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HI S T OR I A MAT HE MAT I C A 22 (1995), 347- 370

Models and Maps from the Marshall Islands:


A Case in Ethnomathematics
MAR C I A AS C HE R
Ithaca College, Ithaca, Ne w Yor k 14850
St i ck char t s ar e a si gni f i cant par t of t he Ma r s ha l l e s e na vi ga t i on t r adi t i on. He r e we f ocus
on t he ma t h e ma t i c a l i de a s of mo d e l i n g a nd ma p p i n g e mb o d i e d i n t h e s e char t s as wel l as on
t he i deas a b o u t wa ve dyna mi c s t ha t t he y i ncor por at e. Th e s e pl a na r r e pr e s e nt a t i ons wer e u s e d
t o t e a c h pr os pect i ve na vi ga t or s t he pr i nci pl es a nd speci fi cs of t he uni que Ma r s ha l l e s e s ys t e m
of " wa v e pi l ot i ng. ' " 1995 Academic Press, Inc.
Les car t es ma r i n e s ~t br i t ons c ons t i t ue nt u n e par t i e i mp o r t a n t e des t r adi t i ons de l a na vi ga t i on
aux i l es Mar s hal l . Cet ar t i cl e por t e s ur l es idEes ma t h Ema t i q u e s p o u r la pr oduc t i on de car t es
et modul e s r Edui t s que ces car t es h bgt t ons r e nf e r me nt . I1 por t e Ega l e me nt s ur l es idEes
c o n c e r n a n t la d y n a mi q u e des va gue s qui s ' y t r oove nt i ncor por Ees. Ces r e pr e s e nt a t i ons pl a ne s
s er vai ent h e ns e i gne r aux f ut ur s na vi ga t e ur s l es pr i nci pes et l es det ai l s de ce s ys t bme de
" pi l ot a ge des va gue s , " u n i q u e a ux ~les Mar s hal l . 1995 Academic Press, Inc.
St a bka r t e n s i nd ei n b e d e u t s a me r Tei l de r Ob e r l i e f e r u n g e n z u m Na vi gi e r e n bei de n Ma r -
s hal l i ns ul aner n. I n di e s e m Ar t i ke l konz e nt r i e r e n wi r u n s s owohl a uf di e ma t h e ma t i s c h e n
I d e e n des Mode l l i e r e ns u n d des k a r t o g r a p h i s c h e n Er f a s s e ns , di e in de n St a bka r t e n s t e c ke n,
al s a uc h a u f di e Ge d a n k e n iaber We l l e n d y n a mi k , di e sie e nt ha l t e n. Di e e b e n e n St a bka r t e n
wu r d e n be nut z t , u m kt i nf t i gen Se e f a hr e r n di e Pr i nzi pi en u n d Spezi fi ka des ei nzi gar t i gen
Sys t e ms des , , We l l e nl ot s e ns " de r Ma r s ha l l i ns ul a ne r zu ver mi t t el n. 1995 Academic Press. Inc.
MSC 1991 s ubj ect cl assi fi cat i ons: 00A71, 76-03, 01A07, 01A13.
KEy WORDS: Ma ps , mode l s , Ma r s ha l l I s l ands , e t h n o ma t h e ma t i c s , navi gat i on, wa ve dynami cs .
I NT RODUCT I ON
The Marshal l Isl and stick chart s first came t o t he at t ent i on of West er ner s in an
1862 r epor t by an Amer i can mi ssi onary [18, 304]. In his br i ef par agr aph about
t hem, he says t hat t hey wer e used t o r et ai n and i mpar t navi gat i onal knowl edge but
wer e so secr et t hat his i nf or mant , al t hough t he husband of a chief, was t hr eat ened
with deat h. Dur i ng t he next 50 years, about 70 chart s and some i nf or mat i on about
t hem wer e obt ai ned f r om Marshal l Isl and navi gat ors or t hose whO cl ai med t o
under st and t hese navi gat i onal aids. ( See Appendi x f or sources of publ i shed chart s. )
Her e, as a case in et hnomat hemat i cs , we exami ne t hese chart s and t he knowl edge
t hey embody in or der t o i ncrease our under st andi ng of t he scientific and mat hemat i -
cal i deas of t he Marshal l Isl anders. Our discussion pl aces t hese i deas wi t hi n t hei r
cul t ural and i deat i onal cont ext s. To make t hem compr ehensi bl e, we draw upon
what is fami l i ar t o us whi l e t aki ng care t o distinguish our i deas whi ch are bei ng
used t o clarify or expl ai n f r om t hose of t he Marshal l Isl anders. By " our i deas" I me a n
t he ideas now t aught t o t hose school ed in t he mode r n scientific and mat hemat i cal
t radi t i ons. As wi t h most cases in et hnomat hemat i cs, t he exami nat i on of t he i deas
347
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All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.
348 MARCIA ASCHER HM 22
of t he Marshal l Islanders causes us t o t hi nk f ur t her about some of our most basic
concepts. In this case, we focus on ideas about model s and maps.
A st andar d di ct i onary defi ni t i on of a map is " a represent at i on, usual l y on a fiat
surface, of a por t i on of space" [37, 701]. Gener al l y its purpose is t o l ocat e specific
places in rel at i onshi p to ot her places. Numer ous convent i ons have been devel oped
t o give meani ng t o t he word " l ocat e" and t o make a map mor e t han a personal
mnemoni c device. A map in an atlas, for exampl e, includes l ongi t udes and l at i t udes
provi di ng a grid syst em t hat can be used to specify any part i cul ar poi nt - - t ha t is,
we l ocat e a poi nt at t he i nt ersect i on of t wo lines. Most maps also i ncl ude for
or i ent at i on t he di rect i ons Nort h, Sout h, East, and West and, usually, distances
bet ween poi nt s are smaller t han, but pr opor t i onal to, distances in t he space bei ng
depi ct ed. These convent i ons, however, are not t he onl y ones possible. In fact,
because t he eart h is round, when a sufficiently large por t i on of it is depi ct ed on a
fiat surface, di rect i on and distance cannot bot h be preserved. For exampl e, in t he
fami l i ar maps based on Mer cat or proj ect i ons, di rect i ons are preserved but, as a
result, shape and distance are di st ort ed. Even for small regions, quite di fferent
convent i ons can be used. On moder n subway maps, for exampl e, named st at i ons
are connect ed by variously col ored st rai ght lines. Whi l e quite imprecise wi t h respect
t o di st ance or directions, t hey cont ai n all we need t o know in or der t o get from
here to t here wi t hi n t he subway system. To a subway rider, t he fact t hat a stop is
for local r at her t han express trains, or t hat it is where one can change f r om one
line t o anot her , is far more significant t han t he shape of t he l and masses or t he
exact distances bei ng t raversed.
Maps, t her ef or e, must be viewed br oadl y and, wi t h a br oad view, we can bet t er
appreci at e t hem as product s of mat hemat i cal abstractions. Maps, first of all, are
analogical s paces - - t hat is, one space is subst i t ut ed for anot her. Secondly, physical
entities sel ect ed as significant are symbol i cal l y represent ed. And, most i mpor t ant ,
rel at i onshi ps t hat may not be seen di rect l y in t he original space are made visually
explicit in t he analogical space. It is in establishing t hese rel at i onshi ps t hat scientific
knowl edge is used (or creat ed); mat hemat i cal ideas are an i nt egral part of t he way
in which t hese rel at i onshi ps are f or mul at ed and expressed. Essent i al l y, this view
of maps and mappi ng is t he mat hemat i cal usage of t he t er m but nar r owed to a
focus on physical space.
In t he hi st ory of West er n cart ography, a di st i nct i on was made bet ween maps and
charts. Chart s referred t o t he depi ct i on used by mari ners which cont ai ned vari ed
t ypes of i nf or mat i on based on t hei r experi ence and specific t o t hei r purposes. Maps,
on the ot her hand, were largely academi c, concer ned wi t h t he worl d as a whole.
