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Micronesian Stick Charts


The Marshallese stick charts were constructed by palm ribs bound by coconut fibre with shells used to represent the islands. These stick charts are not charts in the western sense but are instructional and mnemonic devices concerned with swell patterns. They are not an essential navigational tool. There are three types of stick charts:

The Mattang differs from the conventional European chart in three important respects. Firstly, it is constructed for the purpose of indicating swell lines which the conventional charts ignore. Secondly, the attached shells are able to represent any islands with the stick chart being orientated at the angle most appropriate for the circumstances. Finally, the mattang are individual charts constructed by a navigator to suit his own particular requirements. Indeed, an entirely competent navigator cannot, under any circumstances, interpret a chart which he himself has not made. An example of a mattang chart is below:

In the example above, A, B, D and E represent islands. Thus AD and DB make up the rilib or east swell for island D, while EA and EB represent the kaelib or west swell for island E. tM is the southern half of the rilib or east swell for island A and vM is the southern portion of its kaelib. Similarly, uM is the northern section of island B's rilib and wM its kaelib.

The second form of chart, the Meddo is an extension of the mattang chart in that it shows swell patterns in relation to a number of islands. In this respect, the chart itself is an extension of the swell patterns of these islands.

The function of the meddo is to indicate the position of islands relative to observable swell phenomena, the true distances and directions between the islands being of only secondary importance.

The final type of stick chart is the rebbilib which covers the whole or a large part of the archipelago and is basically concerned more with islands than with swells. 

A typical rebbilib stick chart.

A simplified rebbilib stick chart.

The Marshall Islands consist of two parallel island chains called Ratak and Ralik. These can be seen quite clearly on the map below.

Below is the corresponding rebbilib stick chart which depicts the islands of the Marshall Group.

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