of Exchange: the Global Shipwright in the Pacific
Konrad Van Tilburg
University of Hawaiêi at Manoa
Trans-oceanic exchanges feature the flow of goods and ideas
and people across the ocean to societies on distant shores.
This process includes many sorts of decisions and modifications
in the littoral zone. Some exchanges are accepted, some
modified, and some rejected. Broad statements such as
these are hard to refute. This paper will attempt to
narrow the focus to two case studies of a single type of artifact,
and seek the ways in which nautical exchanges are transmitted.
The artifact is the vessel itself. Ships, which carry
numerous items of exchange, can themselves be exchanged, selected,
and altered. The ship as the central cultural artifact
approach provides two examples of cultural exchange in the
Pacific region: Chinese-built junks from California and Japanese-built
sampans from Hawaii. These are representative microcosms
of a larger sample. Were these vessels accepted as viable
designs? Physically altered in their unfamiliar homelands?
Did cultural exchanges take place? Chinese junks have
long vanished from the California coast, but Japanese sampans,
in a much altered form, are still celebrated in Hawaii.
Why is this so? What are the similarities and differences
between these two examples?
The ship, in its many regional variations, is the material
record of seafaring traditions. Vessels are signposts of seafarers
and shipwrights on the move. It may be only natural that processes
of cultural exchange alter the tool of that exchange itself,
redefining its physical shape or its cultural identity.
The transoceanic exchange in this case is the adoption and
continued use of nautical technology. As these examples
make clear, this process of nautical exchange involves questions
of national identity not only for the migrants, but for the
ships. The question of a vessel's nationality is bound
to the concept of cultural exchange.
JUNKS COME TO CALIFORNIA
The first example comes from the West Coast of the mid-19th
century. Overseas Chinese laborers, most often credited
with mining operations and railroad construction, also opened
the fishing industry on the California coast. No one
knows who the first shipwrights or fishermen were in this
case, but junks were being constructed overseas as early as
the 1860's. In San Diego and Roseville, where fishermen
sailed the open sea between abalone camps, the two or three-masted
hong xian tuo style predominated. In the San
Francisco Bay area, where the shrimp grounds were within the
close protection of the bay, the single-masted cao chuan
style was more familiar.1
Like most fishing vessels from Southern China, the bows of
these types were pointed, and transoms round. Solid
watertight bulkheads divided the interiors of vessels into
separate compartments. All hull planks were edge-joined
by iron nails, and all holes filled with a material known
as chunam, a mixture of lime and fiber and tung oil.
Sails were lug designs with bamboo battens.2 These were the same vessels the
shipwrights in China were used to building, the only difference
was in the type of material (redwood) used in construction.
Iron wood for masts and rudders, and other implements such
as anchors and nets, were imported directly from China.
Of course, their builders would not have referred to them
as junks, but as specific regional types of fishing craft
or fanchuan, sailing vessels. What is a junk?
The term junk may be a derivative of jong, a Southeast
Asian word for small craft recorded in the 16th
century by European sailors.
Operating from small fishing villages and camps, the Chinese
exploited the relatively untouched and abundant squid, abalone,
fish, and shrimp resources in California. Much of the
product was sent back to China, as American tastes at that
time did not tend towards such items. Instead of competing
for diminishing resources in crowded Guangdong Province waterways,
California's Chinese migrants found themselves amidst a fortune
of some of the most prized delicacies of the Asian market.
No doubt the work was hard, and immigrants missed their homes
and families, but one can only imagine what the transition
from China to the untapped riches of California's shores was
like. One author attributes the rapid success in the
new fishery to the fact that fishing represented the one sector
of the economy where there were few race-based restrictions
and only minimal competition with white Californians.3
In 1897 there were 26 separate Chinese shrimp camps circling
San Francisco Bay.4
These camps, early in the history of this industry, mainly
benefited the Chinese homeland. Thousands of tons of dried
fish and abalone and shrimp, and the shells of the shrimp
for fertilizer, along with abalone shells for beads and buttons
and jewelry, were exported to China by the fishermen and their
agents in San Diego and San Francisco. Products flowed
from the junks to the camps to the agents in the city and
then across the Pacific on steamships, many of which were
crewed by Chinese sailors.5
The California junks were the physical end of a very long
trade diaspora, an economic link, and a very Chinese one at
that. Madeline Hsu has addressed this organization,
finding the process highly organized. Remittances from
the minefields and railroad gangs, along with the dried fish
and shrimp and squid, were shipped back to Hong Kong via the
jinshanzhuang, informal business associations which
assured that profits returned to villages on the mainland.6
Was the edge of maritime China, as far as fisheries were concerned,
really the Sacramento delta?
