Author Topic: Polynesian stick charts  (Read 27 times)

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Online CoconutXO

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Polynesian stick charts
« on: March 26, 2020, 02:02:07 AM »
Useful tools for sea navigation.

People were navigating long distances between islands in the Pacific for at least 2,000 years. How did they do it without astrolabes, sextants or modern satellite positioning technology? One group, the Marshall islanders, used unique stick charts and closely read the sea and its swells and currents for clues about where the islands were.

Distances between islands in the Marshalls and the rest of Polynesia stretch for hundreds and thousands of miles in the vast expanse of the Pacific. People lived there long before modern navigation implements came along, but for hundreds of years the Marshallese had their own effective technology.

It turns out Marshall Islanders of the Pacific Ocean and Polynesia used a couple of techniques. For one, they used rebbelib, charts made of sticks to show the currents and wind patterns and cowrie shells to show the location of the islands. They also used (and still use) a technique called wave-piloting or di lep .

A brief article about rebbelib on Popular Mechanics says Marshall Islanders used the charts for centuries but adds they are not meant solely as visual maps because they’re not to scale. It would be difficult for someone unfamiliar with rebbelib to use them. “The bamboo sticks that make up the frame also represent ocean currents and wind patterns, which Marshallese sailors use as navigation guides,” the article says.

Wave-piloting to navigate the ocean involves seafarers finding their way between islands by the direction and shape of swells. Wave pilots know how swells are influenced by coming into contact with the islands. It is hard to do and very few people do it anymore.

Stick charts weren’t used by all sailors of the Marshall Islands. A select few learned the art and passed it from father to son. When fleets of canoes went voyaging between the islands, the lead canoe would have a ri-meto, who navigated for the entire group.

The “REBBELIB” is a general wave navigational chart mapping an entire chain, showing the relationships between the islands and the major ocean swells.

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