The home page of the New York Times in March, 2016.

WAM in the New York Times

March 25, 2016: An article in this week’s New York Times on Marshallese navigation techniques has gone viral and the link is being scattered electronically around the world, giving thousands upon thousands of people the chance to read about an ocean-going voyage in a canoe from Majuro to Aur that was achieved in June last year.

The headline on the 6,000-word feature article is ‘The Secrets of the Wave Pilots’ and is followed by an enticing introduction: “For thousands of years, sailors in the Marshall Islands have navigated vast distances of open ocean without instruments. Can science explain their method before it’s lost forever?”

The must-read story is written by Kim Tingley, who, with a number of scientists, joined the voyage of the Waan Aelon in Majel (Canoes of the Marshall Islands, WAM) canoe to Aur on the project’s chase vessel.

In it, she explains that the Director of WAM and captain of the Jitdam Kapeel canoe, Alson Kelen, is “potentially the world’s last-ever apprentice in the ancient art of wave-piloting.” Kim continues in the NYT article that “If successful, he would prove that one of the most sophisticated navigational techniques ever developed still existed and, he hoped, inspire efforts to save it from extinction.”

Waan Aelon in Majel Director Alson Kelen believes all Marshallese should read the New York Times story. “It’s all about us and our beginnings.” He says the article is also “a big step for the WAM program, but it doesn’t just tell the WAM story, it tells of our culture and who we are.”

Crewing alongside Alson on the voyage was Bilton Daniel, Sear Helios, Elmi Juonraan, Ejnar Aerok and Jason Ralpho. It had been hoped that master navigator Captain Korent Joel would be the canoe’s captain, but he was too sick to make the passage.

Working closely with Alson on this event and the ongoing WAM navigation revival project is Joe Genz, the Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Hawaii, Hilo, and a long-time visitor to RMI. He said Tuesday: “I am very pleased with how well Kim Tingley presented such a complicated story of community resilience and scientific discovery, and also how she portrayed the Marshallese in such a graceful way. Mark Peterson’s images are equally captivating and capture many of our experiences during the voyage.”

To read the article and view thel photographs, you can google the key words New York Times Marshall Islands in the News section or type in the following link:

FOOTNOTE: This article first appeared in the Marshall Islands Journal. To subscribe to the weekly newspaper, email