First Leg - A World Without Gods

From Moana's Log - Interpreting Information


Moana sat with her back against a fuzzy, mossy rock at her favourite place on the island. There was a pillar of stone not far from the village that was only reachable by climbing up or climbing along a tree growing across a long fall to cliff face below. She liked to think of it as her secret place. Everyone knew about it, of course, but she was the only one who ever made the journey for some reason. Something about falling to their deaths, but Moana never saw their point. The fall was only the height of a coconut tree, perhaps a bit more – nothing to worry about. Sore feet were the worst she would get. Besides, there was enough foliage growing along the sides to at least slow a fall, if not swing down.

Best of all, the view faced away from the black, dead ocean and out into bright, lively waters. From here she could see far out beyond the reef and get lost in the waves when she needed to think. Or there were days like today when she was lucky enough to see a storm drift across the sky without being caught up in it. Rain was such a lovely thing at a distance.

“Moana!”

Moana turned back inward toward the island and found Sina on the path leading back down to the village. In a moment of mischief, she patted the ground next to her and looked toward her mother expectantly.

“I am not crossing that tree,” Sina said, her tone as firm and unyielding as her resolve not to no doubt was. “Unlike you, I’m not indestructible.”

Chuckling, Moana said, “Then we can just shout our words to each other.”

“Fine.” Much to Moana's surprise, Sina agreed and sat down far from the edge. “It's nice to hear you're in a good mood. You didn't come home last night.”

After the council meeting last night, Moana had possessed no inclination to go to bed and had come here to plan out her next course of action. At some point she had nodded off, but not for very long.

“Sorry to worry you.”

“No, your father and I know you can take care of yourself. We were more…concerned that…”

Moana knew exactly what Sina was alluding to, and she could understand it was an easy conclusion to reach from an outside perspective. “Concerned that I was angry with Dad?”

“Are you?”

Moana shrugged. “Not really. I got what I wanted. I know Dad is struggling with this.”

“But…”

“Well, I guess I'm…” It took a little while before she decided on the right word to describe how she felt about Tui at the moment. “I'm disappointed, I think. The vote was five-five. Uncle Rua abstained, which I understand. He left the final decision up to Dad, rather than voting aye and ending it or voting nay and putting more pressure on Dad. I don't believe Dad did something wrong, or cowardly; no matter what he did, he was carrying the deciding vote. I'm just… I feel a bit let down that he abstained, too. I mean, in essence, he voted aye but didn't truly commit to it. And that's fine. Just…”

Sina cut in, drawing Moana’s attention back and away from her silly navel-gazing. “Sweetie, you're rambling.”

“I suppose I am. You can tell Dad not to worry, though. I'm not avoiding him.”

“He'll be happy to hear that.” Even without looking, Moana could hear the smile in Sina’s voice. It then took on a more somber tone as she asked, “Is this about you but having an heir yet, then?”

Moana frowned and turned back to watch the storm again. She raised her voice a little louder to carry back to Sina. “No, it's not. I just came here to think about what I need to do next, is all.”

“Alright,” Sina said, and for a moment, Moana thought that might actually be the end of it. She was wrong, of course, but the moment had been there. “Hare did have a point. You're getting old.”

“Older,” Moana corrected. “I'm getting older. Gramma Tala was old. I'm still perfectly young, thank you.”

“Okay, okay. But you know what I mean. You're the eldest unmarried person on the island, not counting those who’ve lost their husband or wife.”

“You know what a bad idea me getting pregnant in the foreseeable future would be.” It was a perfectly logical and practical argument, one that could not be dismissed. Not that Moana expected Sina to leave it at that.

“I know, but we've talked about this, Moana. The older you get, the more dangerous childbirth will be for you. And” – Sina’s voice hitched as it always did when the topic came up – “my family has a history of difficult births.”

Moana sighed. She knew she should just tell everyone not to expect her to bear an heir and then deal with the fallout. Really, she should have done so years ago, but she kept putting it off and putting it off, and now she was old enough that people would be thinking it and probably even whispering it. The village might do something drastic if I don't find a way to end this someday soon. No one wants a succession crisis. I wonder how they would take it if I openly proclaimed Hine’s firstborn would be the next chief?

