Douglas Arvidson is a past winner of the WICE/Paris Transcontinental International Short Story competition. His short fiction has been published in Paris, Prague, and in literary magazines in the United States and he was recently invited to be a staff writer for the Prague Revue, a cutting-edge, online literary journal ( The novels in his fantasy series, The Eye of the Eye of Stallion, include The Face in Amber, The Mirrors of Castaway Time, and A Drop of Wizard's Blood. His new novel, Brothers of the Fire Star, was selected as a finalist in the ForeWord Reviews 2012 Book of the Year national awards and as a finalist in three categories in the 2013 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards: Action Adventure Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Young Adult Fiction. It has become part of the pantheon of Pacific literature and is now included in school literature programs. Brothers of the Fire Star is an adventure story set in the Pacific during World War II and concerns two boys of different races and cultures who escape the island of Guam in a small sailboat when the Japanese army invades. They must then struggle to survive as they master the secrets of the ancient Pacific navigators. Appropriate for young adults as well as adult readers, Brothers of the Fire Star is available on Barnes & Noble, ( and Visit the author's website:

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Multiple Intelligences and Traditional Navigation: Conceptualizing ETAK

Here I am sitting on the honifot--the helm--of the traditional canoe, Quest.

Howard Gardner, in his his book Frames of Mind, proposes that the way the Western world traditionally measures intelligence fails to account for "a far wider and universal set" of competencies or types of intelligence that one observes outside the traditional Western societies.

He holds up as a prime example, the Puluwatese youth who, after being selected by his elders as having the potential, sets about to learn the vast amount of unwritten information required of him to become a "master navigator." The "intelligence" required to achieve this title does not include reading or writing or math so it is not measurable by "I.Q." tests. Yet, Gardner's theory holds that learning those skills that will allow one to sail across hundreds of miles of ocean without the help of compass or sextant takes great intelligence, indeed.

Of interest to Gardner is the Puluwatese navigators ability to visualize where he is at sea between two islands by using "reference" islands--another island or islands other than the ones he is sailing from or to. These are called the etak islands and, because the master navigator, as part of his training, knows the direction of every known island from every other one and under which star they all sit, he can use these etak islands to better know his position at sea at all times.

The thing that interested Gardner is the different way the Puluwatese youth is taught to think about the canoe as it travels from one island to the next. According to the etak system, the canoe can be visualized as sitting still in the water, while the islands and stars move about him.

This complex process during which the navigator must keep clearly in his mind the positions of both stars and islands while sailing across an empty sea is staggering for the Western mind to contemplate. Indeed, it must be difficult for the navigators to master, too, for, according to Thomas Gladwin in his book East is a Big Bird, skill at sailing upwind toward an objective island using etak reference islands separated the good navigators from the mediocre ones.

No comments:

Post a Comment