Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category

Compagnie and Gamaland: Gold and Silver Islands East of Japan

Friday, August 2nd, 2013

Jansson's 1658 Map of Japan, Korea, and Compagnie following the discoveries of Vries and Coen.

Jansson’s 1658 Map of Japan, Korea, and Compagnie following the discoveries of Vries and Coen.

Zoom of 1658 Hokkaido (Yeso), Kunashir (Staten Is.) and Iturup (Compagnie).

Zoom of 1658 Hokkaido (Yeso), Kunashir (Staten Is.) and Iturup (Compagnie).

Terre du Compagnie or Compagnies Land is a sometimes vast landmass that appears to the northwest of Japan on countless maps issued between 1658 and the 1790s. The first map to include Compagnies Land is Jansson’s 1658 map Nova et Accurata Japoniae Terrae Esonis ac Insularum adjacentium, which was drawn following the 1643 explorations of Dutchmen Maerten de Vries and Cornelis Jansz Coen.

In 1643 Vries and Coen were sent by the director of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) in Batavia to search for supposed islands of gold and silver to the northeast of Japan. They were not the first expedition to do so. A fruitless Spanish expedition is known to have sailed in 1620. In 1639 the Dutch sent their first expedition, led by none other than Abel Tasman and Mattias Quast. Like the Spanish explorers before them, Tasman and Quast found nothing. The Dutch however were not about to surrender and financed a third expedition, this time under Vries and Coen, was launched in 1643.

Satellite view Kunashir (Staten) and Iturup (Compagnie).

Satellite view Kunashir (Staten) and Iturup (Compagnie).

Legends of gold and silver to the northeast of Japan circulated, primarily in Spanish and Portuguese circles, from at least the mid-16th century. The legends most likely were derived from the exceptional wealth of Japan as encountered by the earliest Portuguese explorers to the region. The historian Kaempfer noted that in some years “two and a half millions of gold” were exported. What shocked the Portuguese was how, despite the vast quantities of gold and silver, there seemed to be very little in terms of attainable new deposits. In fact, as closed economy, Japan’s relatively modest reserves of precious metals had accumulated for centuries. Moreover, Japan has much higher counts of gold than silver, consequently, when the Portuguese arrived they found a surplus of accumulated gold held in somewhat low regard. Without any clear rich gold deposits in Japan proper, legends arose of lands to the unexplored north harboring even greater riches. These took the form of a legend telling of a Portuguese trading ship piloted by one Juan de Gama that had blown off course en route from the Philippines to Mexico. De Gama supposedly discovered by accident a land rich in gold and silver which was subsequently named after him.

Sanson's c. 1691 Map of Compagnie.

Sanson’s c. 1691 Map of Compagnie.

While Vries and Coen did not discover an Asiatic Ophir, they were the first European expedition to make contact with the Aniu and discover the Kuril Islands. These they named Staten Island after the States General back in Holland and Compagnies Land, after the VOC, or Dutch East India Company. The smaller of the two islands, Staten Island or today’s Kunashir, they sailed around and mapped with a fair approximation of accuracy. The larger island, Compagnie or modern day Iturup, they landed on but barely penetrated. For whatever reason they did not fully explore Iturup and subsequent maps left its eastern shores unmapped. Having failed to discover gold or silver, no new expeditions followed Vries /Coen for nearly 100 years. This region thus did not see significant subsequent exploration until the mid to late 18th century voyages of Vitus Bering, James Cook, and the Comte de Laperouse.