Ear l y cart ographers, such as Pt ol emy, defi ned what t hey di d as g e o g r a p h y - - " a
r epr esent at i on in pictures of t he whol e known worl d t oget her wi t h t he phenomena
which are cont ai ned t her ei n. " He di st i ngui shed t hat from chor ogr aphy which he
deemed regi onal and selective, "even deal i ng wi t h t he smallest concei vabl e locali-
ties, such as harbors, farms, villages, river courses, and t he l i ke" [6, 61]. Our br oader
defi ni t i on of maps follows mor e moder n writers who view worl d-wi de maps and
local maps as di fferent st reams havi ng an underl yi ng concept ual uni t y and event ual l y
HM 22 MAPS FROM THE MARSHALL ISLANDS 349
mer gi ng [20]. Di f f er ences in t er mi nol ogy, however , have persi st ed. Hence, maps
specifically f or mar i ner s ar e still cal l ed chart s and so t he uni que obj ect s cr eat ed by
t he Marshal l Isl anders ar e commonl y r ef er r ed t o as stick charts.
Made of pal m ribs t i ed wi t h coconut fibers and somet i mes wi t h a few shells
at t ached, t he Marshal l Isl and stick chart s are gener al l y of t wo types. The y are
sizable obj ect s, gener al l y about 60 t o 120 cm by 60 t o 120 cm. Many are maps
showi ng a few or many atolls in r el at i onshi p t o each ot her and t o significant f eat ur es
of t he envi r onment . Thes e are named meddo and rebbelith, t he f or me r havi ng few
atolls and t he l at t er r epr esent i ng a l ar ger area. The second t ype, named mattang,
are qui t e di f f er ent and ar e not what we classify as maps at all. The y are, however ,
even mor e abst ract as t hey model t he dynami c geomet r y t hat under pi ns t he wave
pi l ot i ng syst em of t he Marshal l Isl and navi gat ors. It is t hese t hat capt ur ed my
i nt er est and will be our maj or focus. Used as t rai ni ng devices, t hey show t he i nt er pl ay
of oceanogr aphi c phe nome na and l and masses. That is, t hey are static, i deal i zed
r epr esent at i ons of shapes and mot i ons in t he sea and at t he l and/ sea i nt erface.
The y i nt r oduce t he pr ospect i ve Marshal l Isl and navi gat or t o t he f eat ur es of t he
envi r onment t hat will be i ncl uded on t he maps. Just as wi t h any map, one must
first under s t and what of t he ori gi nal space will be pr es er ved as significant in t he
anal ogous space. And, of course, as one l earns what is significant, one is l earni ng
why it is significant or what rol e it plays in t he system.
T HE E NVI RONME NT
Lyi ng bet ween 4 30' and 15 l at i t ude and 160 and 175 l ongi t ude, t he Marshal l
ar chi pel ago consists of about 29 coral atolls and 5 small coral islands f or med i nt o
t wo paral l el chains r unni ng about 960 km in a nor t hwe s t - s out he a s t di r ect i on (see
Fig. 1). Each at ol l consists of a l agoon s ur r ounded by a nar r ow ring of coral r eef
and small islands. Lagoons of l arger atolls are f r om 32 t o 48 km l ong and 8 t o 16
km across. Bikini, t he nor t her nmos t at ol l in one of t he chains, was made f amous
as t he site of nucl ear bomb tests af t er Wor l d War II. It, f or exampl e, consists of a
ring of 51 small islands wi t h a t ot al l and mass of 7.7 squar e km sur r oundi ng a 630
squar e km l agoon. Bef or e t hey wer e moved in 1946, t he Bi ki ni popul at i on was 170
peopl e [27]. Anot he r exampl e is t he sout her n, mor e densel y popul at ed Maj ur o atoll,
a ring of 61 small islands wi t h l and ar ea t ot al i ng about 8.5 squar e km sur r oundi ng a
260 squar e km l agoon wi t h a 1946 popul at i on of about 1600 peopl e [36]. In all, t he
Marshal l Islands have a l and ar ea of j ust under 180 squar e km scat t er ed over about
970,000 squar e km of ocean. At t he t i me t hey became par t of t he U.S. Tr ust
Ter r i t or y, t her e was a popul at i on of about 10,000 peopl e. The ar chi pel ago is si t uat ed
in t he war mest par t of t he Pacific Ocean, wher e t her e is a fairly uni f or m mean
annual t emper at ur e of 27C wi t h onl y about a 5.5 di f f er ence f r om day t o night.
Because t her e is so little land, much communi t y at t ent i on focuses on how l and
is t r ansmi t t ed, how it is used, and how its fruits are di st ri but ed. Al t hough t her e are
vari at i ons in f or mal i t y and det ai l s f r om at ol l t o atoll, t her e are cl ear social classes
and, wi t hi n t hese, ki n and clan del i neat i ons. On Maj ur o, f or exampl e, about 10%
of t he peopl e are nobi l i t y whi l e t he ot her s ar e commoner s. Land is never sold or
350 MARCIA ASCHER
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F I c . 1. T h e M a r s h a l l I s l a n d s ( a d a p t e d f r o m [ 13] ) .
12
personal l y owned. Al t hough wor ked by t he commoners, rights to t he pr oduce of
any piece of l and are shared by t he par amount chief, a nobl e lineage, and a com-
moner lineage. Coconut palms, pandanus and breadfrui t trees, some t ropi cal hard-
woods, and t aro are of pr i mar y i mpor t ance for f ood as well as for const ruct i on,
weavi ng mat eri al s, and fuel. And copra (dri ed coconut meat ) has been an export
since t he comi ng in 1860 of t he Amer i cans, t hen t he Ger mans, t hen t he Japanese
[27; 33; 36].
Wi t h so much of t he envi r onment domi nat ed by water, sailing and boat s are an
essential and i nt egral part of life. On an atoll, wi t hi n t he lagoon, sailing canoes are
used for fishing, for traveling t o visit friends, and for the collection of f ood and
copra. And, of course, boat s are used for open sea fishing, in t he vicinity of t he
atoll and for open sea t ravel t o ot her atolls. Some small sailing canoes of about 5
m, which can also be paddl ed or rowed, are for use ar ound t he edges of t he reefs.
But to cross t he l agoon and to carry passengers and cargo, t he boat s are 7 t o 9 m
l ong and requi re a crew of 2 or 3 peopl e. These, and still larger boats, are for t ravel
t o ot her atolls in t he Marshal l Archi pel ago and beyond. Very l ong di st ance sailing
trips to, for exampl e, t he Carol i ne Islands, the Palaus, and Saipan were still t aken
in this cent ur y but t hey are, for t he most part, recal l ed as bel ongi ng t o " t he ol den
days" [36, 255]. The 1862 report of an Amer i can mi ssi onary [18] describes boat s
HM 22 MAPS FROM THE MARSHALL ISLANDS 351
t hat coul d carry 50 t o 100 men in t he open sea and also recount s t he festive r et ur n
f r om some nor t her n atolls t o Ebon of 800 peopl e in a fleet of 40 boats. In anot her
19t h-cent ury account [39], we read of 18.3 m l ong boat s carrying 40 t o 50 peopl e
each and flotilla of up to 100 boats.
These large sailing expedi t i ons were led by chiefs but t hei r success and t he success
of t he mor e common trips wi t hi n t he atoll chains, depended on t he navigators. The
navigators, usually relatives of t he par amount chief, were specially sel ect ed and
specially t rai ned. Thei r knowl edge and t echni ques were highly pri zed and well kept
secrets. In general, knowl edge was vi ewed as a personal possession carrying with
it t he responsi bi l i t y for its preservat i on and t ransmi ssi on [30]. The navi gat ors passed
t hei r knowl edge and personal l y devel oped systems on t o one of t hei r chi l dren or
to someone specifically adopt ed because of special i nt erest or apt i t ude. Some who
were consi dered mast er navi gat ors oversaw t he t eachi ng of ot hers in t hei r ext ended
family, giving rise t o shared systems and ongoi ng "school s" t hat t raced back t o a
master. It is part i cul arl y not ewor t hy t hat t he child selected by a navi gat or to carry
on t he knowl edge coul d be a mal e or a femal e; at least two mast ers cited by t he
Marshal l Isl anders were women [14, 76-78; 29, 215-216]. Event ual l y, some of this
navi gat i onal knowl edge was t ol d t o West erners. However , what was t ol d was far
f r om compl et e as t he Marshal l Isl and tellers never i nt ended to give full under st and-
ing to others. Since t he Marshal l Isl anders had no i ndi genous writing system, we
have onl y what was event ual l y r ecor ded by others.
