Windows on the World of SipaKV

Across the Indian Ocean, aboard prehistoric ships…

Posted on: November 21, 2005

Copyright National Geographic, Reg Hill, Paul Bayly, Danielle Eubank.

The collage above is composed of oil paintings of the Borobudur (by artist painter-photographer Eubank), the Amanagapa, the Sarimanok, and one modern day Malagasy outrigger canoe. The first three are reproductions of antique ships presumed to have sailed from Indonesia to Madagascar.
Can you guess which picture is which ship? And which one is neither one or the other?

Austronesian seafarers may have taken two different routes to reach Madagascar from Indonesia. The first route stopped at the Chagos archipelago, halfway between Madagascar and the Malay islands, with maybe a layover at the Maldives.
The second route went via the Andaman Islands, Sri Lanka, India, the Maldives, the island of Suqutra, Kenya, Tanzania, the Comoros and finally Madagascar. Click here for a map.

In 1985, Bob Hobman’s Sarimanok left Bali and took approximately fifty days to reach Madagascar. The ship was entirely made of vegetal elements, not a single nail was used. It was mostly built upon the Filipino ship vinta model. There were no navigational instruments to use and the sailors relied on stars to guide them. To make the experience more authentic, the crew ate only vegetables . The ship is now at the Oceanographic Museum of Nosy Be. Two books have been written on the trip (Sarimanok by Bob Hobman, Grasset, 1989 and Sarimanok by Albrecht Schaefer, Goldmann, 2000) and a movie was made, “Voyage of the Sarimanok (Bali to Madagascar)” which won the La Plagne Festival of Mountain Films.
In case you were wondering, Sarimanok is a bird in Filipino Mindanao mythology, a reincarnation of a goddess who fell in love with a mortal man. Today it symbolizes wealth and prestige in the Filipino culture.

In 1991, the Amanagapa was sailed by a Briton, Michael Carr, his wife and eight sailors of the Bugis group, an ethnic group of Sulawesi renowned for its sailing skills (an interesting trivia from wikipedia : the word bogeyman comes from bugis !). They left Bali on Aug 17, 1991 and joined Madagascar in 48 days, arriving in Antsiranana on Oct 5. The ship wanted to be more authentic than the Sarimanok.

In 2003, the Borobudur crew of fourteen took the ancient “Cinnamon Route”. It sailed across the Indian Ocean, leaving Jakarta on Aug 15, 2003 , arriving in Madagascar on Oct 14, before going on to Cape Town and arriving in Ghana on Feb 23, 2004. The ship was made to resemble vessels, with tripod mast and outriggers, depicted on reliefs found on the Borobudur Temple in Java, a Buddhist temple built in the 8th century. The Borobudur crew did not only rely on the stars, it had such modern devices such as GPS, radios and forward looking depth finder. The crew was handpicked among 800 applicants. The Borobudur idea was a life long dream of Philip Beale, a London investment fund manager who quit his job to pursue his dream !

A very detailed website can be found here. The book “Phantom Voyagers” that I already presented in this blog earlier was also presented to Indonesian officials by the Borobudur crew, during a formal ceremony that returned the ship to the Borobudur museum.

Other expeditions : Kon Tiki (from Peru to Polynesia in 101 days on a prehistoric South American raft) of the Norwegian legend, Thor Heyerdahl, and the Sao Mai (from Saigon to Saint-Malo. The Indonesia to Madagascar leg of the trip was made via the Chagos archipelago), of Michael Pitiot in 1999, the Sohar expedition by Tim Severin (from Oman to the Far East).

Next year, someone is attempting the transoceanic voyage alone, on a surfboard. Her name is Raphaella Legouvelo. She is set to leave Exmouth, Australia in April 2006 and make it to La Reunion island in 70 to 75 days. Stay tuned !


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  • Anonymous: Michener, le grand romancier historique raconte dans sa fresque sur l'Afrique du Sud (je ne me souviens pas du titre) la vie d'une esclave Malagasy
  • Anonymous: mahagaga fa misy album nataon'i nicolas vatomanga izay tany amin'ny taona 1999 tany fa tsy nivoaka ilay izy : redalandy (red island) no nataony anaran
  • Zanatany: j'ai hérité (de mes grands parents qui vivaient à Mada depuis 1927)d'une oeuvre phénoménale de Maurice Le scouezec peinte à Madagascar (Mahamas)

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