Saturday, December 17, 2005

Glossary: Tupaia's Map

The map of the Tahitian navigator Tupaia is important because it documents the existence of what has been called a "dynamic cognitive map."

Such cognitive techniques were easily translated into modern cartography as shown by the existing Tupaia chart that was constructed according to Cook by Tupaia with his "own hands."

Tupaia's Map, click here for larger version.

The chart covers more than 40 degrees of longitude and 20 degrees of latitude. Tupaia himself was said to have sailed on a journey that took him across 20 degrees of longitude. And on the trip to Batavia in Java, he never failed in pointing properly in the direction of his home island. The distance from Fiji to Tahiti both shown on his chart is more than 2,500 miles.

According to Forster, Tupaia also knew the relative size and shapes of the islands:

"...when on board the Endearvour, gave an account of his navigations and mentioned the names of more than eighty isles which he knew, together with the size and situation, the greater part of which he had visited, and having soon perceived the meaning and use of charts, he gave directions for making one according to his account, and always pointed to the part of the heavens, where each isle was situated, mentioning at the same time that it was either larger or smaller than Taheitee, and likewise whether is was high or low, whether it was peopled or not, adding now and then some curious accounts relative to some of them."

Tupaia's ability to quickly pick up the meaning of charts and to associate them with his correlation of stellar and terrestrial cognitive maps helps substantiate one of the key proposals made in this blog.

Micronesians also possessed traditions of cognitive wave charts that have persisted into modern times. These examples demonstrate the ability of storing "maps" of a type in one's memory. I would suggest these were once common throughout the Austronesian-speaking area and helped in the establishment of long-range sea trading empires.

Another example of cognitive mapping is recorded in Beechey's voyage to the Bering Strait and the information provided to him by Eskimo informants. Beechey writes of the Kotzebue Eskimos:

"...they drew the coastal line with a stick and measure it according to day voyages. After this they erected the mountain chains with sand and stones and they represented the islands with attention to their size and form with heaps of gravel...then they showed the villages and fishing stations by means of a number of sticks which were placed in the ground, so that an imitation of the reality appeared."

Here we have the first example of what might be termed a relief map.

It appears that traditional navigators had little trouble quickly understanding modern cartographic principles and could apply their skills to map-making if they so desired.

Paul Kekai Manansala


Gatty, Harold. Finding Your Way Without Map Or Compass, Dover, 199, pp. 48-50.

Tumbull, David. Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers: Makers of Knowledge and Space, London: Routledge, 2003, pp. 134-137.

See also Suarez, "Early Mapping of the Pacific" pp. 148-9.