Well, if Laka ever manages to get her with child. It's certainly not for lack of trying if the stories Hine tells are even partially accurate.

“Moana, are you listening?”

Oops. “No, sorry. I get what you're saying, but I have more important things to worry about right now than getting laid.”

Unamused, Sina asked, “Must you be so crass?”

“Oh please. I've overheard you and Dad together more than once. You're in no position to be talking.” That certainly got Sina to drop the subject and to turn to fidgeting awkwardly, her face red enough for even Moana to notice. “You can tell Dad I'll be around for lunch. I might be a bit late, though. I'm going to grab Ngaio and hole up with her somewhere to start on a fairly ambitious project.”

“Ocean fishing?”

Moana waved her hand back and forth, rejecting the notion. “I may have slightly mislead the council last night. I've got that covered already.”

“Should I be surprised?” Sina deadpanned.

You're the one who calls me a trouble maker.”

“Alright, alright. Just don't make a habit of it.” She said that, but there was still a fond smile on Sina’s face. After she got up, she added, “And please at least think about what we talked about, okay?”

Moana sighed to herself. “I will.” And in the most literal sense of Sina's request, she would and had. With or without being asked to, she would inevitably end up thinking about it again anyway. Still, it felt like lying.

Sorry, Moana thought, fingering the shell locket hanging from her neck. Gramma Tala had given it to her what felt like ages ago now. There was little doubt that Tala would tell her to do what she thought was best and not to worry. The corners of her lips curled up slightly at the thought. Sorry, Mom, I may have slightly mislead you, too.

“I'll see you at lunch, then,” Sina said. “I love you.”

“Love you too,” Moana called back, feeling guilty again, but she left it at that. Sina took off back down to Motunui, and Moana went back to thinking while she idly watched the storm and ocean turn and meet each other in an elaborate dance. It was strangely erotic.

Urgh! Dammit, Mom. That thought was entirely your fault.


The overland path to Ngaio’s seaside house was treacherous terrain. The forest was too thick to walk through, and the sand was the most dangerous thing on the island. Of all the forces in the world, nothing was more terrible than Ngaio’s wrath if you dared to step on her scratchwork, even if it was something she had completely forgotten about – sometimes especially so in that case. Occasionally the wind or rain would take them, but the ones Ngaio wanted to last but had passed over the bother of painting them or carving them onto a durable surface were well-shielded from the weather.

Moana looked over the drawings and scribbles left in the sand as she walked through the safe side of the shoreline. Some of them she remembered drawing herself. There was her idea for a better fish cage. It had failed, yes, but it had given Ngaio a good idea that did work.

Oh, and there was the joint project Moana and Ngaio had worked on together to build a bridge over the widest portion of the river that ran through the village. It was unnecessary, but sometimes Moana would rather not swim across or take a long detour to the simple log bridge across the narrowest portion. The challenge there had been anchoring each end of the bridge in the soft earth along the river’s edges without making the whole thing look ridiculous and unsightly. The bridge itself consisted only of old ropes and nets strung across the water with some sticks and branches to walk on.

And that section, though bare now, was where Ngaio had taught Moana to read and write. Granted, only the two of them could and it was an imprecise art, but it made record keeping much more, simply put, reliable.

I’ll have to make sure that whoever ends up as my heir knows how to read. It’s so hard to get people interested. Hine got bored between breakfast and lunch and left. Moana sighed at the memory of Hine calling Ngaio’s scribbles pointless. Maybe they would catch on someday.

At last, Moana reached her destination. She knocked on a post holding up the roof as she entered. The effect was immediate. Ngaio leapt up from whatever she was working on, a hungry look in her eyes. She held out a hollow coconut carved to drink from in welcome.

Finally, Moana thought, smiling, someone I can relax with. She took the offered drink, glad for it with how hot it was today and with how long she had been without. “Thanks, Ngaio. Am I interrupting something?”

Ngaio waved her hand once and back, as if the question was beneath her notice. Digging through her things, she pulled out their usual thin, sharpened sticks for writing in the sand and tossed them toward Moana.

