Sunday, February 13, 2005

Circling the globe

The significance of Nicolo de Conti's contributions are best seen in the light of the maps of the world preceding his revelations.

Comparison of medieval mappa mundi. Pietro Vesconte's World Maps, 1321, from Marino Sanudo's Liber secretorum fidelium crusis; Andrea Bianco's World Map, 1432; Giovanni Leardo, Mapa Mondi Figura Mondi, 1442; Catalan-Estense Map, 1450-60; Fra Mauro's Map, 1459.

Fra Mauro's map, 1459

The comparison of maps above show the level of the art up until Poggio Bracciolini relayed de Conti's travels in 1447. The Catalan and Fra Mauro maps do not appear to have used de Conti as a source at least with reference to the globular shape of the earth.

It was not until Toscanelli as shown earlier in his reconstructed chart that we see the changes as suggested by de Conti. For the first time, we begin to see the world portrayed graphically as a globe rather than in the medieval scheme of a flat circular earth surrounded by Oceanus. The Behaim and Laon globes first give the idea that it is possible to reach the East by traveling toward the West.

We know that Austronesians were aware of the curvature of the earth. Generally speaking they conceived of the earth as having the same shape as the sky. Indeed, one Proto-Austronesian word *banua "earth, land, world" often has the derived meaning "sky, heaven, sidereal year." Polynesian myth describes the earth as a shell or a dome. In the Philippines, there are myths that the Creator dropped a floating stone into a great sea in creating the world.

De Conti sharpened the image of Asia dramatically. Why Cipangu is portrayed as one massive island though is puzzling. Was this an attempt to make it appear as a larger and safer target?

Columbus apparently thought that Cipangu, his El Dorado, lie at about 19 degrees North latitude while Magellan was headed for his land of gold at 13 degrees North.

About a century earlier, Zheng He was preparing for his great treasure voyages but not before trying to subdue the kingdom of Lusung to the southeast. As mentioned earlier, a large eruption occured at Pinatubo around the year 1450, not long after de Conti had left the region of the East Indies.

Lusung and its kings, who had long before resorted to Machiavellian practices, was approaching the final stages of descent.

The Achenese and Malay empires had expanded Islam over most of the area to the south and had begun to infiltrate Lusung society itself through royal intermarriages. The old spirituality had long been in decline. The anti-materialists were themselves not immune to the temptations of wealth, which they had accrued to a spectacular degree at the height of the Sanfotsi/Zabag empire.

The Japanese of the 15th century linked the kingdom of Lusung (Rusun) with those of Taiwan and the unidentified island of Amakawa. The three islands were known collectively as Mishima. During these desperate times, the Dragon and Bird Clan resorted to something their ancestors apparently had never dared.

They began marketing one of the most sacred items their land had to offer -- the sacred jars of the cosmic mountain.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Streicher, Friedrich, "Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli" in Catholic Encyclopedia,

Tafur, Pero, Travels and Adventures: I435-I439,

Route of Columbus upon reaching "New World"