Saturday, January 15, 2005

Maps of the Sea Kings

From Many longhouses are of great size. One Salish longhouse in the Pacific Northwest, for example, was 1,250 feet long.

Lombok longhouse

Sarawak longhouse on high piles

Longhouses built over water

The works of Thor Heyerdahl and Gavin Menzies contain much valuable information on relationships across the Pacific, although in my view both authors ignored the most obvious explanation for these relationships.

Menzies brings up a subject first tackled by Charles Hapgood in Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings. Both Menzies and Hapgood tend to get dismissed by the scholarly establishment, but as one who has studied ancient astronomy, I found many of their contentions compelling. Menzies did quite a lot of work in breaking down the key data traced by Hapgood.

He concludes that the sudden appearance of accurate maps in the 15th century originated from Chinese attempts to provide directions for countries bringing tribute. In Europe, one such map connected with Don Pedro, Prince of Portugal, is suggested to be the source of all or most of the latter maps used in early Portuguese and European exploration.

The following passages from Antonio Galvão are key:

In the year 1428, Don Pedro, the king's eldest son, who was a great traveller, went into England, France, and Germany, and thence into the Holy Land and other places, and came home by Italy, through Rome and Venice. He is said to have brought a map of the world home with him, in which all parts of the earth were described, by which the enterprizes of Don Henry for discovery were much assisted. In this map the Straits of Magellan are called the Dragons-tail, and the Cape of Good Hope the Front of Africa, and so of the rest.

I was informed by Francis de Sosa Tavares, that in the year 1528, Don Fernando, the king's eldest son, shewed him a map which had been made 120 years before, and was found in the study of Alcobaza, which exhibited all the navigation of the East Indies, with the cape of Bona Sperança, as in our latter maps; by which it appears that there was as much discovered, or more, in ancient times as now.

The royal family of Portugal had strong Templar links. After the destruction of the order in France, the Templars in Portugal were cleared by the king and their name was changed to the Knights of the Order of Christ. Prince Henry the Navigator was an established member of this order.

Quite possibly, Don Pedro obtained this map from these Templar remnants during his trips to the Holy Land. It is interesting to note that the map sets out "all the navigation of the East Indies," something that became an immediate goal of Portuguese and other early European explorers.

When Magellan set out on his circumnavigation of the globe, he brought with him an indentured and baptized servant he had obtained in Malacca. Apparently Enrique, or "Black Henry" as he is known, was not Muslim as it is unlikely that a Muslim would have sold to Christians.

When Magellan reached the central Philippines on his approach to the Moluccas, Enrique encountered some of Bisayan-speaking natives with whom he was able to speak. At that point, Enrique acts as translator for Magellan till the latter's death at the hands of Raja Lapu-lapu.

It is often said that Enrique spoke to the Bisayans in Malay, which could have been known locally as a trade language. However, Magellan and probably many other members of his crew had spent many years exploring the East Indies before their voyage. Like other explorers of his time, they likely had better than a passing knowledge of Malay.

Could it be that Enrique understood the indigenous local language and that the landing in the Central Philippines was not a mistake? We know from earlier records that there was indeed a colony of workers from the Philippines in Malacca under contract of the Sultan. Did Magellan obtain Enrique for some special knowledge he possessed? Although Enrique is thought to have been only 12 to 18 years old when he joined Magellan, this would not have precluded him from indigenous navigational lore.

A note from the 1800s shows how Santa Cruz boys (Solomon Islands) had already acquired considerable skills from any perspective:

...teaching the names of various stars to his younger companions, and [I] was surprised at the number he knew by name. Moreover, at any time of night or day, in whatsover direction we might happen to be steering, these boys, even the youngest of the three, a lad of ten or twelve, would be able to point to where his home lay; This I have found them able to do many hundreds of miles to the south of the Santa Cruz group"

W.Coote (1882) Wanderings, South and East, London:Sampson Low.

Now getting back to the map of Don Pedro, I have commented earlier on my views that the king known to the West as Prester John was indeed a Nusantao monarch of the "Indies." His missions to the emperors of Europe were probably linked with a concern for the spice trade and possibly more spiritually-linked matters as we have been discussing.

The map found by Don Pedro contained information on navigating to the East Indies and on the Cape of Good Hope, both of which likely would have been known to the kings of Sanfotsi/Zabag (Prester John's realm). Of course, the East Indies would have been their own turf, but also we know from Muslim accounts that they sailed frequently to eastern Africa, and especially to southeast Africa. Now how they would have known of the Straits of Magellan off the southern tip of South America is another matter.

One might wonder as to whether Austronesians had maps of their own to give to others. Generally speaking, the Austronesians did not make maps in the true sense. There are some examples of stick maps and astronomical domes used for teaching. However, the Austronesian usually memorized maps in the same way they memorized prodigious genealogies.

The Tahitian priest Tupaia, although not strictly a navigator, was said to have given accurate positions for hundreds of islands across the South Seas spanning a distance greater than the Atlantic Ocean! He did this all from memory and the information was sufficient to allow his European friends to draw accurate exploration charts.

The Austronesian memorized positions of stars and their relationships with geographical positions. The navigator could relay the latitude of a particular place by giving its zenith star, the star that passes directly overhead in that location when at its zenith (highest point in the sky).

The navigator always knew the compass direction from any point to any destination and the distance involved. Using right angled trigonometry one could use this information to ascertain geographic longitude in a grid system.

So whether or not Austronesian navigators ever viewed things in the light of Cartesian grids, they had knowledge that was accurate and could easily be converted into such a system.

The Portuguese voyages of exploration had as their aim, the East Indies, and I submit this was not entirely accidental. There were folk from the East that helped bring this result along, and it happened during a time of great crisis for the ancient Nusantao maritime networks.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Forster, J.R. (1777) Observations made during a Voyage round the World (in the Resolution 1771-5), London (For information on Tupaia).

Hapgood, Charles. Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings: Evidence of Advanced Civilization in the Ice Age; 1966; 1997 Paperback Reprint Edition, Adventures Unlimited Press.

Gavin Menzies site with references on medieval maps: