The inhabitants of the Marshall Islands have traditionally used beautifully made “stick charts” that basically served as oceanographic maps to navigate the seas.
Of all sovereign states in the world, the Marshall Islands has the largest portion of its territory made of water, at 97.87%. The Micronesian country’s population of 58,413 people is spread out over 29 coral atolls, comprising 1,156 individual islands and islets. Not surprisingly, the inhabitants needed some kind of aid to navigate in the archipelago even before the introduction modern maps or GPS technologies. They came up with stick charts.
The charts represent major ocean swell patterns and the ways the islands disrupt those patterns, typically determined by sensing disruptions in ocean swells by islands during sea navigation. Most stick charts were made from the midribs of coconut fronds that were tied together to form an open framework.
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.
Individual charts varied so much in form and interpretation that the individual navigator who made the chart was often 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 subsided.
Another great tradition gone with technological development, just like the traditional Micronesian canoe, on which the stick charts were used: