Polynesian objects from early European exploration, £19.99
Length: 75.500 cm
Gift of Mrs H.G. Beasley
Africa, Oceania, Americas
Navigation chart (mattang)
From the Marshall Islands, Micronesia. Probably 19th or early 20th century AD
The Republic of the Marshall Islands, consisting of more than one thousand islands and islets, is located in the western Pacific. The numerous islands are difficult to navigate, as they are so low they cannot be seen from a distance. The experienced navigators of the region made charts to record the location of the islands, together with their knowledge of the swell and wave patterns. The chart is constructed from sticks tied together. The horizontal and vertical sticks are intended as supports to the chart, while diagonal and curved ones represent wave swells. The information was memorised and the charts would not be carried on voyages.
This chart is of the type known as a mattang, specifically made for the purpose of training people selected to be navigators. Such charts depict general information about swell movements around one or more small islands. Trainees were taught by experienced navigators.
Navigation charts are known popularly as stick charts. They continue to be made, though few people are able to use them as navigation aids. They are sold as tourist souvenirs.
W. Davenport., 'Marshall Islands cartography', The Bulletin of the University, 6: 4 (Summer 1964), pp. 10 -13.
J. Feldman and D.H. Rubinstein, The art of Micronesia (Honolulu, The University of Hawaii Art Gallery, 1988)