these names into groups, for example:

  • Names that simply describe, like “Big Hill”

  • Names that are associated with a legend or legendary being or event

  • Names that refer to human activities, such as “Hunting Ground,” or “House of ~”

  • Names that refer to plants or wildlife

  • New names, bearing the marks of other cultures

--Discuss with your students what these names say about how the people of your island saw the land.

 Exercise 2: Cultural Sites
--View the Native Place chapters on one or more available websites. Then work with your students to identify “native places” of those sorts that are found in your area.
--Using a blank map or outline of your land division, mark these sites on your map as best you can.
--Are there particular traditions or stories associated with these sites?
--Use these sites as starting points to discuss the different aspects of your indigenous culture. If some are abandoned sites, you can consider why they are no longer in use.
--In some areas, there are sites that today are known for being somehow “special,” whether or not any tradition is known about them. Can you think of any in your land division or nearby?

 Exercise 3: Activities

Identify any particular indigenous cultural activities known to have been practiced in your area. Such activities may include particular sports, or dance schools, or ordinary activities for which your area had an extraordinary reputation.
A related question is, what is the traditional reputation of your area, if any?

 Exercise 4: Political Structure

in every society, there is a Geography to the political structure: who controls how much territory? That power structured spatially. Politics is thus closely related to the existence of your land division as a distinct geographical entity.
-- Map the relationship between traditional political structure and Geography in your island entity: how was/is land controlled, and by whom?
--How did your area fit within this structure, as a separate place?
--What was/is the political structure within your land division?

Lesson 3: The Sea
Overview: We all know that with Pacific Islands, the sea is as much a part of life as the land, and a great deal of traditional lore concerned the sea. Fishing and boating techniques have changed a lot in many parts of the Pacific, but in most cases much of the traditional knowledge remains.
In addition, the sea demands a different type of environmental sensitivity. It is unpredictable, changeable, sometimes dangerous. So looking more closely at cultural use of the sea helps us understand more about living on Pacific Islands.
The Sea chapters on the websites are laid out such that the topical pages start on the shore and move progressively further out into the ocean. Likewise, the glossaries try to emphasize that there are different regions of the near-shore and offshore waters, and different activities associated with them
Finally, our concern in this section is the cultural values that are present in association with the sea.

Lesson at a glance: Students will use published sources and local knowledge to gain a comprehensive picture of places, uses, and activities associated with the Sea in your land division. They will compare these with similar categories of information in the different communities of Pacific Worlds.
Key Concepts: Local uses of the sea; coral reef formation; beaches and dunes; varieties of fish and traditions regarding them; fishing techniques and values.
Lesson Outcomes: The students will:

  • understand the sea as an extension of the land.

  • understand the types of coral reef (if any) found offshore their area;

  • identify local fish or sea foods derived (now or then) offshore;

  • identify places in or near the sea.

  • Understand all of the above in cross-cultural perspective.


For these exercises, you will want

  • A map of your shoreline, such as a USGS topographic map, that shows shoreline and reef features, as well as the depths of the sea off your coast.

  • Books or materials on fish and marine life, fishing, canoes and navigation, and cultural practices concerning all of these, for your region.


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