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Marshallese Navigational Chart

Posted on: Thursday, May 06, 2010

Navigational Chart (Rebbilib), 19th to early 20th century, Marshallese people, Marshall Islands; materials: coconut midrib, fiber; H. 43 1/4 in. (109.9 cm); The Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection

I made a pilgrimage to the Metropolitan Museum of Art yesterday to see this Marshallese navigational chart with my visiting cousin Doan, a conservationist who was born and raised in the Marshall Islands. (My uncle traveled to this part of the world in the Peace Corps, and then decided to settle and make his life there.) I have always loved this amazingly sophisticated tool and natural fiber form. It certainly took on new meaning to see it with Doan, my husband, and the (crying) twins.

"Made from the sticklike midribs of coconut palm fronds, these objects were memory aids, created for personal use or to instruct novices, and the significance of each was known only to its maker. The charts were exclusively used on land, prior to a voyage. To carry one at sea would put a navigator's skill in question." - Met Museum site

"The charts indicate the positions of islands, but they primarily record features of the sea. Marshallese navigation was based largely on the detection and interpretation of the patterns of ocean swells." - Met Museum site

You can read and learn more here and here. BP take note.


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