Saturday, January 08, 2005

Sailing the Japan Current

While it may seem logical to sail directly from one destination to another in a straight line, prevailing winds and currents create a different reality.

The rotation of the earth tends to cause winds to blow from the east to the west making journeys from Asia straight to America difficult. Instead, ships tend to follow currents which carry them to their destination although not always via the most direct path.

From Southeast Asia, the best way to sail to the Americas is to first travel north and catch the Japan Current (Kuroshio Current) off the east coast of Japan. The flowing waters would carry the ship northeast toward the Aleutian Islands and the Bering Sea. Then ships could go either eastward toward the Pacific coast of North America or southeast to the same coast of Mesoamerica.

In Mesoamerica, we meet motifs which again remind us of the holy volcano. In fact, one frieze from the Yucatan depicts a person in a boat evidently fleeing an erupting volcano.

Human body and apparently dead fish seen floating with volcano in background

The Aztecs believed in an island called Aztlan where there existed a "hump-backed" mountain with seven caves known as Chicomoztoc. The depiction of the caves was similar to the Olmec imagery of the entrance of the Underworld as that of an open space or cave at the base of a mountain.

The migration from Aztlan, the image on the right is similar to the Mayan glyph for "mountain" or "town"

An image of Aztlan made during Spanish times, the hollow at the base of the mound represents the Underworld or the Seven Caves

The taotie-like tunghat image used on Old Bering Sea harpoons was decorative and meant to induce the animal spirit to offer itself to the hunter. Interestingly, it resembles a stylized version of the Olmec mouth of the Underworld. In this sense, the tunghat may have represented to the animal spirit an opening to join its ancestors in the life beyond.

Olmec depiction of entrance to Underworld as taotie-like image with quatrefoil maw

Olmec altar at La Venta showing ruler seated before mouth to Underworld from drawing by Reilly 1990

These images remind us of the pagoda spires of temples in Myanmar and Borobodur meant to portray an inverted lotus. This was a symbol also of the cosmic mountain. In Vedic literature, the god Prajapati is sometimes said to be in the form of this cosmic inverted lotus with a fire burning within and suspended over the navel of the universe.

Shwezgon Pagoda, Myanmar

Pagoda spire at Borobodur with cave-like niche containing image of Buddha

Aztec glyph for "mountain" or "town"

The Nusantao traveling in this direction likely carried with them the dog and at some time apparently also brought the chicken to America. Interestingly a specific type of blue egg-laying chicken that developed in America eventually made its way into the Pacific showing that contacts were rather persistent. They may have also brought the practice of tattoo.

In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, Atum as the "Isle of Fire" is also described as a lotus rising from the sea: "I am the cosmic lotus that rose shining from Nun’s black primordial waters, and my mother is Nut, the night sky. O you who made me, I have already arrived, I am the great ruler of Yesterday, the power of command is in my hand."

Eskimo/Inuit Tattoo

Map showing migration from Aztlan to Teotihuacan, the former is the rectangle of water at the top right

Paul Kekai Manansala


Reilly, F. Kent 1990. Cosmos and rulership: the function of Olmec-style symbols in Formative Period Mesoamerica. Visible Language 1990:12-37.