Balancing her drink in one hand, Moana reached out with the other to grab the sticks out of the air. When Ngaio decided to throw another hollowed out coconut toward her – for carrying sea water to dampen the sand – she stuck out a foot to catch it. Balanced precariously, she carefully wedged the sticks between the upper and lower half of her other arm and raised the empty coconut up high enough to grab it.

“Did you have to do that?”

Ngaio’s self-satisfied smirk was answer enough as she set about cracking open a green coconut and pouring herself another drink.

“Fine, then,” Moana said, rolling her eyes. She set off back onto the beach and said, “I’ll go set up.”

About twelve paces away from where high tide ended, Moana deposited everything but the empty coconut and went to fetch the first load of water. After ten trips back and forth, she felt they had enough space to begin with. One last trip filled the coconut up again for auxiliary use, and she was done.

Just as Moana had started to enjoy her sunbathing while waiting, Ngaio sat down next to her. The look in her eyes said, “Well? Get on with it, then.”

Moana picked up a stick and asked what she knew would sound like a patronising question at first. “What is this?” And as expected, Ngaio looked at her very skeptically. “I’m going somewhere with this, okay?”

After a few seconds of questioning staring, Ngaio shrugged. ‘A stick,’ she wrote.

“A stick,” Moana echoed aloud. “If I want to communicate ‘stick’ to you for whatever reason, I could show you a stick, as I did. I could write the word. I could say the word. I could probably even gesticulate it if I tried hard enough. Each is a distinct way to communicate the same thing.

“There are so many ways to convey the same meaning. I could say I’m happy, or I could smile, and you’d understand just as well. Maybe my body language would give that away, too, perhaps if I were skipping about and singing a lively song.

“Of course, you want to pick the right medium to make the appropriate impact. If I told you I’m a generous person, you could nod your head and move on. But if instead you see me giving away my dinner to someone sick and in need of an extra meal, I can only assume the act would make a more enduring impact on your perception of me.”

Moana paused a moment to take a drink. Ngaio took the opportunity to write, ‘How does this relate to last night’s meeting?’

“It’s a matter of translation.” That answer was a little vague, but Moana knew Ngaio well enough not to give her the problem before the introduction was finished, or her attention would drift away. “Speech, facial expressions, body language, gestures – everyone on the island knows how to translate between them, although some are worse at it than others.”

‘Like Haeata and Hauku?’

Chuckling, Moana nudged Ngaio with her elbow. “That’s not very polite. It’s not their fault their parents dropped them on their heads as babies.”

‘They didn’t. Those two have no excuse.’

“Fair enough.” Moana hid her smile behind her coconut, drinking until she got it under control. “Now when it comes to more abstract things, translation becomes more difficult. For example, without my mom explaining it to me, I likely wouldn't have realised that menstruation is your body telling you you’re probably fertile but not pregnant and menopause means you can’t have children anymore.”

Ngaio gave Moana a curious look, causing her to flush slightly.

“Blame my mom. She put the topic on my mind this morning.”

‘Like you blamed the pig?’

Ugh. I’m already regretting sharing that little tidbit of information. Wonderful.

While Moana thought that, Ngaio wrote, 'You should tell her,’ only for Moana to scratch the words into nonexistence immediately after.

Anyway, things become more complicated when you introduce homonyms into whatever language you’re dealing with. Imagine you’re on the ocean and you find that the swells are growing larger. What does that mean?”

Ngaio took some time to carefully consider the question. ‘Is there land nearby?’

“None that you can see.”

‘Is a storm coming? Or has the wind picked up?’

Smiling, her point made, Moana shook her head. “The weather conditions are the same as they were before.”

‘Then I don’t know.’

“The water became shallower. There might be a hidden reef below, or maybe the ocean floor rises higher there. But you understand what I was getting at, right? Part of the difficulty of ocean travel is listening to everything the ocean is trying to tell you and translating it correctly.

“But that’s my job. I can handle that perfectly well. The other hard part is knowing where on Earth you’re going. Some things are easy. Climb high on your boat to get a better view beyond the horizon. Follow terns on their way home to find land. Simple, right?”

