Monday, March 1, 2010

Polynesian Catamaran by John Webber

This image of the engraving by John Webber shows priests, wearing helmets, traveling across Kealakekua Bay for the first contact rituals (click to enlarge the photo). Each helmet is a gourd, with foliage and Tapa strip decoration. A feather surrounded Akua is in the arms of the priest at the center of the engraving. It is not known what the purpose of the ritual surrounding first contact with westerners was. Webber (1752-1793), the British artist best known for his images of early Alaska and Hawaii, was an artist aboard the ship of English explorer, navigator and cartographer James Cook (1728-1779). The image is scanned from page 20 of the book ‘Hawaii Looking Back: An illustrated History of the Islands (2004), by Glenn Grant (454pp, Mutual Publishing).

You can compare the shape of the Catamaran in this engraving with the shape of the hotel, Burj Al Arab, Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Catamaran, a word derived from the word ‘kettumaram’ found in Tamil and Malayalam languages, is a type of multi-hulled boat or ship consisting of two hulls. Catamarans can be powered by sail or engine-powered.

Catamarans are used since time immemorial by the paravas, a fishing community in the southern coast of Tamil Nadu, India, and independently in Oceania, where Polynesian catamarans and outrigger canoes allowed seafaring Polynesians to settle the world's most far-flung islands.

In the 1690s the English adventurer and buccaneer William Dampier reached the southeastern coast of India, in Tamil Nadu on the Bay of Bengal and wrote about a kind of vessel he observed there. He wrote in 1697, “On the coast of Coromandel, they call them Catamarans. These are but one log, or two, sometimes of a sort of light wood… so small, that they carry but one man, whose legs and breech are always in the water.”

Though the name is of Indian linguistic origins, the modern catamaran came from the South Pacific nations (where Polynesians settled), writers on design of boats and ships claim. Also, the English travelers applied the Tamil-derived name ‘catamaran’ to the swift, stable sail and paddle boats made out of two separated logs and used by Polynesian natives to get from one island to another.

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