P. Buache's 1772 vision separating Gamaland and Compagine.

P. Buache’s 1772 vision separating Gamaland and Compagine.

Where navigators failed, cartographers took up the challenge, in particular the positivist or speculative cartographers rising in France. Armed with political and professional ambition, French speculative cartographers filled in the blanks, at times associating Compagnie with Gammaland and sometimes with the Americas. There were numerous different takes on Compagnie. Phillipe Buache for example, separated Compagnie from Gamaland to make it a vast separate island extending eastward towards the Americas. Sanson, associated Compagine with modern day Hokkaido (Yesso) and extending almost as far east as California. By the end of the 18th century, on the eve of Cook’s seminal explorations, Compagnie/Gama had evolved into Muller’s Peninsula, a kind of speculative proto-Alaska that foreshadowed the discovery of the Aleutian Islands. Only in the wake of Bering and Cook’s voyages did maps finally abandon Compagnie in exchange for a more modern, scientifically mapped, coastline.

1787 Laperouse map sowing little advancement over the 1648 Janson map above.

1787 Laperouse map sowing little advancement over the 1648 Janson map above.

Related Maps:

MAP OF WEEK: 1821 Manuscript Map of the Pepper Ports of Western Sumatra by a known East India Pilot

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Cartes de principales Rades and Marchés à poivre dans la partie Nord de la Cote Ouest De Sumatra Par Samuel Aschemore.

Cartes de principales Rades and Marchés à poivre dans la partie Nord de la Cote Ouest De Sumatra Par Samuel Aschemore. – The first accurate map of western Sumatra it is original manuscript form?

Drawn by Australian-Irish sea captain Samuel Ashmore, this important and one of a kind 1821 manuscript (hand drawn) nautical chart or maritime map is the first accurate depiction of the pepper ports of northwestern Sumatra, modern day Aceh. The map covers the coast of Sumatra roughly from the pepper port of Analabou (Arongan Lambalek) to Singkil, a region often referred to as the ‘Pepper Coast’. The chart features three inset maps and four inset coastal views. The largest of these, center right, focuses on the area around the island harbor of Touroumang (Troumon), the largest exporter of pepper in the region and Pulo Doua (Dooa Harbour), which Horsburgh considerers ‘the best among the Northern Pepper Ports’. A second inset, in the upper right quadrant, details the dangerous reef-ridden passage between Singkil and Pulo Sago (Banyak Islands). A third inset, in the lower left quadrant, focuses on the pepper rich coast to the east of Cape Felix, including Kohala Batou (Kuala Batu) – a particularly hostile pepper port and site of American military activity in 1831.

This region became exceptionally important with the breakout of the Padri War in 1803. The Padri War, fought between local chieftains of northwestern Sumatra following Adat law and Muslim clerics who, inspired by Wahabism after returning from Hajj, sought to convert the region to Sharia, or traditional Islamic law. Meanwhile, the colonial powers were vying for control of the region, with England based in Singapore and Bencoolen, and The Netherlands out of Batavia and Malacca. Colonial hegemony in Sumatra was nominal at best, being largely confined to the eastern and southern portions of the island. The Padri War further frustrated Dutch attempts to control Sumatra and its important pepper trade. At the same time, the lack of colonial oversight opened the pepper ports of northwestern Sumatra, most of which are noted here, to foreign trade. Merchants from Australia, India, and the United States were thus able to circumvent the Anglo-Dutch monopoly on pepper by trading directly with Sumatran producers. Ashmore, a merchant captain, possibly operating out of Mauritius (later out of Sydney), was among the first to accurately map this important stretch of coast – this being the only known surviving example of his manuscript chart. This map was later integrated into the important large scale nautical charts of this region compiled and published by James Horsburgh , with whom Ashmore was acquainted, in his East India Pilot.

Even with Ashmore’s excellent nautical chart, the pepper trade was dangerous. The Padri War, while hardly disrupting the pepper supply, displaced part of the local population and led to a spike in piracy all along the coast. Moreover, the powerful British and Dutch navies were actively discouraging any trade that disrupted their lucrative pepper monopoly. Nonetheless, Australians out of Sydney and Americans out of Salem swarmed to western Sumatra – some acquired great wealth though others suffered a more grisly fate. Just 10 years after this map was drawn, in 1831, an American pepper merchant ship, the Friendship, was stormed and its crew killed by Muslim villagers living in Kuala Batu (inset no. 3). The American president, Andrew Jackson, sent 300 marines and the frigate Potomac to ‘chastise’ the locals. Nearly 150 Malay pirates/villagers were killed. More recently this coast was devastated by the 2004 tsunami.

