Regarding the Accuracy of Oral Traditions
with reference to Daniel Kikawa's book

“Perpetuated In Righteousness”
by Sandy Simpson, Apologetics Coordination Team,

May 2005



The accuracy of oral tradition is, in a word, "inaccurate". I dare say that if we were able to trace back most oral traditions today, as God sees them from an eternal perspective, we would see the mutations, changes and fabrications involved in modern mythology. We would also see a lot of "fables".

However, there are ways to preserve oral tradition that keep the original information fairly pristine (assuming it was accurate to begin with!). The method of oral tradition memorization called "mnemonics" was used by the Micronesians on islands such as the Carolines, Palau, Satawal, Pulawat and the Marshall Islands.

For example, the chant “Ufi Mwareta” sang of birds and fishes, landmarks, and sweet smelling flowers, whose “superficial” meanings, according to Sosthe, was nothing less than part of the map of the seaway from the Central Carolines to the Northern Marianas. My students—modern day Chamorros and other non-Chamorro Guamanians (Asians and Statesiders alike)- were stunned when they discovered that this chant was not only a mnemonic map but that navigators, including children in training, from the Central Carolines, possessed intimate knowledge of specific land- and water-marks in Guam and the Northern Marianas.1

Among the mnemonic devices and concepts McKnight discusses is the use of a “series of scars” on stone to enable “elder experts” to anticipate “certain meteorological events and festivals,” the association of the piercing of ears with the memory of events, and acknowledging the positions of the moon and stars to provide calendar based timemarkers. McKnight also discusses the tying of 10 knots in twine (teliakl) to mark the completion of the turtle egg-laying cycle, a synchronization of these knots between male and female “clubs” to orchestrate the “kidnaping” of females to play “hostess” to male clubs in other villages, and the use of the teliakl to schedule village council meetings and for elderly Palauan women to establish and maintain seasonal almanacs. (McKnight, Robert K. 1961. Mnemonics in Pre-Literate Palau.2

In discussing the stellar determination of latitude, Lewis describes the Satawal (central Caroline Islands) method of estimating the height of the pole star by “the span of the fingers loosely extended at arms length.” This measure is one ey-ass and is equal to 15 degrees (an ey-ass is a hooked breadfruit-picking pole). The senior Satawal navigators told me that the pole-star was half an ey-ass above the horizon at their home island and one ey-ass at Saipan, proportions that are exactly right”3

Riesenberg examines the classification of geographic knowledge by the people of Polowat atoll through mnemonics, particularly the organizational structures of star courses for voyaging. Riesenberg stresses the use of metaphor in most of the eleven categories of information that he describes in detail. He lists the 32 primary stars used in Central Carolinian navigation with their European compass positions. Risenberg provides a diagram of the course followed in the “Sail of Limahácha category of navigational information that depends on following the Limahácha fish. He also includes three other detailed course diagrams centered on the voyaging image of certain fish and provides very detailed component listings of star-and-fish based courses - both imaginary and regularly pursued - with their integral relationships between spaces emphasized.4 5


Playdon stresses the presence and functional nature of mnemonics in Marshallese stick charts, particularly as they relate to the actions of swells in relation to Marshall Islands geography and methods used by the three main types of stick charts to reflect those dynamics. Playdon notes extensive processes of memorization involved in chants related to knowledge of natural phenomena and magic. Several related illustrations of stick charts are included.6

Mnemonics were almost exclusively used to pass down important navigational information that, if forgotten, would severely limit islanders from inter-island travel. Mnemonics were HARDLY EVER used as a learning and memory device to retain other information such as religion, history, traditions, myths, etc.

It is clear that the use of mnemonics ceased to be employed in Hawaii a long time ago, and this is evident in the case of handing down navigational information. The proof of this is that, in 1975, Hawaiians had a master navigator from Satawal come and teach navigation to Hawaiians so that they could, once again, make sea voyages using island navigational techniques they likely possessed in the past.