THE MATTANG
The stick charts i dent i fi ed as mattang by t he Marshal l ese were used in t he t rai ni ng
of navigators. A typical one is shown in Fig. 2. That t hese are not simply personal
idiosyncratic devices but, i nst ead, formal i zed and st andar di zed model s can be seen
by compari ng t hem wi t h ot her, al most identical, rnattang t hat were separat el y re-
por t ed and collected (see Fig. 3). Some ot her exampl es are shown in Fig. 4. When
l ooki ng at t hese, several feat ures are striking. One, of course, is t hei r symmet ry.
Anot her is t he i nt erpl ay of geomet ri c forms bringing to mi nd fami l i ar words such
as triangle, sector, arc, per pendi cul ar bisector, angle of i nt ersect i on, poi nt of inter-
section, and so on. Al so, t here is t hei r di agram-l i ke clarity. To emphasi ze t hat this
is, i ndeed, t he nat ur e of the artifact and not t he resul t of our renderi ng, we not e
in part i cul ar t hat Fig. 2 is a phot ogr aph while Figs. 3 and 4 are drawings. The
l et t ered labels, however, are our superi mposi t i ons.
The vari ous parts of t he mattang have been di fferent l y descri bed by di fferent
writers who spoke wi t h Marshal l Islanders. Fr om t hese descriptions, it is clear t hat
t he mattang are general i zed confi gurat i ons cont ai ni ng idealized shapes and forms
t hat were used to explicate t he principles of swell and l and i nt eract i on. What
somet i mes appeared t o i nt ervi ewers as confusi on or i nconsi st ency was, instead, a
pr obl em creat ed by t hei r own persi st ence in believing t hat t he mattang were specific
and concrete. In a telling exchange, we read, for exampl e, t hat a Marshal l Isl ander
first associated some poi nt wi t h Jal ui t atoll and l at er wi t h Namor i k atoll. When
faced wi t h this cont radi ct i on " t he natives were quick to explain t hat it di dn' t
352 MARCIA ASCHER HM 22
FIG. 2. A typical mattang. (In the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, Department of Anthropol-
ogy, Catalog No. 206187. Photographed from [39].)
ma t t e r - - t h e char t was not wher e Jal ui t in par t i cul ar lay, but wher e l and was. The y
st out l y mai nt ai ned t hat it coul d be some island in anot her par t of t he worl d, one
t hey had never s e e n" [12, 10]. This, of course, is what we deem an i deal i zed model .
What is mor e, as a gener al i zed illustrative confi gurat i on, part s of t he mattang wer e
r ef er r ed t o in di f f er ent ways, dependi ng on t he poi nt bei ng made. Ra t he r t han
i nconsi st ency, t he vari ous descri pt i ons, t aken t oget her , convey a cor pus of ideas.
Bef or e l ooki ng at t he mattang specifically, we must i nt r oduce some of t he oceano-
gr aphi c phe nome na f undament al t o t he syst em of wave piloting. Basi c among t hese
phe nome na are what we t er m r ef r act i on, refl ect i on, and di ffract i on of swells.
As waves move away f r om t he wi nds t hat cr eat e t hem, t hey mer ge i nt o swells
f or med by gr oups of waves of similar per i od and hei ght . Thes e si nusoi dal swells
can t r avel t housands of mi l es across deep open ocean wi t h ver y little loss of energy.
For t he open Pacific Ocean, t he per i od ( T) of t he waves is 16 or mor e seconds,
wavel engt hs (1. 56T 2 m) t hen ar e 395 m or mor e, and wavespeeds ( T ~ g / 2 r r )
are mor e t han 80 ki n/ hr. Swells move at about hal f t he speed of t he waves t hat
t hey cont ai n because some of t he ener gy goes i nt o set t i ng t he wat er in f r ont of
t hem i nt o mot i on. Because t he Marshal l Islands are s ur r ounded by deep (4000-5000
m) open ocean, long, fast movi ng swells t hat are cl ear and consi st ent in pat t er n
move t owar d t hem across t he wat er. Swells, however , change when t hey meet
HM 22 MAPS FROM THE MARSHALL ISLANDS 353
a
G F
R
N
FIG. 3. Similar mattang.
unde r wa t e r obst r uct i ons or get t o shal l ow wat er . Shal l ow is a r el at i ve t er m, de-
pendi ng on t he l engt h of a wave: specifically, it is def i ned as less t han hal f t he wave
l engt h or, in this case, upwa r d of 198 me t e r s [5, 62-65]. He nc e , in and ar ound t he
Mar shal l Ar chi pel ago, t he appr oachi ng swells ar e modi f i ed in di r ect i on and ener gy.
The compl i cat ed and di st i nct i ve i nt er act i on of modi f i ed swells ar e t he " l a n d ma r k s "
whi ch t he Mar shal l ese navi gat or s l ear n t o r ead and i nt er pr et .
Wa ve r ef r act i on and its effect s domi na t e t he mattang. Whe n waves move i nt o
shal l ow wat er , fri ct i on causes t he m t o sl ow down. De pe ndi ng on t he ocean dept h
be ne a t h it, a wave slows down di f f er ent i al l y and so bends, event ual l y be c omi ng
mo r e or less par al l el t o t he unde r wa t e r cont our s and, t hen, mor e or less par al l el
wi t h t he shorel i ne. Thi s expl ai ns t he f ami l i ar obs er vat i on of st andi ng on any beach
and seei ng t he waves come in t owar ds you, even t hough f ur t her out t hey ma y be
seen appr oachi ng at an angl e. Fi gur e 5 shows how a wave t r ai n wr aps ar ound a
ci rcul ar i sl and assumi ng t hat t he i sl and has a uni f or m and gr adual l y sl opi ng under wa-
354 MARCIA ASCHER
C M A
I :
D / ~1 B b
a
7
"-,.,.
HM 22
C M A
x , . /
D N
/
\
C e
FIG. 4. S o me o t h e r mattang.
t er t opography. Some energy is lost to fri ct i on but, concomi t ant wi t h t he bendi ng
of t he wave front , its ener gy may become spread out or concent r at ed in di fferent
places, and t here can be an increase in wave st eepness until t he wave peaks, becomes
unst abl e, and breaks [5; 26].
But , first of all, in t he open sea, t here is a swell movi ng in front of t he wind. (Let
us say t he wi nd is comi ng f r om t he East. ) An atoll off in t he west erl y di rect i on is
si gnal ed when t he swell begins t o bend inward. On t he ot her hand, due west of t he
atoll, t here will be a regi on where t he refract ed arms of t he swell cross, al t hough
wi t h great l y l essened energy.
In our refract i on di agram (Fig. 5), we showed a circular island wi t h gradual l y
sloping under wat er t opography. If t he island were, i nst ead, rect angul ar and rose
up suddenl y and steeply, t he waves woul d be mor e abrupt l y st opped in t hei r forward
HM 22 MAPS FROM THE MARSHALL ISLANDS 355
WIND
wave front
Fro. 5. Wave r ef r act i on ( adapt ed f r om [5]).
mot i on. But , as t he waves cont i nue forward t o t he sides of t he island, some of t hei r
energy is pr opagat ed sidewards, causing t hem t o spread out al ong t hei r edges. Just
ar ound t he sides of t he island, t here may be an increase in wave height, but beyond
t hat , t hese spread out edges are increasingly l essened in hei ght [34, Chap. 5]. As
wi t h t he di ffract i on of light, t here is a " s hadow" behi nd t he island, but it is a shadow
wi t h i mperfect edges (see Fig. 6).Thus, t he mor e el ongat ed t he shape and t he mor e
WIND
wave front
( i s l a n 3
FIG. 6. Wave di ffract i on.
356 MARCIA ASCHER
WIND
HM 22
wave front
/ \
f-"X
O
FIG. 7. Wave reflection.
abr upt t he rise of t he atoll, t he less bendi ng of t he swell occurs on t he wi ndwar d
side; on t he l ee side, t he bent arms may not even cross, as t hey ar e separ at ed by
a r egi on wi t h no ener gy f r om t he swell.