‘Very,’ Ngaio wrote despite that having been a rhetorical question.

“Now if you’re going to a close island–”

‘Relatively close.’

Moana rolled her eyes. “–a relatively close island, it’s enough to point and say, ‘Go that way.’ That’s prone to get you lost, but it’s doable. Now there are a lot of things that, when all added together, will give you good enough directions to get to where you’re going.”

Grumbling to herself, Moana added, “Assuming you know what they look like at your destination in advance.” There was going to be an awful lot of blind sailing for her for the first year or so.

“The stars are a particularly useful tool,” Moana continued, shoving her frustrations aside. She drew a horizontal line in the sand. “Imagine this is the horizon.” She drew a vertical line bisecting the other. “And this is due south. Assuming you’ve ever looked up at night–”

Ngaio lightly slapped Moana upside the head.

“–you’ll know that the stars move in arcs and circles through the night sky. For this explanation, there are two pairs of stars that are of particular interest. They’re really easy to spot, but it’s the two stars that are vertical together at the peak of their arcs that we’re interested in.”

Carefully, Moana traced out two concentric arcs from left to right. She then added a third arc between them after a moment of consideration.

“This middle arc is the path the horizontal pair follows. The outer arcs are the vertical pair. Now if you look at where they are at various times during the night–” Moana drew a few lines out from due south on the horizon perpendicular to the arcs. “–the vertical pair always points more or less to south on the horizon.

“Now please bear with me. I’m not sure I can draw this well.”

Moana put forth her best artistic efforts and started by drawing a square if one were looking at it from an angle. She was met with mixed success, but Ngaio understood when she briefly explained what she was trying to draw.

“Imagine this is our little section of the world. And this” – Moana added an arc, but the perspective was poor at best – “is a star trail. We are here.” She poked a point far from the arc and left an indentation behind. After that, she drew a triangle connecting that point to the arc at its peak, back down to south on the edge of the square, the horizon, and finally back to where she started.

“This trick works at any time of night, but it's easiest to visualise as so, where the star is directly above due south. We see this angle to the star when it’s over due south.” Moana paused. “You know, actually, I don’t need the arc, just a point. I could clean this up.”

‘Keep going,’ Ngaio wrote. ‘I don’t think I need the diagram for where you’re taking this.’

“Alright, well, let’s say that we move very far south to, say, here.” Moana poked another point inside the square and then repeated her earlier process of drawing a triangle between it and the star. “The angle after we’ve moved is much larger, and the star will appear to be higher in the sky without having actually moved. We can tell how far north or south we are by the angle or the distance from due south, then.”

‘Only with a very rough approximation.’

“True. Fortunately, there’s more than two stars in the sky. With our earlier vertical stars, the distance between them never changes. However, the apparent distance between them and the southern horizon does vary. Forgive me, but I won't be able to draw that without thinking about it for a while. I'm not even going to try.”

'I suppose I can forgive you your transgression.’

“Gee, thanks. You're too kind.” The sarcasm in Moana's voice was palpable. “It’s easy to guess if the two distances – between stars and to the horizon – are the same, or if the upper is double or half the lower, and so on and so forth. When we get to a new island, we can look at the stars and pick a few to memorise to remember where the island is.”

Ngaio added, ‘Or at least how far north or south you need to travel to get to them.’

“Yes, unfortunately. But it’s easy enough to travel east or west until you run into signs that there’s an island nearby. The ocean’s waves will change. You’ll be able to see birds. So on and so forth.”

‘While that’s ingenious, what do you need me for? You seem to have everything well in hand.’

“As far as navigating goes, yes. I should be fine. I gave you a brief overview so that you know what we have to work with.” After shifting over to a fresh patch of sand, Moana drew two squares, placed a dot in one, and drew an arrow from the other to the dot. She then set to work in the empty square. “Now if I poorly draw this…”

It took a long while after Moana set her stick down for Ngaio to get it. Her eyes widened, and she wrote, ‘A map of Motunui?’

“Yep.”

‘You want a way to accurately map the ocean?’

“Exactly so.”

Ngaio looked between Moana and the sketches in the sand. A smile soon blossomed on her face.

‘Let’s get started.’