But the art of long-distance voyaging was almost lost under centuries of colonial rule that changed, even banned, the traditional way of life. The 67-year-old Piailug, seeing little interest in his home islands, worried that celestial navigation would die with him. It already had died in Hawaii, and people here wanted to resurrect the tradition. University of Hawaii anthropologist Ben Finney asked Piailug to navigate Hawaii's first voyaging canoe, the Hokule'a, which set sail in 1975.7

The fact that mnemonic learning methods are not known to have even been employed in Hawaii with regard to navigational information proves that the Hawaiian oral traditions of religion and culture are suspect as to their factuality. The mythology of the Hawaiian islands therefore must be taken “with a grain of salt” in the area of historical accuracy. For Daniel Kikawa to base an entire book on trying to syncretize various unsubstantiated myths, legends, fables and stories from Hawaii with factual Biblical accounts is really oxymoronic.

Oral tradition is fraught with problems of accuracy, as is made evident in the following explanation of the accuracy of oral traditions by Andrei Simic, professor of anthropology in the Department of Anthropology, University of Southern California ("USC"), Los Angeles, California. He specializes “in ethnic studies, including the role played by folklore and oral tradition in the formation and development of the cultural identity of ethnic groups.”

… It is one thing to use folklore and oral tradition as a means of ascertaining or demonstrating what the members of an ethnic group believe (or once believed) about the world and their collective past. It is another thing entirely to use folklore and oral tradition as proof of the truth of what the group believes. As a general rule, folklore and oral tradition are not stable enough to be taken as inherently accurate witnesses of events from the remote past. ... Folklore and oral tradition are not fixed, immutable elements of an ethnic group's culture. Change in both content and meaning is the general rule rather than the exception. Change can and often does occur with each new generation of group members, and can include the addition of new stories, deletions, substitutions and reinterpretation of meaning. .... Folklore and oral tradition represent an ethnic group's response to the conditions confronting the group. As conditions within and outside the group change, its folklore and oral tradition will change to adjust to the new conditions that must be addressed.Folklore and oral tradition can also change because of unintended errors in transmission. …Revitalization movements provide a vivid illustration of how an ethnic group's beliefs can change in response to new conditions. … Because folklore and oral tradition are subject to human control and change, their factual accuracy cannot be taken for granted. In some instances they may contain elements of historical truth, but critical analysis is needed to separate fact from fiction.  … Because of the central importance of folklore and oral tradition to an ethnic group's culture and identity, it is highly unlikely that any modern Native American tribe can have a "shared group identity" with a population that lived 9,200 years ago. … In summary, it is highly unlikely that contemporary Native American tribes can trace any direct cultural or social continuity to a population that lived 9,200 years ago. No culture has been known to have remained static for that period of time. ...8

Obvious errors in dating methods in the above article aside (9,200 years?) the question remains: why do Daniel Kikawa, Richard Twiss and other “First Nations” leaders fail to base their conclusions on what the Bible clearly teaches, where historical accuracy has been proven time and again? Instead they have chosen to rely on faulty oral tradition, attempting to pick out a few verses from the Bible in order to justify their mythological positions. 

There is a big difference between oral fables and the accuracy of the Bible. Biblical accuracy in all its accounts of the past is beyond dispute. The Bible has been protected by God over the millennia, and has been handed down accurately from generation to generation (Rom. 3:2). 

Those oracles may also have been handed down in written form.  Dr. Henry Morris, among others, makes a clear argument that the book of Genesis, compiled by Moses, was likely handed down in written form from the beginning through the lineage of Adam/Noah/Abraham. There is no reason to doubt this assumption as Adam had 900+ years to develop a form of writing to accompany the language he was created already speaking.