Whe t he r t he l and bar r i er rises gradual l y or st eepl y, some par t of t he wave will
be r ef l ect ed backwar d. For a st eep bar r i er , wher e t her e is no bendi ng of t he wave
f r ont , t he r ef l ect ed wave has much t he same ener gy as t he i ncomi ng wave, and so,
meet i ng qui ckl y and head on, t hey spr ay wat er up i nt o t he air. For a gradual l y
rising bar r i er , it is t he bent wave t hat is r ef l ect ed back t o meet t he i ncomi ng wave
(see Fig. 7). Hence, as waves meet at an angle, a r unni ng crest devel ops. Thi s
i nt er act i on of refl ect i on and r ef r act i on t akes pl ace on t he wi ndwar d side of an at ol l
[5, 69; 14, 90-92].
Let us now l ook at t he mattang and t hei r i deal i zed geomet r y of swell i nt eract i ons.
In Fig. 4e one swell is r epr esent ed; in Figs. 4a and 4c t her e are t wo opposi ng swells;
and on t he most c ommon mattang (Figs. 2 and 3) t her e are f our swells, one f r om
each of f our per pendi cul ar di rect i ons. Despi t e t he s ymmet r y of t he mattang, gener -
ally t her e is a slight di f f er ence t hat speci al l y mar ks one di rect i on. On each mattang
in Figs. 2 and 3, t her e is a shor t stick ( l abel ed AB in Fig. 3c) wr apped in a cor d
showi ng t he di r ect i on f r om whi ch t he prevai l i ng wi nd is movi ng t owar d a cent r al
HM 22 MAPS FROM THE MARSHALL ISLANDS 357
D A
E Q ~' WI ND
FIG. 8. We s t e r n s e c t o r s of sai l .
at ol l (P). Thi s serves as t he ori ent i ng di rect i on, r ef er r ed t o as rear. The swell shown
movi ng in f r ont of this wi nd is rilib ( " ba c kbone " ) ; t he one opposi ng it is kael i b;
and t he t wo f r om t he per pendi cul ar di rect i ons are r ol ok and bundoc k e r i k . Al t hough
rear is gener al l y t r ansl at ed as " f r om t he east , " and t he opposi ng and per pendi cul ar
di rect i ons t hen r ef er r ed t o as "wes t , " " nor t h, " and " s out h, " t hese words are simply
f or conveni ence. Thei r use does not i mpl y t hat di rect i ons are concei ved of in our
f r ame of r ef er ence and " eas t , " "wes t , " " nor t h, " and " s out h" are not t he same
di rect i ons as our s i ndi cat ed by t hose names. I will fol l ow this convent i onal t ransl a-
t i on as it simplifies r ef er r i ng t o t he di r ect i on t he wind is comi ng f r om and t he
opposi t e and per pendi cul ar di rect i ons. (In a few places, wher e it is significant, I
will not e t he di r ect i on accor di ng t o our system. )
In any discussion of sailing, be it our s or Marshal l ese, of pa r a mount i mpor t ance
is t he r el at i onshi p of wher e a boat is, its dest i nat i on, and wher e t he wi nd is comi ng
from. Wes t er n di agrams are gener al l y ci rcul ar and symmet r i c but , as with t he
mat t ang, t hey specially mar k t he di r ect i on of t he wind. Thus, f or bot h, this is t he
or i ent i ng mar ker t o whi ch all else is r ef er r ed.
For West er ner s, boat posi t i ons wi t hi n t he circle, and modes of sailing t o a dest i na-
t i on at its cent er , are di scussed in t er ms of sect ors (see Fig. 8). Al t hough t he mat t ang
are not circular, it is not surpri si ng t hat t hey similarly have sect ors pr omi nent l y
ma r ke d in some way. However , t her e is a cruci al di f f er ence bet ween Wes t er n and
Mar shal l ese boat s t hat modi fi es t he angles of t he sect ors of i nt erest . Wi t h r espect
t o a line f r om bow t o st ern, t he hull of a Eur ope a n boat is symmet r i c while a
Marshal l ese boat has an asymmet r i cal hull as well as ext ensi ons t o bot h s i de s - - a n
out r i gger t o one side and a bal ance pl at f or m on t he ot her . As a result, its sail can
onl y be put out on a par t i cul ar side of t he hull ( t he pl at f or m side), as cont r ast ed
t o a Eur ope a n boat on whi ch it can be put out on ei t her side. Fur t her , on a Eur ope a n
boat t her e is a distinct di f f er ence bet ween t he f r ont end and back end, whi l e an
out r i gger can t r avel in ei t her di rect i on. N o sai l boat can sail di rect l y i nt o t he wi nd
(al ong t he line f r om E t o X in Fig. 8). In fact, it cannot sail in a di r ect i on t oo close
358 MARCIA ASCHER
D
E, _ _ ,Q ( WIND
FIG. 9. Si gni fi cant di r ect i ons and sect or s whe n sailing t owar d X.
HM 22
t o t hat ei t her. For Eur ope a n boat s, too cl ose is about 45 on ei t her side of t he wi nd
(wi t hi n sect or DXC in Fig. 8); f or out ri ggers it is wi t hi n about 65 . In or der t o sail
in t hose di rect i ons, it is necessar y t o tack; t hat is, t o sail back and f or t h across t he
wind, changing the side on whi ch t he sail is out each t i me t he di r ect i on is changed.
To accompl i sh this on a Mar shal l ese boat , t he rigging and sail must be pi cked up
and moved t o t he ot her end of t he boat so t hat what was t he f r ont becomes t he
back and vice versa. Hence, t hey avoi d, if possi bl e, appr oaches f r om this sect or
and, f ur t her mor e, t he sect or woul d be about 130 r at her t han our 90 . Similarly, in
sect or AXB, wher e t he wi nd is behi nd t he boat , t he side f or t he sail di ffers f or
appr oachi ng X f r om wi t hi n AXQ or f r om wi t hi n QXB. Eur ope a n boat s avoi d a
di r ect i on t oo cl ose t o QX since, if t her e is a slight devi at i on in wi nd di r ect i on or
sailing di rect i on, t he full f or ce of t he wi nd can unexpect edl y t hr ow t he sail t o t he
ot her side. Sailors do, of course, cross t he line and change t he side of t he sail when
necessary, but wi t h gr eat care. For either t ype of boat , it is f ar pr ef er abl e t o r emai n
deci dedl y on one side or t he ot her of QX and so t o have a cour se at l east 15 or
20 away f r om it. Finally, we not e t hat because of ease of st eeri ng and gr eat er
effi ci ency in a st r ong wind, a cour se per pendi cul ar t o t he wi nd is said t o be easi est
and most effi ci ent f or an out r i gger canoe (a discussion of t he out r i gger canoe
and how it handl es under sail can be f ound in [16, Chap. 3]). Thus, Marshal l ese
expl anat i ons of t he mattang pl ace t he gr eat est emphasi s on t hat line. I ncor por at i ng
t he f or egoi ng st at ement s i nt o our f or m of di agr am (see Fig. 9), t he ma r ke d di r ect i ons
and sect or angles become qui t e like t hose we see on t he mattang (see Figs. 2, 3, 4).
Anot he r i mpor t ant issue, however , is how t hese di rect i ons and sect ors ar e cor r e-
l at ed, when in t he wat er and out of sight of land, wi t h wher e one is and wher e one is
going. Whi l e we rel y, f or exampl e, on compasses, chart s, and rul ers, t he Marshal l ese
navi gat ors use t he swell i nt eract i ons.
In Figs. 4a and 4c, t he st rai ght edges t hat we have pl aced vert i cal l y on t he page
depi ct t he opposi ng swells comi ng f r om t he east ( AB) and t he west ( CD) . At t he
HM 22 MAPS FROM THE MARSHALL ISLANDS 359
cent er of each r ect angl e is an atoll. The swells ( MN) are shown curvi ng i nwar d as
t hey appr oach t he atoll. Since on t he mattang t he arcs are si mi l arl y cur ved and
pl aced equal l y di st ant f r om t he atoll, their intersections and the atoll fall along a
straight line perpendicular to the direction of travel of the swells. Thes e i nt ersect i ons
and t he nor t h- s out h line t hey defi ne are, as we not ed, of pa r a mount i mpor t ance.