Being a one of a kind manuscript there are few references to this chart, however, we did find a cople. An English version of this chart, entitled The Northern Pepper Ports, on the west Coast of Sumatra, by Samuel Ashmore, 1821 was recorded in 1878 in the manuscript archives of the British India Office. This document may still exist in the British Library, but we have not been able to specifically identify it. According to the same archive reference, James Horsburgh republished this chart in 1822, four examples of which are held by the India Office of the British Library.

The fact that the map is in French is exceptionally important and revealing. Initially we assumed the example recorded in the British India Office (British Library IOR/X/3628/50D), was most likely Ashmore’s original final draft. What then of our French example? There are a couple of elements here that are exceptionally striking, first, not only is it in French, but the spellings of the ports, geological features, and even Ashmore’s name, here spelled Aschemore, are transliterated into amalgam of Dutch and French (‘Asche’ being a Dutch name). This is highly unusual and when juxtaposed with a chronology of Ashmore’s life, leads to some speculation. Why would someone merely copying a chart change the spelling of the author’s name to make it seem more ‘Dutch’? Here is what we’ve come up with.

The extremely thorough and extensive British records of Ashmore’s Indian Ocean voyages identify annual, and sometime bi-annual, trade missions nearly every year from 1809 to 1833 – with a notable exception. These records are curiously blank between 1816 and 1822, when this map was made. What we do see is that he seems to have traveled extensively between British colonies in India and Australia and former French colony of Mauritius in the years just before and just after he disappears. Other records show that sometime during this period he became involved with Clara Potterick. Clara’s birth records indicate that she was born in the Dutch colony of Batavia, Clara being a common Dutch name at the time. Family records moreover suggest that Clara was more than half indigenous and by some family accounts a Javanese princess. Like Ashmore, Clara disappears from Batavia only to appear in Mauritius where, in 1830 she bore a son, Alfred Ambrose Ashmore. The Ashmore family subsequently moved from Mauritius to Sydney in 1831, where he and Clara married and lived out the remainder of their days.

Thus a fascinating story begins to emerge. Ashmore began voyaging on the Indian Ocean in 1809 as the merchant captain of the brig Hibernia. From 1809 to 1816 Ashmore captained the Hibernia on various trade voyages between India, Tasmania, and Sydney, with an 1814 stop at the Dutch port of Batavia, where he spent some time and even attempted to sell the Hibernia. It must have been on this voyage that he met and fell in love with Clara Potterick, possibly attempting to sell the Hibernia and reimagining himself as ‘Aschemore’ in an attempt to settle in the Dutch port. If, as Ashmore family histories suggest, Potterick was in fact a Dutch-Javanese princess, this may have been problematic. Having failed to sell the Hibernia in Batavia, Ashmore left Batavia in May of 1814. Clara most likely accompanied him. This was Ashmore’s last voyage as captain of the Hibernia. Subsequently he traveled as Captain of the Udney (Udny), which generally sailed between Mauritius and Indian ports. His last recorded voyage before he briefly disappears occurred in 1816 on the brig Guide, captained by John Higgins, with Ashmore is listed as the owner. Why then did he disappear? Our guess is that Ashmore, having abducted his princess decided to lay low for a while in the most remote British colony possible, Mauritius. It is important to keep mind that, while nominally British, Mauritius remained culturally linguistically French and was economically dominated by a French- Mauritian elite.