However, the probability exists that the Biblical account had been preserved either as an oral tradition, or in written form handed down from Noah, through the patriarchs and eventually to Moses, thereby making it actually older than the Sumerian accounts which were restatements (with alterations) to the original.9

The Lord Jesus Himself and the gospel writers said that the Law was given by Moses (Mark 10:3; Luke 24:27; John 1:17), and the uniform tradition of the Jewish scribes and early Christian fathers, and the conclusion of conservative scholars to the present day, is that Genesis was written by Moses. This does not preclude the possibility that Moses had access to patriarchal records, preserved by being written on clay tablets and handed down from father to son via the line of Adam–Seth–Noah–Shem–Abraham–Isaac–Jacob, etc., as there are 11 verses in Genesis which read, ‘These are the generations [Hebrew: toledoth = ‘origins’ or by extension ‘record of the origins’] of … .’1 As these statements all come after the events they describe, and the events recorded in each division all took place before rather than after the death of the individuals so named, they may very well be subscripts or closing signatures, i.e. colophons, rather than superscripts or headings. If this is so, the most likely explanation of them is that Adam, Noah, Shem, and the others each wrote down an account of the events which occurred in his lifetime, and Moses, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, selected and compiled these, along with his own comments, into the book we now know as Genesis (see also Did Moses really write Genesis?).10

"After all, the events of Genesis took place long before Moses was born, whereas he was a direct participant in the events recorded in the other four books of the Pentateuch. It is reasonable that Adam and his descendants all knew how to write, and therefore kept records of their own times (note the mention of 'the book of the generations of Adam in Genesis 5:1). These records (probably kept on stone or clay tablets) were possibly handed down from father to son in the line of the God-fearing patriarchs until they finally were acquired by Moses when he led the children of Israel out of Egypt. During the wilderness wanderings, Moses compiled them into the book of Genesis, adding his own explanatory editorial comments where needed. Genesis is still properly considered as one of the books of Moses, since its present form is due to him, but it really records the eye-witness records of these primeval histories, as written originally by Adam, Noah, Shem, Isaac, Jacob and other ancient patriarchs. The respective divisions of Genesis can be recognized by the recurring phrase: 'These are the generations of...' The archaeologist P.J. Wiseman has shown that these statements probably represent the 'signatures,' so to speak, of the respective writers as they concluded their accounts of the events during their lifetimes.11


The accuracy of the Biblical accounts, whether they were handed down in written form or not, is beyond question. The accuracy of the Scriptures has been proven through archeology, anthropology, history, science and most importantly, prophecy. The accuracy of Hawaiian mythology, on the other hand, is quite subjective in nature.

To try to harmonize myth with Scripture is exactly what God warned true followers of Christ not to do:

1 Timothy 1:4  Neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do.
1 Timothy 4:7  But refuse profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise thyself rather unto godliness.
2 Timothy 4:4  And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
Titus 1:14  Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.
2 Peter 1:16  For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty.







2—Anthropological Working Papers Number 9, Guam: Office of The Staff Anthropologist, Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

3—Lewis, David. 1977. From Maui to Cook: The Discovery and Settlement of the Pacific. Sydney: Doubleday, pg. 34.

4— Riesenberg, Saul H. 1972. The Organization of Navigational Knowledge on Puluwat. Journal of the Polynesian Society 81(1): 19-56. (Also in: Pacific Navigation and Voyaging, Ben R. Finney, compiler. Wellington: The Polynesian Society Incorporated. 91-128.

5—Also see Speculations on Puluwatese mnemonic structure, P. Hage, Oceania, 49 (1978) 81-95.

6—Playdon, George W. 1967. The Significance of Marshallese Stick Charts. Journal of Navigation (London) 20(2): 155-166.

7—Going Home by Susan Kreifels, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, April 19, 1999,

8—DATED this day of March, 2000. ANDREI SIMIC´, Affidavits Address Oral Tradition and Cultural Affiliation, ANDREI SIMIC´,


10—Should Genesis be taken literally? by Russell Grigg,

11—Dr. Henry M. Morris, The Defender's Study Bible (Iowa Falls, Iowa: World Bible Publishers, 1995), p. 1-2.