STATUS OF ALIEN JUNKS
Chinese junks were considered alien vessels, and by maritime
law were not required to be registered, inspected, or otherwise
documented by anyone. This was most troubling to immigration
officials in San Diego, where the junks plied the waters between
California and Mexico. San Diego and nearby Roseville
were centers of major junk construction, supplying some of
the largest and fastest vessels in the vicinity.7 And between international
borders there was a need for speed. Junks could out
sail Mexican patrol boats. Abalone camps on California's
Channel Islands occasionally served as way stations for Chinese
immigrants being smuggled into the state.8
Discrimination against Asians on the West Coast has been the
subject of numerous other studies, but it also spelled the
end of the Chinese fisheries in California. The Scott
Act of 1888 prohibited types of Chinese laborers from returning
to the United States. The amendment to the Geary Act
of 1892 specifically named anyone "taking, drying, or otherwise
preserving shell or other fish for home consumption or exportation"
as a laborer banned from reentering the country.9 This included vessels crossing
the three-mile territorial limit. In short, Chinese
fishermen were forced to sell, and many of the junks were
given new identities as American vessels. Ships which
previously had no name became known as the Acme, the
Chromo, the Alta and the World.10
Such American-owned vessels finally became eligible for
regular documentation and formal inclusion in the Lists
of Merchant Vessels of the United States. Officially
they were described as either sloops or schooners by the inspectors,
not junks. And many continued operation, not as fishing
vessels, but in the niche occupation of smuggling cargos such
as guano between Mexico and California. Opportunities for
smuggling shellfish and guano across the border with Mexico
did not diminish, but increased when American ownership
caught up with the Chinese junks.
A COLD RECEPTION
Some of the reaction to Chinese junks might be attributed
to the general antipathy towards the Chinese sojourners themselves.
Local observers did not find junks quaint and exotic (see
sampans), but objects of ridicule and contempt. In 1886
a local newspaperman found them to be "a cross between the
Puritan Mayflower and the recently demolished Sea Nymph
Bath House on one side, and a pile driver and Noah's Ark on
the other."11 Junks in general were seen as misshapen, ancient
or evil things. One 19th century writer found
Chinese ships to be:
...typical of a class of
devil ships, because to the student of folk tales there can
be no more significant symbol or embodiment of evil than the
dragon or serpent. The Junk...is the very spirit of evil moving
upon the face of the waters, a terror so real that it conquers
even cupidity and curiosity.12
Chinese fishing practices were also called into question.
Intensive marine exploitation by a small group was seen as
a threat, and cries that the "Mongolians" were devastating
the resources joined the chorus of anti-Chinese agitation
on the West Coast. Similar movements targeted Chinese
crews on American and Canadian transoceanic steam ship lines.
The story of the California junks is only one part of a wider
phenomenon, that of junk construction in the Pacific.
On Matupit island of New Britain during the mid-19th
century, the Chinese merchant Lee Tam Tuck, known locally
as Uncle Ah Tam, established himself as an shipwright.
He worked alongside the German colonial authorities, serving
as a conduit for migrant southern Chinese in search of overseas
opportunities. Many Chinese worked at Ah Tam's shipyard
before moving on and finding work with the German companies
or branching out and becoming independent traders.13 By 1910, Ah Tam's
empire included a wholesale and retail store, one hotel, several
plantations, a gambling den, a brothel, an opium house, and
two shipyards. Chinese shipwrights also built and operated
junks on the beaches near Darwin, Australia. These were
used in the lumber trade in the late 19th and early
20th centuries.14 The annual reports of the Government
of the Northern Territory include some brief information on
their registration and tonnage. It's likely that these
junks, and those from Ah Tam's shipyards, reflected specific
regional designs from China. So these Pacific junks
were Chinese junks?
Construction of junks in California stopped with the anti-Chinese
Exclusion Acts. The vessels passed into American hands
and shortly thereafter vanished from the maritime scene.
Only in the past few decades has interest in the California
junks been rekindled. Traces of vessels have been found
near China Camp in Marin County, and the remains of fishing
camps on San Clemente Island have been recorded. John
Muir of the National Park Service is planning to construct
a replica of a Bay Area shrimp junk during the summer of 2003,
but for the most part these vessels have slipped from memory.