Around this time the Padri War broke out in western Sumatra, creating a unique trade opportunity for the opportunistic captain. This part of Sumatra was well known for the production of pepper – so much so that, as mentioned earlier, it was known as the Pepper Coast. Traditionally the pepper market was tightly controlled by British in Bencoolen (further south on Sumatra’s western coast) and the Dutch out of Batavia. The Padri War disrupted the established supply lines and opened various ports along the Pepper Coast to international trade with prices far below the monopolistic offerings in Bencoolen and Batavia. Since Ashmore made this map in 1821, we know that he was making unrecorded voyages to the Pepper Coast, probably in his new brig, the Guide. Being based in Mauritius and most likely sailing with a French-speaking Mauritian crew, it would be surprising if any maps that Ashmore drafted during this period were not in French. His interesting name change, to Aschemore, is unlikely to be a transcription era due to the fact that it is extremely unusual and moreover, such an error seems out of place in an otherwise highly detailed and meticulously produced chart. Most likely Ashmore himself instigated the name change not to disguise his identity, he was well known in the East Indies, but rather to disassociate himself with the British colonial hegemony in Mauritius and Batavia. Ashmore was certainly not the only captain to take advantage of the war to smuggle pepper, as mentioned already, entrepreneurs from Salem, Massachusetts, Sydney, and India were extremely active along the Pepper Coast throughout this period. Ashmore, nevertheless, was most likely the only one to produce such a beautiful chart.

In light of Ashmore’s history and association with Mauritius, it is our belief that this map is Ashmore’s original final draft. The English language manuscript variant identified in the archives of the British India Office was most like a copy produced for the founder of Singapore, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who Ashmore must have met at Bencoolen. Writing in January of 1822 from Bencoolen, a British colony on the west coast of Sumatra, Raffles references this important chart in his letters to the Duchess of Somerset, stating almost in postscript, ‘Look after the chart of the pepper ports by Captain Ashmore, and interest Horsburgh : he will know the value of them.’ The variant on this chart mentioned by Raffles, is most likely a copy of the map offered here, prepared in English by Ashmore or an assistant for Stamford Raffles in January of February of 1821. This example, as Raffles hoped, found its way into the hands of Horsburgh who added it to his collections at the British India Office, and published a variant, in 1822.

We thus conclude that this is Ashmore’s original plan of the Pepper Ports of Western Sumatra, which was later copied for Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1821, the same year the original was produced and passed on to Hydrographer James Horsburgh by Charlotte Seymour, the Duchess of Somerset. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the serious collector of maps pertaining to Sumatra, the East Indies, Horsburgh, or Stamford Raffles.



A catalogue of manuscript and printed reports, field books, memoirs, maps , etc., of The Indian Surveys, deposited in the Map Room of the India Office, p. 581.
Horsburgh, J. and Taylor, A. D., The India Directory, for the guidance of commanders of steamers and sailing vessels, Section V., pp. 603 – 609.
Moor, J. H., Notices of the Indian Archipelago and adjacent countries: being a collection of papers relating to Borneo, Celebes, Bali, Java, Sumatra, Nias: the Philippine Islands, Sulus, Siam, Cochin China, Malayan peninsula, etc, (1837) p. 109.
Travers, Thomas Otho, Journal, 1813 – 1820, (Banfield, 1960) P. 118.
Raffles, Sophia (Lady), Memoir of the Live and Public Services of Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles vol 2, p. 210.
British Library, India Office, IOR/X/3628/50D (inaccessible, page 581), IOR: X/3634/2/35 (page 588), IOR: X/3635/136/1 (the only coloured copy in our collections, page 593), IOR: X/3635/136/2 page 593.
British Library, Map Library, Map 147.e.18 (161) 2.

Map of the Week: Satsuma Daimyo

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Satsuma Daimyo

A previously unknown manuscript map of Tokugawa era trade routes between Japan, Taiwan, and China.

