Toward an Indigenous cartography with Micronesian seafaring alterity in Mni Sota Makoce

Vicente Diaz

The Paafu mat (Image one) is a simple instructional tool from traditional voyaging practice that is used to teach children “the sailing stars”—constellations used for directional purposes. On the right side of the circle are shells that mark rising points of stars in the eastern horizon. On the left side are shells that mark the same stars as they set in the western horizon. With such pairs of stars, along with the North Star and the Upright Southern Cross, one can begin to visualize how stars can “map” meaningful locations on earth. Our ability to couple traditional voyaging technology like the paafu mat/map with digital technology of virtual and augmented reality (Image 2) permits us to visualize and sense otherwise deeper, more profound “relationalities” and scales—spatial, genealogical, epistemological, ontological—that exist among land, water, sky, and peoplehood—whose radical alterity from European Enlightenment thought both underwrite “traditional” Indigenous cartographies used in long distance outrigger canoe voyaging and make for radical alternatives for mapping self and nature in and for new Indigenous and Cartographic futures.

Photograph of Paafu Mat, Polowat Atoll, Federated States of Micronesia

Photograph of Paafu Mat, Polowat Atoll, Federated States of Micronesia. Vicente M. Diaz. September 21, 2021. Original image in photographer’s possession.

Woven pandanus mat on which a circle of shells represent rising and setting points of constellations used for navigational purposes. At the center is a model wa herak outrigger voyaging canoe. In this way, the novice learns how stars "map" space/time on land and sea.

Video Still of Augmented Paafu Mat, I/V Laboratory, Department of Computer Engineering, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

Video still of Augmented Paafu Mat, I/V Laboratory, Department of Computer Engineering, University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Photographer and lead Engineer: Dan Keefe, Department of Computer Engineering, University of Minnesota Twin Cities, with Graduate Assistants: Sean Dorr, Kiet Tran, and Zahara Spilka. Date: September 21, 2021. Current Location: In author’s possession, with permission from Prof. Keefe.

Projection-based mixed reality that combines real-time physical simulation and 3D computer graphics. Georeferenced to the island of Polowat and the Chuuk Lagoon, the digital visualization superimposes multiple perspectives and orthographic projections of multiple 3D computer graphics scenes.

Prof. Vicente M. Diaz directs the Native Canoe Program which centers Indigenous watercraft and Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) about human/water/land/sky interrelations for engaged teaching and research. An interdisciplinary—sometimes anti-disciplinary—scholar with specialty in “non-instrument” outrigger sailing canoe ocean voyaging, Diaz mixes “traditional” Pacific Islander cultural and political form and materiality with the content of academic critical theory to model global, comparative, and critical Native Studies. He is the author of Repositioning the Missionary: Rewriting the Histories of Colonialism, Native Catholicism and Indigeneity in Guam (Pacific Islands Monograph Series, University of Hawai’i 2010), Producer/Writer of Sacred Vessels: Navigating Tradition and Identity in Micronesia (1997; 29 min), and co-author of the Hale’ta/Our Roots series of K-12 history and civics textbooks produced by the Guam Political Status Education Commission. He is also former director of the Micronesian Seafaring Society and co-founder of the Guam Traditional Seafarers, with three decades of working with traditional navigators and canoe-builders from the Central Caroline islands in the western Pacific. Diaz is a member of the University of Minnesota's ArTeS Collective and the Back to Indigenous Futures Collaborative, an interdisciplinary team of Indigenous and STEM researchers working with Dakota and Pacific Islander communities to advance Indigenous political and cultural resurgence in collaboration with critical and decolonial research practice through multi-sensoried, experiential, and Virtual, Augmented, and Mixed Reality (VR/AR/MR) technologies.