Thursday, December 8, 2011

Stick Charts and Woven Branch Maps

Via I'M REVOLTING come these woven branch maps, described as a collaboration between architect Tim Koelle and an unnamed local Mexican craftsperson (available at mc&co). They (mc&co) explain, "The branches are woven together when freshly cut & flexible. The designs are based on local topographical regions, serving as 'maps'."

I think the branch maps are lovely (if pricey!), but I do think it a bit odd that they do not mention the Polynesian tradition of making maps of branches. To navigate and explore a world of Pacific ocean, sparsely dotted with thousands of small islands, Polynesians created maps with knots, shells and bamboo or coconut fronds to identify routes to islands. They used the sun and stars to identify cardinal directions, and cues such as wave swells, winds, flights of birds, tides, reefs, cloud formation and flotsam to allow them to travel thousands of kilometers in canoes, long before Captain Cooke and other European explorers were able to explore the Pacific. They marked these cues on their maps called Rebbelibs, Medos and Mattangs, or Stick Charts. (You can find more on the history of navigation at sea, including Polynesian and Micronesian methods and maps curtesy of NOAA, the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration or about stick charts here and here).

I suppose it's possible they are less interested in maps, charts, navigation and the history of science and exploration than I (frankly, it's a bit of an obsession) and they may have actually produced their topographic branch maps in ignorance of Polynesian stick charts through a sort of convergent evolution of design (an idea which in itself interests me). Though, the lovely "Decorative Wall Hangings" might not be a case of cultural appropriation at all, I would far rather have a useful piece of naviation history if I had the choice.

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