Monday, May 27, 2013

The Answer and a Winner

Mark D. Ruffner
My challenge to you on Friday was to identify this curious structure. Rosemary gets credit for using the word "indigenous" and Gina and Steve get credit for guessing that it's related to fishing. But astute Rugby E. Root knew the answer:

click to enlarge   |   http://www.freeworldmaps.net/oceania/
This interesting construction comes from the Marshall Islands, southwest of Hawaii and northeast of Australia.

http://sio.midco.net/mapstamps/stickchart.htm
It's actually called a "stick chart" and it's a map once used by Marshallese fishermen to chart the prevailing currents around their islands. The shells represent the islands, and the sticks (which are usually the spines of palm fronds) represent the currents.

links below
It's interesting that the chart that I displayed (which belongs to my brother and sister-in-law) is very close to the image on the stamp. Because of that, I'm guessing that it might represent the entire Marshall Islands area. Usually, though,  these stick charts were made by individual fishermen for their own fishing locales, and therefore could not be read by other people. Their designs varied greatly, as show above. Sacrificial Materials blogspot (the middle link below) correctly describes these stick charts as mnemonic, more memory guides than maps.

After World War II, modern marine technologies reached the Marshall Islands, and stick charts were fazed out.

The three maps above come from these sites:

14 comments:

  1. Hello Mark, These are fascinating, and I never would have guessed their use and importance. Beyond that, their graphics are striking, and I can imagine them reduced to jewelry proportions, made of silver wire and pearls.

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    1. Hello, Jim,

      I can easily see the center chart of the three reworked as a pendant, with pearls instead of shells. You might be on to something!

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  2. That's truly amazing, and I didn't even attempt a guess. Do you know when they first started using them, and what did they base their grid on? If the concept is thousands of years old then I'm completely in awe.

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    1. Columnist, I assume that these were at least hundreds of years old, because the charts could be handed down through families. It is amazing — I was thinking that it would be interesting to overlay a chart onto a modern map.

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  3. Dear Mark - the stick chart is so interesting - I am really pleased to learn about it. What a super little object it is, and something anyone would be delighted to own.

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    1. Dear Rosemary - The Marshall Islands stick chart is actually quite large, about the size of a small table top.

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    2. It IS very interesting how similar your brother's piece is to the one on the stamp. Unless its shape represents the boundaries of the Marshall Islands, the bump ups in the upper left-hand corner and the lower right-corner are really unusual. It seems it would have made more sense to include those islands within a larger square. It's a very interesting piece and, I would imagine, fairly rare.

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    3. Hi, Steve,

      I hadn't really considered that bump-up of the left-hand corner until your comment, but I do notice that it has shells attached to it. I'm guessing that this (and the stamp's) chart represents the entire Marshall Islands — as opposed to one particular fishing area — and that the bump-up is the northern-most islands.

      I have no idea how rare the stick chart is, but it's been one heck of a conversation piece!

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  4. Hi, Mark - Happy Memorial Day! Sorry I missed your quiz. I wouldn't have guessed correctly as it looks so primitive. What an interesting and unusual (to me) item!

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    1. Hi, Loi,

      Isn't it interesting how one item can be simultaneously primitive and sophisticated? And would we view it substantially differently if the same lines were on parchment instead of comprised of sticks?

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  5. Hi Mark,
    All caught up now. Interesting "french fireplace" with standing logs. It makes sense, the air must circulate really well around the logs making for a strong fire. Can't wait to see more about the restoration.
    Love your bottle collection. Just the other day, I came across a guy on Etsy who specializes in selling vintage and antique bottles. I, of course, collect the broken pieces from my backyard.
    The sunken garden is a living work of art - amazing! For a northerner like me, it almost look like it's a paradise from another planet, beautifully alien.
    Your stick chart is also beautifully alien, not from another planet, but from another time. Ancient technology yet very modern abstract looking.
    Thank you,
    Anyes
    xx

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    1. Hi, Anyes,

      Your comment made me think about the spot to which my parents retired. It had been the site of a Civil War battlefield, and they occasionally would dig up relics from that time!

      As always, thanks for visiting,

      Mark

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  6. not sure I could find my way around with one of those, but it's very cool none the less!

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    1. Hi, Stefan,

      I'm with you on both counts!

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