they carried in their head images of the spread of islands over the ocean and envisioned in the mind’s eye the bearings from one to the other in terms of a conceptual compass

“The navigational practices of Oceanians present somewhat of a puzzle to the student of the history of cartography. Here were superb navigators who sailed their canoes from island to island, spending days or sometimes many weeks out of sight of land, and who found their way without consulting any instruments or charts at sea. Instead, they carried in their head images of the spread of islands over the ocean and envisioned in the mind’s eye the bearings from one to the other in terms of a conceptual compass whose points were typically delineated according to the rising and setting of key stars and constellations or the directions from which named winds blow. Within this mental framework of islands and bearings, to guide their canoes to destinations lying over the horizon these navigators applied vital information ob- tained by watching with the naked eye the stars, ocean swells, steady winds, island-influenced cloud formations, land-nesting birds fishing out at sea, and other cues provided by nature.”

Finney, Ben. “Nautical cartography and traditional
navigation in Oceania.” The history of cartography:
cartography in the traditional African, American,
Artic, Australian, and Pacific societies 2
(1998).