SAMPANS COME TO HAWAII
In 1899 Gorokichi Nakasugi, a shipwright and fisherman from
Wakayama prefecture in southern Honshu, arrived by steamer
in Hawaii. He was part of a wider labor migration to locations
all around the Pacific. In this case, Mr. Nakasugi brought
with him an artifact which would open the commercial tuna
fishery in Hawaii. On the deck of the steamer was a
traditional 34-foot Japanese sailing sampan.
What is a sampan? Unfortunately, this word is rather
vague. Originally, this term comes from the Chinese
language, meaning three (san) boards (ban),
describing a small simple skiff. The textual definition
has it that these craft are "typical small and light
boats of oriental waters and rivers...The harbor sampan usually
has an awning over the center...the coastal sampan [is] fitted
with a single mast and junk-type sail."15 But this term has always been fairly loose.
One source makes the claim that if a water buffalo could go
on board athwart ships, then the vessel in question was a
junk; but if the animal had to lie down fore-and-aft style
(or perhaps couldn't board at all), then it was probably a
Interestingly, the only thing that can really be said about
the term sampan in Hawaii is that it usually implies some
kind of Japanese, rather than Chinese, influence. Sampan,
like the terms junk and dhow, is a cross-cultural hybrid,
a word that implies familiarity by mixed groups, one not attributable
any longer to a single culture.
To be more specific, then, the sampan brought to Hawaii in
1899 was a wooden hull square-sailed boat reminiscent of traditional
designs hundreds of years in age. The 1899 sampan possessed
elements of the Yamato-gata style Japanese fishing vessel,
a distinctive and historic Japanese craft.17 The light square sail rig was common on traditional
Japanese craft. The wide keel and tall stem and diagonally
nailed edge-joined planking and prominent bulkheads were Asian
features more indicative of maritime traditions hundreds of
years old. Large-scale Japanese shipbuilders had been
encouraged by the Meiji government to reform their construction
practices post-1868 and adopt western construction techniques
in order to build larger vessels, but the older traditions
lived on in small beach-built fishing craft of the southern
Japanese islands. Mr. Nakasugi's sampan was a surviving
Traditional Japanese ship features were thus imported from
southern Honshu to the rough open waters around the Hawaiian
islands. With continuing labor migration, Japanese vessels
and Japanese sailors soon found employment in the offshore
fishing industry. Kewalo Basin on Oahu began to see
larger amounts of ahi (yellowfin) and aku (skipjack) unloaded
on the docks. The picturesque setting inspired more than a
few paintings and poems dedicating to the bright blue hybrid
boats of the exotic local fishing fleet. One report
states that Mr. Nakasugi was so successful that he actually
received death threats from other local fishermen.18
Japanese fishermen opened the commercial tuna industry in
Hawaii in conjunction with the innovation of modern packing
plants. It was the ability to can tuna for the distant
market which really made possible the expansion and modernization
of the fishing fleet. The industry benefited American
canneries, not a link to Japanese villages.
Vessels began to change with time as well. Gasoline
engines were fitted into boats beginning in 1905, and more
suitable marine diesels by 1927. Shortly thereafter the prominent
deckhouse made its appearance. The Sampans became perfectly
adapted to the rough waters between the islands. These
modifications were not planned, but were incorporated on an
individual basis by Japanese trained local shipwrights.
Other boat builders immigrated to Hawaii and formed profitable
local or family shipyards.19
Men like Gorokichi Nakasugi, Seichi Funai, Joichi Tanimura,
Mankichi Murakami, and Kametaro Nishimura continued in the
trade practiced by their fathers, while finding room for certain
modifications in Hawaii. Some of these changes were
learned while repairing "haole" or western vessels visiting
from the mainland.20
By 1940 there were over 450 sampans in the Territory of Hawaii,
making the commercial fishery the islands' third largest industry
behind sugar and pineapple. At this point the larger
aku boats ran into certain operational limitations.
These sampans relied on live nehu or anchovies for bait, only
a percentage of which survived the tossing and rolling bait
wells. Canneries on the Mainland had already switched
to purse seining for tuna, eventually bringing in 20 times
more fish than the Hawaiian industry. Since schools
of tuna in clear water can see better and thus avoid the huge
nets, the aku sampans were stuck with the traditional pole-and-line
method.21 But there were other problems
in store for the Japanese sampan fleet.