( These lines and cur ved swells are shown in a slightly di f f er ent way in Figs. 2, 3c,
and 4b). Whe r e t he bent arms of opposi ng swells cross, t her e is a nar r ow sect or
( most cl earl y shown in Figs. 2, 3a, 3b, and 3c) in whi ch a series of wavel et s are
not ed. The wavel et s ar e cal l ed hot ( knot s or nodes) and a series of t hem ar e i deal i zed
as bei ng al ong t he nor t h- s out h line cal l ed okar (t he r oot ) - - j us t as one fol l ows t he
r oot t o get t o t he t r ee, fol l owi ng t he okar will l ead t o t he island [39, 493]. The
di r ect i on t o t ake al ong t he okar is det er mi ned by t he change in t he angles f or med
by crossing swells; t he angles decr ease f or bot cl oser t o t he atoll.
In addi t i on t o using t hei r i nt ersect i ons, t he bent arms of t he swells t hemsel ves
ar e used t o del i mi t t he sect ors of sail. The bent arms of rilib (comi ng f r om t he east )
as it passes t he island are t er med rolok (t he nor t her n a r m- - RM on Fig. 3c) and
nit in kot ( t he s out her n a r m- - KS on Fig. 3c). The f or mer t ransl at es i nt o "s omet hi ng
l ost , " t hat is, you have mi ssed t he island, and t he l at t er i nt o " a hol e, " t hat is, a
cul-de-sac. Bot h bent arms of kaelib ( comi ng f r om t he west ) as it passes t he island
( TM and KQ on Fig. 3c) are cal l ed j ut in okme meani ng "s t akes . " Comi ng t owar d
t he cent er at ol l f r om t he nor t h, one shoul d st ay bet ween rolok and ]ur in okme
unt i l one finds t he okar and fol l ows it. Similarly, f r om t he sout h, one shoul d be
bet ween nit in kot and jut in okme unt i l one finds t he okar [9; 10; 39].
Ot he r meani ngs f or t he lines in Fig. 3c focus on atolls at 1, 2, 3, 4 r at her t han in
t he cent er. For t hese, t he swells are shown as wedges r at her t han arcs. Wi t h t he
wi nd f r om t he east, f or an at ol l at 1, FP r epr esent s t he s out her n ar m of rilib ( AB) ,
GP t he nor t her n ar m of kaelib, and so 1P is t he okar f or t he atoll at 1 when
appr oachi ng f r om t he sout h. Similarly, f or at ol l 2, PH is t he nor t her n ar m of rilib,
PN t he sout her n ar m of kaelib, wi t h 2P t he okar f or at ol l 2. If t her e is no at ol l at
t he cent er bet ween 1 and 2, one shoul d fol l ow t he okar f r om 2 unt i l one meet s t he
okar f or 1. And, f or at ol l 4, G4N is t he bent rilib while, similarly, F3H is t he
bent kaelib.
Ot he r descri pt i ons r el y on a somewhat di f f er ent denot at i on of t he words nit in
kot. Ra t he r t han r ef er r i ng t o j ust one demar cat i on line, some use it t o r ef er t o t he
ent i r e r egi on ( pr evi ousl y descr i bed as t he r egi on bet ween nit in kot and kaelib) on
t he l eewar d side of t he island in whi ch t her e is great l y l essened swell ener gy, or,
al t er nat el y, t o bot h lines t hat bound this regi on. In ei t her case, f or a wi nd f r om t he
east, when t he island is t o t he east, one shoul d sail nor t h or sout h t o meet one of
t hese boundar y lines in or der t o get out of bei ng a " t r a ppe d bi r d" or, as we not ed,
havi ng t o sail t oo close t o t he wi nd [9; 30, 193-205; 39].
On t he wi ndwar d side of an atoll, wave refl ect i on plays t he pr omi nent rol e. For
a wi nd f r om t he east, l and in t he west er l y di r ect i on is signaled by r ef l ect ed bent
swells comi ng back agai nst t he mai n i ncomi ng swell. Thi s i nt er act i on is said t o be
obser vabl e in a quadr ant ext endi ng out war d f r om t he at ol l f or about 32 km. ( Not e
360 MARCIA ASCHER HM 22
WIND
\
\
%
~ T / e incoming
swell ,1,
/ / t / " ~ % 4 ' ~ * ~ "
" o"
atoll
FIG. 10. On the windward side of an atoll.
again sect or AB in Fig. 9 and t he sectors mar ked, in particular, in Figs. 4a and 4c.
For Figs. 4a, 4b, and 4c, now also visualize t he curved swell movi ng eastward t o
meet t he i ncomi ng st rai ght swell.) In one account [11], t he navi gat or says t hat ,
when at t he meet i ng of t he refl ect ed and i ncomi ng swells, one shoul d put onesel f
at t he cor ner of t he crossing and head away from t he corner at an angl e t hat is t he
same as t hey are formi ng (see Fig. 10). Anot her descri pt i on [12] not es t hat di rect l y
wi ndwar d of t he atoll, the refl ect ed swells are mor e or less paral l el t o t he i ncomi ng
swells but, at about 45 t o ei t her side, t he effect of t he crossing swells becomes
clearly observable. This effect marks t he del i mi t i ng arms of t he quadr ant and so
t he navi gat or seeks to sail paral l el t o one of t he arms to go di rect l y t o t he atoll.
Not e t hat bot h sets of i nst ruct i ons are, in effect, t he same: it is when t he i ncomi ng
and refl ect ed swells meet at a 45 angle t hat headi ng away from t he cor ner at t hat
angl e t akes one to t he atoll and al ong one of t he del i mi t i ng arms of t he quadr ant
(again, see Fig. 10).
Even wi t hout f ur t her definitive st at ement s about what many details of t he mattang
represent , t hei r use as model s of swell i nt eract i on for navi gat i onal purposes is clear.
They isolate and idealize t he swells, emphasi zi ng di rect i onal i t y wi t h respect t o wi nd
and l and positions. That t hey are abst ract model s is hi ghl i ght ed by t he use of four
uni f or ml y depi ct ed swells f r om per pendi cul ar di rect i ons and l and masses symmet ri -
cally pl aced and r educed t o points. In act ual i t y t her e is a pr omi nent swell which is
always present . (It moves, in our terms, f r om t he nor t heast t o sout hwest in front
of t he nor t heast t rade winds.) One observer not ed t hat , dependi ng on t he wi nd
velocity, t he swell has a hei ght of at least 1.5 m. A secondary swell pat t er n is from
t he sout heast to nort hwest . Swells f r om t he sout hwest are appar ent l y difficult for
t he unpract i ced eye to observe and t hose f r om t he nor t hwest are mor e pr onounced
near t he nor t her l y atolls [36; 39]. And, of course, in act ual i t y t he atolls are not
symmet ri cal l y posi t i oned poi nt s but vary consi derabl y in shape and size and rel at i ve
positions [23; 24; 38].
