A Geomorphologist at Edinburgh Uni directed me to Polynesian Stick Charts last year when we were chatting about how artworks could interact with geological processes.
When you start to read into these lovely objects the first thing you discover is that they are known as current maps - that is, literal pictures of the way ocean currents move around a group of islands. Interpretation of any object like this places you in the realms of classical archaeology - you get to make a creative choice about what you want to believe. I like the version of the Stick Charts laid out in Varieties of Unreligious Experience:
VoUE lays out a long and convoluted tale about the search for the truth of these 'charts'. The story that emerges is that these are not conventional charts in the sense of being 'pictures' of anything, rather, they are family mnemonics that are passed down generations and are incomprehensible to anyone outwith the clan. The only clue to how they work that could be uncovered was that they relate to the way that ocean waves bounce back off specific pieces of shoreline and the way that those waves mix together with others to form complex patterns - reading these patterns is the key to finding your position at sea.
The way that we understand space and place is intensely personal - it makes sense, to me, that this understanding be passed down by and to those closest to us - after all, these are the people that we experience things with and share an individualised descriptive language with. I love the idea that this shared language could be distilled into a tactile object that can be carried, held and passed down.