CONCERNS OVER FOREIGN FLEETS
It was not social tension over jobs, but the growing international
tensions between Japan and America in the 1930's that brought
increased scrutiny to the fishing fleet in Hawaii. Military
planners feared that Japanese nationals, many of whom were
illegal immigrants smuggled on board steamships from Wakayama
prefecture, had almost complete control over a wide-roving
fishing fleet. Many of the larger powered sampans were
over 80 feet in length, with ranges as high as 1,500 miles.
These vessels observed few, if any, regulatory restrictions.
U.S. law at that time required that only American-made and
American-owned vessels be documented, and foreign fishing
vessels below five net tons operated with impunity.
Thanks to certain loopholes in shipping regulations, sampans
and other powered wooden vessels were allowed to deduct 75%
of their machinery spaces from their calculated net tonnage.
Thus long range sampans could qualify as minor five ton craft.
Sampans filed no clearances for any destinations, nor any
paperwork regarding their crews. They were not crossing
any boundaries into foreign waters. This is indeed a
kind of gray zone, where "foreign" vessels operated in a domestic
Establishing control over the Japanese fishermen and their
fleet was a major issue for the U.S. Navy. Were these
vessels spying for an increasingly aggressive Japan?
Were they supplying submarines? Changing crews at sea
and transporting agents to the islands? One secret document
sent from a planning committee to the Commandant of the 14th
Naval District stated that the sampans were:
manned in large part by
alien Japanese whose loyalty to Japan as opposed to the United
States is a practical certaintyÄTheir personnel would, in
time of war, serve to provide Japanese vessels with a sufficient
number of able, competent pilots thoroughly familiar with
all local watersÄThey can obtain exact soundings by means
of weighted fishing linesÄThey would serve as a means of secretly
landing intelligence or sabotage agents shortly prior to war.22
Such fears developed into near hysteria in Northern Australian
waters, where aerial patrols were discussed as a way to keep
track of the sampans and "how evil has grown in and around
the Torres Straits."23 The immigration
service in Hawaii stepped up its operations, and by 1940 most
of the Mikkosha (illegal crew) had been deported back
to Japan.24 Confiscation of fishing sampans
by immigration officials began long before the December 7th
JOIN THE NAVY
World War II had the single largest impact on the sampan fishing
industry. The restrictions on the overseas Japanese
during wartime have been documented elsewhere; the fishermen
were only one group of many that suffered. The local
fishermen, those that survived accidents during and after
the attack, found the going quite difficult. On December
7th American fighter planes intentionally strafed
several sampans. At least three landing parties on sampans
were confirmed between Barbers Point and Nanakuli on Oahu.
Planes engaged these targets "returning fire" as
stated in the report.25
Again on December 12th sampans were strafed off of both Kailua
and Kohala coasts. There was no real cause for these
attacks as there was no invasion of the islands. The
landings were fishermen fleeing for their lives by grounding
their vessels. But economic sanctions played a greater
role in the demise of the sampan fleet.
During the war, the fleet was immediately limited to operating
only during certain narrow hours in a few selected near shore
areas. This, of course, was devastating to the fishery.
By the end of 1942, the annual yield was down by a staggering
99%.26 The larger aku boats requisitioned
by the navy following confiscation underwent stability studies
and modifications carried out to make the vessel more suitable
for armament. They were to be used in a number of capacities.
"Until the need for offshore sampans is satisfied, every
craft capable of mounting depth charges must be acquired for
that use."27 The traditional
blue paint was changed to white, and the sampans began to
patrol island waters. Sampans like the Fuji Maru
became the YP-183.28
Frequently they received newer, more powerful three-cylinder
diesel engines and depth-charge racks. The identification
and control problem for these foreign-built sampans was solved:
they were "enlisted" in the U.S. Navy.
Like the junks, sampans in Hawaii were only a part of a larger
Pacific story. Japan pursued the deliberate mechanization
of its fishing fleet prior to World War II, increasing the
tuna catch to about 200,000 tons by 1940.29 War damage affected
sampans throughout the Pacific, but certain locations recovered
following their decline. The Japanese commercial tuna
fishery in Chuuk boomed in the 1930's.30 Following the War and the lifting
of the MacArthur Line in 1952, Japan again pursued the development
of the tuna fishery in Okinawa, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
Fleets were quickly rebuilt, except in Hawaii.
In the islands the fishing fleet never recovered following
World War II. Today there are only a handful of pre-war
sampans remaining, all now known by non-Japanese names (Kula
Kai, Neptune, Orion, Corsair, and Sea Queen).