HM 22 MAPS FROM THE MARS HALL I SLANDS 361
As wi t h o u r e x p l a n a t o r y sci ent i fi c mode l s , t he mattang ar e qui t e di st i nct f r o m
r e p r e s e n t a t i o n s t ha t ar e s i mpl y i n t e n d e d t o " l o o k l i ke" o r e v o k e wh a t is be i ng
depi ct ed. He r e a c c u mu l a t e d e xpe r i e nt i a l k n o wl e d g e has b e e n c o n c e p t u a l i z e d i nt o
a ge ne r a l s ys t em, a s ys t e m t ha t is be l i e ve d t o a ppl y t o o c e a n s a nd l and ma s s e s
a n y wh e r e a nd e ve r ywhe r e . Th e rnattang ar e mo d e l s us e d t o e nc a ps ul a t e a n d expl ai n
t ha t s ys t em. I n us i ng t h e m f or t eachi ng, t he y f unc t i on as d o di a gr a ms o n b l a c k b o a r d s
or f i gur es i n a t ext . We a n d t he y e l a b o r a t e s uch depi ct i ons wi t h wo r d s but , n o n e t h e -
less, pa r t i c ul a r l y f or d y n a mi c s ys t ems , di a gr a ms pl a y a cr uci al r ol e. Th e e s s e nc e o f
an e x p l a n a t o r y mo d e l is its si mpl i ci t y a n d pa r s i mony. I t st r i ps t he s ys t e m t o wh a t
is c o n s i d e r e d essent i al . He r e t hos e essent i al s ar e p h r a s e d i n t e r ms o f t he g e o me t r i c
char act er i s t i cs o f t he o c e a n p h e n o me n a - - t h e s ubs t a nc e s o f t he l and a nd s ea a n d
wi nd ar e r e c a s t i nt o poi nt s , lines, cur ves , a nd angl es, a nd t he i nt e r pl a y of t he
p h e n o me n a ar e r ecas t i nt o h o w t hes e g e o me t r i c as pect s c h a n g e a n d i nt er act . Si nce
it is so wel l s t at ed, t o f ur t he r e mp h a s i z e t he n a t u r e o f e x p l a n a t o r y mode l s , we
b o r r o w f r o m Ap o s t e l ' s di s cus s i on o f t he m:
... when a picture, a drawing, a diagram is called a model for a physical system, it is for the
same reason that a formal set of postulates is called a model for a physical system. This reason
can be indicated in one word: simplification. The mind needs in one act to have an overview
of the essential characteristics of a domain; therefore the domain is represented either by a
set of equations, or by a picture or by a diagram. The mind needs to see the system in opposition
and distinction to all others; therefore the separation of the system from others is made more
complete than it is in reality. The system is viewed from a certain scale; details that are too
microscopical or too global are of no interest to us. Therefore they are left out. The system
is known or controlled within certain limits of approximation. Therefore effects that do not
reach this level of approximation are neglected. The system is studied with a certain purpose
in mind; everything that does not affect this purpose is eliminated. [2, 15]
He r e we e x t e n d hi s g r o u p i n g o f " a pi ct ur e, a dr awi ng, a d i a g r a m" t o i ncl ude t hes e
ar t i f act s ma d e o f p a l m ri bs.
Be f o r e l eavi ng t he mattang a nd t ur ni ng t o t he char t s c a t e g o r i z e d as meddo a n d
rebbelith, a speci al me n t i o n mu s t be ma d e a b o u t angl es a n d t hei r me a s u r e me n t .
An g l e s b e t we e n swel l s and, i n par t i cul ar , angl es t ha t ar e t he s a me or ar e i ncr eas i ng
or de c r e a s i ng ar e ut i l i zed. Th e s e mu s t be d e t e r mi n e d b y t he n a v i g a t o r f r o m wi t hi n
t he b o a t a nd e v e n i n t he d a r k o f ni ght . A p r i ma r y me t h o d is t o lie d o wn i n t he
b o t t o m of t he b o a t a n d feel t he r oc ki ng f r o m si de t o si de [9, 21; 39, 507]. Du r i n g
t hei r t r ai ni ng, na vi ga t or s ar e t a ught t o a na l yz e a nd i nt e r pr e t t hi s ki ne s t he t i c i nf or ma -
t i on. I n f act , o n e n a v i g a t o r [11] r e c o u n t e d t ha t an ear l y pa r t o f hi s t r ai ni ng was
be i ng ma d e t o f l oat i n t he wa t e r at va r i ous pl aces i n o r d e r t o l ear n h o w t o f eel
wh a t wo u l d l at er be s h o wn a nd e xpl a i ne d t o hi m.
REBBELI TH AND MEDDO
Th e char t s cal l ed rebbelith a n d rneddo ar e ma p s - - t h e f o r me r o f t he ent i r e ar chi -
pel ago, or o n e or t he o t h e r o f t he at ol l chai ns wi t hi n it, a n d t he l at t er o f s mal l er
r egi ons . Th e c r e a t i on a n d us e o f t hes e ma p s r el y o n a nd i n c o r p o r a t e t he i deas
a l r e a dy di scussed. On t hes e ma ps , t he ge ne r a l i deas t ha t we r e i nc l ude d o n t he
mattang ar e c o mb i n e d wi t h det ai l ed e xpe r i e nt i a l k n o wl e d g e t o be ma d e speci f i c t o
362
MARCIA ASCHER HM 22
Bikini Utirik Bikar Bikini Rongelap Bikar
~
Mili Namorik ~ - ~ Mili
Ebon Ebon
b
a
FIG. 11. Rebbelith.
the region being depicted. Thus, the interplay of land and sea and the resulting
directions and indicators of importance are particularized to groups of atolls. What
is included on them is not semirealistic renderings of such things as indentations
along coastlines or promontories but rather lines and curves whose interpretation
was introduced with the mattang. There are decided differences in style, in part
because the charts are products of different navigational schools, but also because
they differ in their levels of generality. As with the mattang, these are used on land
for the transmission and preservation of knowledge; that is, the information on
them is carried on a voyage but the objects are not.
In looking at the rebbelith in Fig. 11, it is important to keep in mind that the
region depicted covers over 750,000 square km. The relative positions of the atolls
are remarkably accurate given that they were determined without technological
aids and that vast open ocean spaces are involved. (The distances between Bikini
and Rongelap or between Ailinglaplap and Jaluit, for example, are each about
130 km.)
In comparing these maps with Fig. 1, note that the latter has orientation lines
running north/south and east/west. The orientation lines of the rebbelith are the
straight edges we have placed vertically which are the swell rilib (driven by the
prevailing northeast wind) and its opposing kaelib. To align the charts with our
HM 22 MAPS FROM THE MARSHALL ISLANDS 363
~
glaplap
Namrik ~ dalUiiamorik ~
Ebon
laplap
" Ebon
a b
FIG. 12. Meddo.
map, we woul d have t o tilt t hem appr oxi mat el y 20 west of nor t h. Thi s i mpl i es
t hat t he wi nd dri vi ng t he swell is appr oxi mat el y 20 nor t h of east, whi ch
cor r esponds qui t e well t o t he di r ect i on obser ver s have r ecor ded f or much of
t he sailing season [15, Pl at e 14]. Fur t her , on t he chart s ar e several r epet i t i ons
of t he i nward bendi ng rilib shown as arcs and as wedges. On each of t he chart s
t her e is a pr omi nent angl e f or med bet ween t he st rai ght rilib and a nor t heast er l y
line emanat i ng f r om j ust bel ow Milli. Whi l e t he shown angles are not equal t o
each ot her , t hey are striking in t hei r si mi l ari t y t o some of t he pr omi nent angles
on t he mattang.
Fi gures 12 and 13 ar e meddo, bot h focusi ng on t he same subr egi on but somewhat
di f f er ent in style. Fi gur e 14 is an act ual phot ogr aph of t he dr awn art i fact in Fig.
13a. As was cl ear in t he case of t he rebbelith, t he di st ances are not accur at e nor
wer e t hey i nt ended t o be. Agai n, it is r el at i ve posi t i on and t he rilib and kaelib t hat
ar e significant. For t hese chart s, recal l in par t i cul ar t he hot and okar discussed wi t h
t he aid of t he mattang. Her e, ma r ke d al ong t hem, t her e are also some specific pl aces
depi ct ed by short cross-lines and chevrons.
Thes e cross-lines are said t o be di st ance mar ker s showi ng significant, i dent i fi abl e
places: wher e t he at ol l j ust becomes visible on t he hori zon; wher e l and can be seen
f r om wi t hi n t he canoe; and wher e pal m t r ees become distiguishable. Si nce t he atolls
are qui t e low, avergi ng onl y about 3~ m above high t i de l evel wi t h a maxi mum of
about 9 m, t hese di st ances r ange f r om about 16 t o 24 km f r om an atoll. Fur t her ,
364 MARCIA ASCHER HM 22
Ai l i ngl apl ap
Mal ur o Namori
Namor i k ili
M "li
Ebon Ebon
a b
FIG. 13. Meddo.
t he chevr ons i ndi cat e wher e t he effect s of ebb t i des can be seen as t hey flow out
t hr ough l agoon ent r ances [9].
In 1949, M. W. de Laubenf el s, a pr of essor of zool ogy, who was st udyi ng t he
di st ri but i on of vari et i es of sponges, i nt er vi ewed some Marshal l Isl and navi gat ors
t o benef i t f r om t hei r knowl edge of cur r ent s in t he ar ea [13]. Par t of t he discussion
f ocused on t hei r i nsi st ence on a cur r ent - f l ee r egi on whi ch react s t o t i de changes in
qui t e t he same way as a l agoon of an atoll. That is, t her e is a channel t hr ough
whi ch t he rising t i de st r eams in and t he falling t i de rushes out. Thi s anomal ous
cur r ent - f l ee r egi on is sout h of Ai l i ngl apl ap ext endi ng t o a line bet ween Namor i k
and Jaluit, and its channel is east of Namor i k bet ween Namor i k and Ki l l Thi s
discussion is part i cul arl y r el evant when several of t he chart s are exami ned; f or
exampl e, see t he l ower left in Figs. l l a , l l b , and 13a and t he cent er l eft of Fig.
