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Exploration - mattangs & medoes

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160456.  Tue Mar 27, 2007 11:12 am Reply with quote

Stephen hands out a pair of specially-commissioned mattangs/medoes:

Q: How would you use this to explore the world?

A mattang is a kind of map made form reeds which shows where the different wave-shapes are located amongst the islands of the Polynesia and Micronesia. It is thought that they were used by the Polynesians to reach far-off islands without knowing they were there by any other means.

Training to be a sailor began at an early age and one of the tools used by the Micronesian sailors was a bamboo device called the mattang or stick chart (although it is in no way a chart). The Micronesian sailors were well known for their ability to cross the open ocean and their system of training reflects that ability. The Marshallese sailors were particularly skilled and Robin Herbst describes some of the techniques used to train young Marshall sailors:

"Physical artifacts are used as mnemonic devices for...teaching the principles of swell refraction and intersection, and are used by the islanders as crucial navigational tools. The "sticks" that form the chart are the midribs of coconut leaves curved around a central point to model how swells from opposite directions refract around an island and intersect in nodes." [see Uncommon Directions by Robin Herbst]

When you drop a stone into a lake, its ripples spread out and also refract around any other obstacles sticking out of the water. You can see the effect in this page's diagrams:

By lying off the prow of the boat, studying the wave patterns for a while, and reverse-engineering the diffraction patterns that spread out 'down current' of the island, you can know that it must be there without having to see it. And you can know more-or-less exactly where you are amongst known islands.

Many such islands, and many currents, no doubt makes the whole island-group mattang very complex indeed, but if there's one thing the brain is very good at, it's learning how to spot very complex visual and rhythmic patterns.

160461.  Tue Mar 27, 2007 11:15 am Reply with quote

That is absolutely fascinating.

160500.  Tue Mar 27, 2007 2:43 pm Reply with quote


Ties in with what we were discussing elsewhere about information storage media which become unreadable to future generations - this one hasn't obviously, but it's just the sort of thing which might.

160619.  Wed Mar 28, 2007 2:46 am Reply with quote

Now all we need is an elephant link...

160648.  Wed Mar 28, 2007 4:59 am Reply with quote

Well, we have here elephant maps, used to establish where poached ivory comes from, by matching it up with samples of ele-shit, collected and sent in by field workers in various locations:

Frederick The Monk
160751.  Wed Mar 28, 2007 10:00 am Reply with quote

Nor is that the only elephant map - Mrs Monk was making a documentary series a few years back about mapping and discovered that there is an elephant shaped hill in the Gold Coast map of 1929 - except of course there isn't really. A junior army cartographer, rather dispirited at the lack of interest shown by his bosses in his work and probably not a little bored doodled an elephant in contours on the map which slipped through the editorial net and ended up being published.

Ah yes, here it is:

Can you spot the elephant?

Last edited by Frederick The Monk on Tue Apr 17, 2007 11:50 am; edited 1 time in total

160753.  Wed Mar 28, 2007 10:04 am Reply with quote

It's really clear, even on the first pic, isn't it? Perfect! I wonder if there have ever been any elephant cartographers, along with the (reported) musicians, poets, painters and so on?

And we could always lay an outline of Africa over an outline of an African elephant's ear ...

160756.  Wed Mar 28, 2007 10:06 am Reply with quote

**cough** picture researchers **ahem**

160766.  Wed Mar 28, 2007 10:25 am Reply with quote

Well that's just frigging perfect if we go with this idea of an "Elephant in the room!" joker.

Pardon my French.

164533.  Tue Apr 10, 2007 12:25 pm Reply with quote

It just got better:
The Polynesians were, in fact, among the most highly skilled seafarers and navigators the world has ever seen. They had an astounding knowledge of the night sky (and) an amazing ability to detect surface currents and compensate for them. And they had the almost uncanny skill of steering by wave motion, guided by the barely perceptible swells reflected from islands beyond the horizon: as David Lewis remarks. "The skilled navigator comes to recognize the profile and characteristics of particular ocean swells as he would the faces of his friends, but he judges their direction more by feel than by sight."* The most advanced practitioners of this art would enter the water to judge the swells against the most sensitive part of the body, the scrotum - thus giving a whole new meaning to the term 'ball bearings'.

* article entitled 'Wind, Wave, Star and Bird' by D. Lewis (1974) in the National Geographic, Nat. Geo. 146 (6): pp.746-54

The Enigmas of Easter Island by John Flenley and Paul Bahn

164552.  Tue Apr 10, 2007 1:54 pm Reply with quote


164555.  Tue Apr 10, 2007 2:11 pm Reply with quote

We've never covered it but I did look at it the other day and in the end I didn't post it because I didn't think it was all that well-known of a duck; it might just get blank looks from the panel.

164557.  Tue Apr 10, 2007 2:17 pm Reply with quote


164592.  Tue Apr 10, 2007 3:59 pm Reply with quote

You said it was a canard.

164720.  Wed Apr 11, 2007 5:35 am Reply with quote

Heh - 'ball bearings' is very good. Surely a forfeit card for that one.

The mattangs are all about surface wave shapes, though, not subsurface currents (which is a separate navigation method) so unless the chap were floating naked on his back with his genitalia aligned north-south...


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