Ancient mariners from the Marshall Islands developed "stick charts" to understand the vast Pacific Ocean. However, the devices are not really sticks and they're not really charts!
 
The charts aren't made of sticks. Most stick charts are made of coconut fiber and shells. Placement of the fibers and shells indicate the location of islands, waves, and currents. 
 
Stick charts were not used for navigation in the way we use maps or charts today. In fact, the Marshallese probably did not consult stick charts on their long journeys throughout the Marshall Islands and Micronesia. Navigators memorized the chart before the journey was made.
 
Charts were highly individualized. Sometimes, a stick chart could only be read by the person who made it! Still, there are some standard features used to interpret ocean features. 
 
Teaching Strategies
 
Use "Fast Facts" to help students better understand how Marshallese navigators represented the ocean.
 
Read the "Questions" to see if students could navigate the Pacific using clues in the stick chart above.
  1. Read the Fast Facts first! Assume this stick chart is being held in the traditional orientation: north at the top, east at the right.

     

    How many islands are depicted on this stick chart?

  2. In what direction is the greatest concentration of islands?

  3. In what direction is the most isolated island?

  4. Where is the area with the strongest swells, or wind waves?

  5. Where is the largest stretch of open ocean, with few islands, currents, or swells?

  • Stick charts use natural materials found on and around Pacific islands to represent specific phenomena, characteristics, or locations.
  • Shells represent islands.
  • Coconut fibers ("sticks") represent wave patterns. Straight lines represent currents—consistent, predictable waves.
  • Bent or curved lines represent swells. Unlike currents, swells are created by the wind. Their strength and direction can change with the weather.
ancient
Adjective

very old.

Noun

type of map with information useful to ocean or air navigators.

Noun

instrument used to tell direction.

Noun

steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.

fiber
Noun

long, thin, threadlike material produced by plants that aids digestive motion when consumed.

Noun

body of land surrounded by water.

Noun

distance north or south of the Equator, measured in degrees.

Noun

distance east or west of the prime meridian, measured in degrees.

Noun

symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface.

mariner
Noun

sailor.

maritime
Adjective

having to do with the ocean.

Noun

art and science of determining an object's position, course, and distance traveled.

navigator
Noun

person who charts a course or path.

phenomena
Plural Noun

(singular: phenomenon) any observable occurrence or feature.

shell
Noun

hard outer covering of an animal.

stick chart
Noun

map made with sticks and shells, used by South Pacific islanders to navigate ocean swells, islands, and reefs.

swell
Noun

stable, crestless wind wave formed far out at sea.

voyage
Noun

long journey or trip.

wave
Noun

vibrations (oscillations) around a fixed location, usually involving a transfer of energy from one point to another.

Noun

state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness.

wind
Noun

movement of air (from a high pressure zone to a low pressure zone) caused by the uneven heating of the Earth by the sun.