12a. Thi s gener al r egi on r ecei ved at t ent i on as seen f ur t her f r om t he fact t hat t he
channel bet ween Namor i k and Kill is mar ked by chevrons.
As pr evi ousl y not ed, t hese chart s wer e not car r i ed whi l e sailing. Rel i ance on
me mor y is of t en f ound in oral cul t ures such as t he Marshal l Islands cul t ur e at t he
t i me t he chart s wer e made and used. Thos e of us in l i t erat e cul t ur es who have
come t o depend on t he medi a of l i t eracy are of t en bot h surpri sed and i mpr essed
by what ot her s are abl e t o commi t t o memor y. For t he Marshal l Isl anders, t he
art i fact s f r om whi ch t hey l ear ned are appar ent l y not needed whi l e at sea. They, or
t he cues t hey pr ovi de, are commi t t ed t o me mor y s uppor t ed by ot her devices.
One such set of devi ces are rojen koklol ( t r ansl at ed as "navi gat i onal f or mul as " or
"i ndi cat or mnemoni cs ") . Thes e ar e used t o r e me mbe r sailing di r ect i ons and indica-
t or signs f or par t i cul ar rout es. The y are also said t o have magi cal pr oper t i es t hat
HM 22 MAPS FROM THE MARSHALL ISLANDS 365
FIG. 14. A photograph of the meddo in Figure 13a. (Smithsonian Institution, Department of Anthropol-
ogy, Catalog No. 206188.)
hel p mai nt ai n a high level of confi dence duri ng a difficult voyage. Closely rel at ed
t o t hese are al i nl okonwa (t ransl at ed as "sai l i ng songs" or "songs from the stern
sheet s"). These are sung by t he canoe st eersmen and, al t hough t hey are rel at i vel y
short, each can be r epeat ed for many hours. Thei r funct i on, t oo, is to mai nt ai n
al ert ness and confi dence while r emi ndi ng t he navi gat or of dangers and indicators.
In addi t i on, t he number of t i mes a part i cul ar song is r epeat ed is used as an aid in
measuri ng el apsed t i me and, hence, assists in est i mat i ng how much of t he course
has been covered [8, 233-237].
As with ot her represent at i ons of knowl edge among t radi t i onal peopl es ]3; 4], we
lack sufficient specifics to read one of t hese maps in full. We can, nonet hel ess,
recognize t hat t hey are pl anar represent at i ons of part i cul ar geographi cal regi ons
including what is significant about t he regions for t he Marshal l Isl and navigators. The
rel at i onshi ps on t he rebbelith and me ddo involve rel at i vel y large scale oceanogr aphi c
366 MARCIA ASCHER HM 22
phenomena which incorporate localized details about wave refraction, reflection,
and diffraction and their interaction.
CONCLUSION
The rebbelith and meddo surely embody the most important mapping concepts,
that is, the creation of analogical spaces that make visually explicit relationships
not visible from within the original space. But as expressions of mathematical ideas,
it is the mattang that we consider even more significant, for they serve to model
the conceptual framework underlying the wave piloting system of the Marshall
Island navigators. And, of course, it is that framework which gives meaning to the
specifics on the rebbelith and meddo.
In the history of modern science, understanding of the physical world and mathe-
matical modeling have been intimately connected. In fact, geometric and then
algebraic representations of physical systems have been the hallmark of modern
science. The linkage is so tight that it is hard to conceive of the study of physics
without the involvement of mathematical ideas and mathematical descriptors. Why
this is so, or why this should be so, has long been the subject of philosophical
discussions. These discussions have included speculation on whether this is the
nature of the universe, or the nature of the human mind, or simply the scientific
tradition of Western culture. Because it is outside of the modern tradition, the
Marshall Islands case offers an unusual contribution that may enrich these discus-
sions.
For this case, also, broadly dispersed experience and observations of natural
phenomena are given meaning by being conceptualized into a coherent, structured
system. The system is represented via a model which simplifies, highlights, and
isolates what is considered essential. Most important, what is selected as essential
are the geometric aspects of the phenomena. Here the natural phenomena are
oceanographic; the system is a conceptualization of the interplay of land, sea, and
wind; the model is a planar representation. Relative positions and relative directions
become all important. Swells are reduced to curved lines and attention is given to
the locus of points where the curves cross as well as the changing crossing angles as
the curvature changes. In short, the system becomes one characterized by geometric
essentials which give rise to geometric implications. And, what is more, the compact
planar representation becomes the vehicle for transmitting to future navigators the
accumulated experience subsumed by the conceptual system.
Made of palm ribs and shells, the Marshall Island stick charts underscore the
fact that analogical planar representations, whether of space or of physical systems
and their inner relationships, are quite independent of writing systems and are not
confined to any particular culture or any particular medium. By their mode of
construction and their usage, these artifacts are deeply embedded in the Marshallese
culture. Navigational knowledge, of extreme importance in the life of the Marshall
Islanders, is their context within that culture. As such, consideration of the mathe-
matical ideas expressed through these charts provides us with a deeper understand-
ing and appreciation of an intellectual endeavor of the Marshall Islanders. Figure
15 reproduces a U.S. postage stamp that commemorates this endeavor.
HM 22 MAPS FROM THE MARSHALL ISLANDS 367
FIG. 15. A. U.S. postage stamp issued in 1990.
APPENDI X: P UBLI S HED I LLUS TRATI ONS OF CHARTS
In 1902, A. Sch0ck publ i shed a compendi um of drawi ngs of all Marshal l Isl and
stick chart s t hat he had l ocat ed in museums and pr i vat e col l ect i ons. Bef or e and
since t hat t i me, addi t i onal drawings and phot ogr aphs have been publ i shed. The
fol l owi ng t abl e summar i zes t he wi despr ead cor pus of stick char t i l l ust rat i ons used
f or this study. The t abl e is pr ovi ded t o assist ot her s who may be i nt er est ed in f ur t her
st udy of t he charts.
To di f f er ent i at e t he artifacts, each has been assigned a number . Publ i shed illustra-
t i ons of t he art i fact are i dent i fi ed by a l et t er or pai r of l et t ers cor r espondi ng t o t he
bi bl i ographi c sour ce f ol l owed by t he figure numbe r in t he source. An ast eri sk wi t h
t he figure numbe r i ndi cat es a phot ogr aph as oppos ed t o a drawing. Al so not ed in
t he t abl e are chart s whi ch appear qui t e similar t o each ot her al t hough t hey ar e not
t he same artifact. ( A quest i on mar k wi t h t he similar char t i ndi cat es t hey may
act ual l y be t he same art i fact but somewhat modi f i ed in t he drawi ng process. ) Chart s
t hat have been used as i l l ust rat i ons in this t ext are ma r ke d wi t h a doubl e asterisk.
The l et t ers used f or t he bi bl i ographi c sources are: A[1]; B[7]; BR[7, addendum] ;
DA[9]; DL[12]; Dv[ a0] ; G[17]; HA[Z1]; HL[19]; HN[22]; J[25]; K[28]; KN[29];
LN[32]; LW[31]; S[35]; W[39].
Chart no. Published illustrations Similar charts
1 K44a
2 A15; K44b; LW40
3 HN2*
4 HN4*
5 $5
6** B1; DL3*; HN3*; $6
7** $7
8 $8; W7*
46?
