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Stick Chart for Sea Navigation

Stick Chart for Sea Navigation - - American Museum of Natural History

This Stick Chart for Sea Navigation made of split reed and cowrie shell were used by Pacific Islanders to help navigate their ocean. The cowrie shells represent stars in the constellations. The three shells in the pointed oval at the bottom right represent the boat. The sailors placed the chart over their heads at night and by orientating the chart to match the position of the constellations, they determined their desired direction. This chart was used to determine the direction of travel and similarly for their return home.

These types of Stick Charts were used across the Pacific Islands and individual charts varied so much in form and interpretation that the individual navigator who made the chart was sometimes the only person who could fully interpret and use it. 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.

Stick Charts were also made to represent major 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.


Essential Facts:

  • Title:                    Stick Chart for Sea Navigation
  • Date:                   1945
  • Place:                  Saipan, Mariana Islands
  • Material:             Split Reed, cowrie shell
  • Museum:             American Museum of Natural History


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



Photo Credit: By Joyofmuseums (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons