The first European, we are told, to land on Easter Island was Jacob Roggeveen. The island held a number of surprises, not the least being the white men who greeted him on the shore. Their hair ranged from blond to red; their faces were more Semitic than those of the round-faced Polynesians. This was in 1722, and a number of the people told the visitors of ancient times when their white ancestors sailed to that island. Some could even recite their lineage to the first white men. Where did they come from? An event two thousand years before might provide the answer. The date was June 7, 323 BC. In the palace of Nebuchadnezzar II in Babylon, Alexander the Great, at age 32, was dead. His last days had been spent on his sickbed after drinking from a cup at a celebration party had left him screaming.
Poison or illness had brought down the conqueror that had defeated every army in his path even that of Persia’s Darius III. Immediately after his death, his huge fleet of warships was splintered. Part of it returned home; part was destroyed by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami. A large portion, though, had simply continued east in the directions of Alexander’s conquests. The story of its ultimate fate, however, has simply disappeared from historical record. There is evidence that the lost fleet continued in Alexander’s path of discovery. The man who is said to have wept upon learning there were no more lands to conquer had passed away, but his fleet itself may have continued eastward to explore and conquer.
There is, indeed, evidence that they did just that, ultimately reaching the Polynesian islands like Tonga and Hawaii and even Australia. While it is known that the fleet explored the coast of India, it would not have been a stretch to imagine that they reached the Malay Peninsula and out into the Pacific. Polynesia is a name that covers thousands of islands from Australia to Hawaii. While Hawaii was settled around AD 200, its history declares that another people were already there. Other islands in what is sometimes called the Polynesian Triangle have inhabitants that settled there much earlier. Among their shared achievements: being able to sail thousands of miles and then to find their way back to their tiny islands. They were able to do this by using the skies to navigate.
Alexander and his navy of Cretans and Greeks, like the Hawaiians, studied the skies and the cycles of the sun and moon. In addition to navigational skills both cultures would gain knowledge from the stars of when to plant, how to navigate, and even when to engage in certain activities. Advanced knowledge of the skies was not the only thing they shared. Both Europeans and Polynesian islanders had instances of blond hair. So what then became of the fleet of Alexander? It seems likely that the fleet splintered along the way east, and the sailors became settlers among the numerous islands. The Greeks may have been a ruling class for generations, but intermarriage led to assimilation.
Modern historians tend to see the oceans as barriers, while ancient mariners viewed them as highways. Before the newcomers came seafarers who might have learned from each other; it is even possible that some Greek navigators may have actually returned to the Mediterranean.
Kemo D. 7