34, 35, 36, 37, 38
24, 25
368 MAR C I A AS C HE R HM 22
Char t no. Publ i shed illustrations Similar chart s
9** $9; W6"
10 $10
11"* LW39; W1; Sl l
12 S12
13"* S13; W13a
14 S14
15"* $15
16 $16; W5
17 $17
18 KN69; S18
19 S19
20 S20; W10*
21 $21
22 $22
23 $23
24** A16; B3; DA7a; LW41; $24; W2
25 $25
26 $26; W12"
27** $27
28 $28; Wl 1"
29 B4; DA7c; $29; W4
30 BR1; DLI*; $30
31 BR2; HNI*; $31
32 $32
33 $33
34 $34
35 $35; W3
36** $36
37 $37
38 S38; WI 3b
39** $39
40 $40
41 $41
42** $42
43** $43
44 $44; W9"
45** $45; W8"
46 $46
47 $47
48 $48
49 $49
50 DV2*
51"* A13, B2 ; DA3
52 K44c
53 DV1*; HL15
54 J l *
55 LNI *
56** LN2*
57 LN3*
10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 51, 52, 59
9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 51, 52, 59
9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 51, 52, 59
9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 51, 52, 59
9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 51, 52, 59
9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 51, 52, 59
66
4, 25
4, 24
58
3, 35, 36, 37, 38
3, 34, 36, 37, 38
3, 34, 35, 37, 38
3, 34, 35, 36, 38
3, 34, 35, 36, 37
41
40
57, 60?
67
2?
9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 52, 59
9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 51, 59
42, 60
HM 22 MAP S F R OM T HE MAR S HAL L I S L ANDS 369
Char t no. Publ i shed illustrations Similar chart s
58 LN4* 27
59 KN68 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 51, 52
60 KN70 42?, 57
61 KN71
62 KN72
63 KN73
64 KN74
65 HAl *
66 KN66 23
67 KN65* 43
68 G290"
69 K32
AC KNOWL E DGME NT S
I am i ndebt ed to Ber nd Lambert , an ant hropol ogi st knowl edgeabl e about Oceania, for directing me
to books about Marshal l Island culture in general [27: 33; 36] and for specifically locating for me t he
references t o women navigators. I t hank Donal d W. Crowe for calling my at t ent i on to t he st amp shown
in Fig. 15 and for shari ng one of his stamps with me.
R E F E R E NC E S
1. Kjell ~ker bl om, Astronomy and Navigation in Polynesia and Micronesia, St ockhol m Monogr aph
Series, No. 14, Stockholm: The Et hnographi cal Museum, 1968.
2. Leo Apost el , Towards t he Formal Study of Model s in t he Non-formal Sciences, in The Concept
and the Role of the Model in Mathematics and Natural and Social Sciences, I nt er nat i onal Uni on of
Hi st ory and Phi l osophy of Sciences: Division of Phi l osophy of Sciences, Dordrecht : D. Reidel, 1961,
pp. 1-37.
3. Marci a Ascher, Ethnomathematics: A Multicultural View of Mathematical Ideas, Bel mont , CA:
Brooks/ Col e, 1991.
4. Marcia Ascher and Rober t Ascher, Code of the Quipu: A Study in Media, Mathematics, and Culture,
Ann Ar bor : Uni v. of Michigan Press, 1981.
5. Willard Bascom, Waves and Beaches: The Dynamics of the Ocean Surface, Science Studies Series,
New York: Doubl eday, 1964.
6. Lloyd A. Brown, The Story of Maps, Bost on: Little, Brown & Co., 1949; r epr i nt ed., New York:
Dover, 1977.
7. Edwi n H. Bryan, Jr., Stick Charts from the Marshall Islands, 8 page ms. dat ed 1964 with 2 page
addendum in 1970, Honol ul u: Berni ce P. Bi shop Museum.
8. William H. Davenpor t , Marshal l ese Folklore Types, Journal of American Folklore 66 (1953),
219-237.
9. William H. Davenpor t , Marshal l Islands Navi gat i onal Charts, Imago Mundi 15 (1960), 19-26.
10. William H. Davenpor t , Marshal l Islands Cart ography, Expedition (Bul l et i n of t he Museum of t he
Uni versi t y of Pennsyl vani a) 6 (1964), 10-13.
11. Raymond de Brum, Marshal l ese Navigation, Micronesian Reporter 10 (1962), 18-23 & 27.
370 MAR C I A AS C HE R HM 22
12. M. W. de Laubenfels, Nat i ve Navigators, Research Review (Office of Naval Research), June
1950, 7-12.
13. M. W. de Laubenfels, Ocean Current s in t he Marshal l Islands, Geographic Review 40 (1950), 254-259.
14. P. August Erdl and, Die Marshall-lnsulaner: Leben und Sitte, Sinn, und Religion eines Sfidsee-Volkes,
Ant hr opos- Et hnol ogi sche Bibliotek, vol. 2, part 1, Munst er: Aschendarffsche Verlag, 1914.
15. Harol d Gat t y, The Raftbook: Lore of the Sea and Sky, New York: George Grady Press, 1943.
16. Thomas Gladwin, East is a Big Bird: Navigation and Logic on Puluwat Atoll, Cambri dge, MA:
Har var d Univ. Press, 1970.
17. Enri co Gui doni , Primitive Architecture, New York: Henr y N. Abr ahms, 1978.
18. L. H. Gulik, Micronesia of t he Pacific Ocean, The Nautical Magazine 31 (1862), 298-308.
19. H. U. Hall, A Marshall Islands Chart , The Museum Journal (University of Pennsyl vani a) 10
(1919), 35-42.
20. J. B. Harley, The Map and t he Devel opment of t he Hi st ory of Cart ography, in The History of
Cartography, vol. 1, ed. J. B. Harl ey and Davi d Woodward, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987,
pp. 1-42.
21. P. D. A. Harvey, The History of Topographic Maps, London: Thames & Hudson, 1980.
22. Neal O. Hines, The Secret of t he Marshal l ese Sticks, Pacific Discovery 5 (1952), 18-23.
23. Hydrographi c Office, Jaluit Map H.O.6007, U.S. Depar t ment of t he Navy, 1962.
24. Hydrographi c Office, Marshall Islands--Southern Portion, Map H.O.5414, U.S. Depar t ment of t he
Navy, 1968.
25. T. A. Joyce, Not e on a Native Char t from t he Marshal l Islands in t he British Museum, Man 8
(1908), 146-149.
26. Blair Ki nsman, Wind Waves, New York: Dover, 1984.
27. Rober t C. Kiste, The Bikinians: A Study in Forced Migration, Menl o Park, CA: Cummings, 1974.
28. August i n Kr~imer, Hawaii, Ostmikronesien und Samoa, Stuttgart: Strecker & Schroeder, 1906.
29. August i n Kr~imer and Hans Never mann, Ralik-Ratak (Marshall-lnseln), Ergebni sse de Stidsee-
Expedi t i on 1908-1910, part IIB, vol. 11, ed. G. Thilenius, Hamburg: Fri ederi chsen, De Gr uyt er &
Co., 1938.
30. Ber nd Lambert , personal communi cat i on, 1993.
31. David Lewis, We, the Navigators, Honol ul u: Univ. Press of Hawaii, 1972.
32. Henry Lyons, The Sailing Chart s of t he Marshal l Islanders, The Geographical Journal 72 (1928),
325-328.
33. Leonar d Mason, Suprafamilial Aut hor i t y and Economi c Process in Mi cronesi an Atolls, in Peoples
and Cultures of the Pacific, ed. Andr ew P. Vayda, New York: The Nat ural History Press, 1968,
pp. 299-329.
34. R. C. H. Russell and D. H. Macmillan, Waves and Tides, London: Hut chi nson' s Scientific and
Techni cal Publications, 1952.
35. A. Schtick, Die Stabkarten der Marshall-Insular, Hamburg: Kommissions-Verlag von H. O. Per-
siehl, 1902.
36. Al exander Spoehr, Majuro: A Village in the Marshall Islands, Fieldiana: Ant hr opol ogy Series, vol.
39, Chicago Nat ural History Museum, 1949; r epr i nt ed., New York: Krauss Repr i nt Corp., 1966.
37. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, Springfield, MA: G. & C. Merri am & Co., 1973.
38. J ohn W. Wells, The Coral Reefs of Arno Atoll, Marshall Islands, At ol l Research Bulletin, no. 9,
Washi ngt on, D.C.: Pacific Science Board, 1951.
39. Capt ai n Winkler, On Sea Chart s Formerl y Used in t he Marshal l Islands, with Notices on t he
Navi gat i on of These Islanders in General , in Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution for the
Year Ending June 30, 1899, Washi ngt on, D. C., pp. 487-508.

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