There are few Japanese today left who still go to sea in sampans.
The owners and crews are mostly Hawaiians, local Koreans,
and Micronesians.31 Yet, the image of the Japanese
sampan in Hawaii, unlike the junks of the West Coast, has
achieved a certain lasting fame.
ADOPTED BY LOCAL CULTURE
The sampans in Hawaii have always evoked interest. Anthropologists
from the Bishop museum sailed the South Pacific on sampans;
President Roosevelt, while on vacation in 1934, did all his
deep-sea fishing on board local sampans.32 Jack London traveled inter-island
on sampans. Elvis swung his hips and entertained the
local crew on board a pre-war sampan in his 1962 movie "Girls!
Girls! Girls!" Today the older wooden sampans show up
on napkins from Waikiki's Fisherman's Wharf. They also
make a colorful appearance in the margins of tourist maps
of the islands. Artists continue to depict them in watercolors.
One vessel graces the interior of Sam Choy's local lunch restaurant.
A portion of another projects into the second floor of the
local maritime museum.
Their construction, on a very limited basis, continues.
A local shipwright has created a fiberglass sampan with the
lines similar to the older wooden craft. The steel fishing
vessel Nisei, launched in 1996, features certain traditional
design elements alongside duel Detroit diesels and full electronics.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed that the
multipurpose sampan design be officially promoted for use
by local Pacific island fisheries.33 Though not as
numerous as before, the sampan remains as a distinctly recognizable
Importantly, all of these post-war incarnations among the
Hawaiian islands are known not as Japanese sampans, but as
Hawaiian sampans. Their adaptation to the multicultural
society in Hawaii is complete.
In one case we are left with the Hawaiian Sampan, a vessel
survivor in terms of image and actual examples. On the
other hand we have the story of the vanished junks, once a
familiar sight on the West Coast but now the subject only
of relatively narrow research and certain archaeological projects.
Some exchanges are apparently more successful than others.
Both sampans and junks were the familiar designs of Asian
seafarers transplanted to foreign shores. Both were
central to the commercial exploitation of marine resources
to the point of organized resistance by other groups.
Both were classified as foreign vessels, though built locally,
and were therefore capable of evading regulatory measures.
Chinese and Japanese fishermen were both artificially forced
from their occupations by direct action. At some indefinite
point, though, Japanese sampans became Hawaiian sampans, though
Chinese junks never became California junks.34
Junks arrived too early. There were no modifications
for them to undergo, no canning plants which would boost the
fishery beyond its 19th century limits. Drying
the products and shipping them to China via steamer was the
mode of operation throughout the junk period. By the
time transportation and marketing technologies had changed,
Chinese ownership, and the construction of junks, had ceased.
And Hawaii in the 1930's was not California in the 1880's.
Though the U.S. Navy was nervous enough about the Japanese
fishing fleet, the dynamics of labor migration, the social
setting and ultimately the acceptance of cultural imports
differed between the two locations. The Territory of
Hawaii proved more culturally flexible than the State of California.
In short, Hawaii has Aloha.
These individual case studies raise the broader question of
ships and national identities. National recognition
of foreign local vessels proved to be concern in each case.
Under established international law, all commercial vessels
must have a single national identity, in other words they
must operate under a single flag. The concept of the
"genuine link" is usually central to the granting of this
recognition. There must be some tangible national (not
just economic) connection between a state and a ship in order
for status to be granted. Eligible vessels are 1) owned
by nationals, 2) national officers, 3) national crew, and/or
4) national build.35
Flag states are then responsible for all internal organization
and control of the ship no matter where it may be, and no
other nation may exercise authority over it. Flag vessels
are elements of sovereign territory. Where then do these foreign-built
local fishing boats fall in the question of nationality?
Could America complain to either Japan or China that their
fishing vessels were operating beyond all control? The
home countries had perhaps an economic link but no national
connection with these sampans and junks. The solution
in both cases was to forcibly acquire the ships and complete
the paperwork, and this was done. Foreign sojourners
and their vessels existed in a tenuous position. People
were sent back but ships could be relabeled. The navy
redefined sampans as patrol craft. The Merchant List
redefined junks as schooners or sloops, according to the
number of masts. The vessels were renamed in the fullest
sense of the word. In both cases this brought the fisheries
to a quick end as American citizens, who could own but not
rebuild the artifacts, replaced the original immigrants.
The sea may be a highway, but the need to nationalize inanimate
objects in the effort to maintain boundaries at sea worked
against the overall cultural exchange.
