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.
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.
- 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.
type of map with information useful to ocean or air navigators.
instrument used to tell direction.
steady, predictable flow of fluid within a larger body of that fluid.
long, thin, threadlike material produced by plants that aids digestive motion when consumed.
body of land surrounded by water.
distance north or south of the Equator, measured in degrees.
distance east or west of the prime meridian, measured in degrees.
symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface.
having to do with the ocean.
art and science of determining an object's position, course, and distance traveled.
person who charts a course or path.
(singular: phenomenon) any observable occurrence or feature.
hard outer covering of an animal.
map made with sticks and shells, used by South Pacific islanders to navigate ocean swells, islands, and reefs.
stable, crestless wind wave formed far out at sea.
long journey or trip.
vibrations (oscillations) around a fixed location, usually involving a transfer of energy from one point to another.
state of the atmosphere, including temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind, humidity, precipitation, and cloudiness.
movement of air (from a high pressure zone to a low pressure zone) caused by the uneven heating of the Earth by the sun.