Posts tagged ‘stick charts’

February 28, 2011

Stick Charts

This is a stick chart.

These were used by the Polynesian peoples as navigation tools. They mostly map ocean swells – stable, long-wavelength surface waves – but also currents and relative position of islands.

There are three kinds of charts. Mattang charts: square-shaped, used for instruction. Meddo charts: showing relative position of islands, the disruption of swells by the islands and the distance from which the island can be seen when sailing. Rebbelib charts: which seem to be a more elaborate and detailed version of the Meddo charts.

Made from palm ribs, coconut fiber and shells, they are a mnemonic device, that is, they were never taken on the voyage, but memorized before departure. Furthermore, they vary so much among one another, that even a fully competent navigator could not read a stick chart made by someone else. Nor would every one in the community have access to the knowledge of making them. They were closely guarded secrets of the family of the chief, and knowledge was passed down father to son.

The Polynesians used these charts to navigate the Indian and Pacific Oceans, colonizing islands from Madagascar to Hawaii.