The question of identity provides a rich category for historical
and cultural interpretation. What is the identity of a ship?
Ships have a birth or launching, a life span, and a death
or final disposition. Ships have documents of registry
or enrollment depending on whether they are in the foreign
or domestic service, along with an operating license or certificate
specifying the nature of their trade. These have been
compared to a combined birth certificate, health certificate,
Under admiralty law, ships themselves may be arrested, a legal
action taken against an object itself rather than an individual
or personal property.37 American vessels have official
home ports. Some have ships' husbands or managers.
As artifacts they are some of the most anthropomorphic items
known, replete with a rich body of folklore and superstition.38 The list could go on. Vessels
are complex cultural artifacts, and they are firmly bound
to their culture of origin by use, by design, and by documents
expressing their nationality. The vessel/citizen analogy
shouldn't be stretched too far, though, for vessels are not
people. Immigrants cannot walk on water. What's
more, they cannot walk on water and carry their friends as
well possible contraband to land on unpatrolled shores.
The barrier that impedes national guards from boarding foreign
vessels is not any special status of a certain crew member,
but the sovereign nature of the ship itself.
Ships cannot easily be divorced from their cultural context,
meaning their identity. Ships that are separated from
their identities become objects without official recognition,
without national status. This can be threatening to
the state. Stateless vessels on the high seas have usually
been associated with pirates, with enemies of all nations.
The definition of modern piracy is based on the question of
Though certain circumstances did once exist wherein vessels
at war were allowed to deceive the enemy by use of false flags,
these situations were clearly defined and limited to a specific
and short interval within the chase.40 National status has never been
taken lightly on the high seas. Flags are all the more
important on the mobile and fluid surface of the sea. The
sea is a poor barrier; porous at times, making necessary special
efforts on national and international levels to plug the gaps.
Special efforts had to be made to nationalize junks and sampans.
Were these permanent cultural transoceanic exchanges of ships
in the Pacific? In the case of Japanese sampans, a qualified
yes; ships and crew had to undergo considerable modifications
in the process, but the vessels managed to shift their context
and, to a certain extent, survive. The Hawaiian nature
of the sampan can be a matter of creation or creolization
instead of inheritance. Benedict Anderson, author
of Imagined Communities, might agree. According
to Anderson, the nation or state defines itself in a variety
of ways, not all of which are so strictly predetermined by
the distant past. Why keep them at all? The sampan
shared in the economic and maritime lives of two worlds, the
Japanese fishermen and the Hawaiian canneries. Their
local usefulness was apparent immediately. What might
Nicholas Thomas, author of Entangled Objects: Material
Culture and Colonialism in the Pacific, think? In
Thomas' view, cultural meaning stems from the original society,
and is not easily transmitted by the mere exchange of the
actual object. Modified sampans can find new meaning.
Some might argue that the Hawaiian sampan is something
new, not the continuation of a cultural tradition. It
is an engineered cultural hybrid.
In the case of the Chinese junks, no; such vessels or their
partial remains are the items for museums now, and not found
in shipyards and boat harbors. Junks were not modified
but only changed ownership. They were used mainly for
the benefit of the Chinese and shared little with local organizations,
before they were seized. They played no role in the
Imagined Community of the West Coast. On the popular
front they met with little praise or even comprehension.
Only now are we beginning to understand what they even looked
These two examples have raised certain issues regarding ships
and oceanic exchange. The tools of exchange themselves
can be interpreted as cultural items, as records of the past.
They themselves can be traded, sold, modified, renamed, given
new identities, cherished or forgotten. Unfortunately, as
far as ships are concerned, most maritime histories are constrained
by grand narratives of western technological achievements,
with little room for cultural interactions. The story
of the ship is usually presented as a tunnel history which
runs on narrow gauge rails from Egypt to Greece and Rome,
and then on towards the Mediterranean with a brief interlude
for the Viking vessels. The Portuguese caravels and
ships of discovery are followed closely by the Royal Navy
and the transition to steam. It is a one-way western
ticket, culminating in aircraft carriers and container ships.
This narrative leaves out most of the world. This will
change, for ships are both unique and appropriate symbols
of maritime cultural exchanges.
40 Donald A. Petrie, The Prize Game:
Lawful Looting on the High Seas in the Days of Fighting Sail
(Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1999), 148.
Copyright: © 2003 by the American Historical
Association. Compiled by Debbie Ann Doyle and Brandon Schneider. Format
by Chris Hale.