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Meto Navigation Chart

Meto Navigation Chart - www.joyofmuseums.com - American Museum of Natural History

Meto Navigation Chart

Master navigators once used Navigation Charts like this one from the Marshall Islands for navigation between the islands by showing currents and wave patterns. These types of Stick Charts were made to represent significant ocean swell patterns and the ways the islands disrupted those patterns. Island locations were represented by shells tied to the framework, or by the lashed junction of two or more sticks.

The threads represented prevailing ocean surface wave-crests and directions they took as they approached islands and met other similar wave-crests formed by the ebb and flow of breakers. The charts were studied and memorised, and Marshallese navigators used their senses and memory to guide them on voyages by lying down in the canoe to feel how the canoe pitched and rolled by underlying swells.

The stick charts are a significant contribution to the history of cartography because they represent a different system of mapping ocean swells. They represent a culture that mapped the earth differently to the maps we use today. Only a select few leaders knew the method of making these charts, and the knowledge was only passed on from father to son. Their secret knowledge was kept secret until the late 1980s.

The use of stick charts ended after World War II when new electronic technologies made navigation more accessible and travel among islands by canoe lessened. Marshallese now display Meto on their walls to reflect their proud island tradition.

Meto Navigation Chart

  • Title:                    Meto Navigation Chart
  • Date:                   1970
  • Place:                  Marshall Islands
  • Material:            Wood, shell, string
  • Museum:            American Museum of Natural History

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“Isn’t it astonishing that all these secrets have been preserved for so many years just so we could discover them!”
– Orville Wright

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Photo Credit: JOM