This extraordinary discovery is a previously unknown 1781 (Temmei 1 ) manuscript map of Taiwan and the Satsuma Daimyo. This rare map covers from the southern shores of Kyushu south along the Ryukyu Islands (including Okinawa) to Taiwan and the coastline of mainland China. The powerful Satsuma Daimyo, which flourished and enjoyed special privileges under the Tokugawa Shoguns, controlled much of the territory shown here. What is most remarkable about this piece is that knowledge of this region would have been very rare and restricted information during under the Tokugawa era Kaikin system of national isolation. Despite the isolationist policy, limited trade and information exchange did exist. One of the unique privileges associated with Satsuma control of the Ryukyu Islands was greater independence and freedom of foreign trade than most of Edo period daimyo were permitted. Consequently Satsuma trading vessels regularly traveled to Taiwan and mainland China thus acting as one of isolationist Japan’s few links to the outside world. This chart can be best understood in this context – as a rare glimpse of Satsuma’s nautical trade routes between Kyushu, Taiwan, and mainland China. Later in the Meiji period, the wealth, power, and international sophistication of the Satsuma Daimyo would have a significant influence on the Meiji Ishin or Meiji Restoration. A once in a lifetime find.

Gog and Magog in Antique Maps

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Gog and Magog in Sanson's Map of the World

Gog and Magog in Sanson's 1691 Map of the World

The appearance of the lands of Gog and Magog in many early maps is one the most interesting and enduring examples of Biblical lore being translated into the cartographic medium. The kingdoms of Gog and Magog appear in many early maps of Asia and the World produced between about 1200 to 1750. Generally these kingdoms are situated somewhere west of the Caspian Sea and, more frequently, to the north of China around Mongolia or Siberia. How did they get there?

The tale of Gog and Magog is, of course, Biblical in origins with elements in Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. They appear in Genesis and Ezekiel as cursed grandchildren of Noah and are set up early on as enemies of the righteous. The most alarming mention of Gog and Magog appears in Revelation 20:7-8:

… And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed from his prison, and shall go out to seduce the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, and shall draw them to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea…

But who exactly where Gog and Magog and where did this terrifying empire have its lands? The Biblical location “the four corners of the earth”, is not exceptionally helpful save that it puts these nations at the extreme edge of existence. The Jewish historian Josephus associates Magog with the Scythians. In antiquity Scythia was an empire to the north of Parthia or Persia that included much of central Asia as far east as India and Tibet.

Building Alexander's Walls

The Building of Alexander's Gates from an early Arabic manuscript.

The Alexander Romance, a c. 300 CE compendium of stories and myths associated with Alexander the Great, brings Gog and Magog into a historical context. Apparently when Alexander marched his army into the Caucuses he discovered a people beset and harassed by the empires of Gog and Magog to the north. Alexander responded to this threat by constructing an enormous wall of adamantine between two mountains known as the “Breasts of the World”. Today this is commonly associated with the Caspian Gates of Derbent. This mighty wall, reminiscent of the Great Wall of China, stretches some forty kilometers between the Caspian Sea and the nearby mountains, effectively blocking passage through the Caucuses. Though Alexander had nothing to do with this wall, it was actually constructed by the Sassanid Persians to defend against Gokturk invasions, it does once again place the lands of Gog and Magog somewhere to the north and west of the Caucuses.

Pliney too locates Gog and Magog behind a great set of gates in the Caucuses, describing a place where the mountains have been torn asunder and “gates have been placed, with iron covered beams, under the center of which flows a river emitting a horrible odor; and on this side of it on a rock stands the fortress called Cumania, erected for the purpose of barring the passage of the innumerable tribes.”

The Qur’an next takes up this story and adds its own more mythical element. The great hero Dhul Qarnayan (literally “two-horned one”, a reference to the ram horns Alexander wears on coins minted during his rule to indicate his descent from the Egyptian god Amun) is said to have walled the infernal armies of Gog and Magog behind a great gate where they will remain – until doomsday. At this point,

when Gog and Magog are let loose and they rush headlong down every height (or advantage). Then will the True Promise draw near. (Qur’an 21:96-97).

Al-Idrisi World Map

Al-Idrisi's World Map with Gog and Magog behind the wall and circled in red. Note, this map is oriented to the south so here Gog and Magog are in the proximity of China.

In the 9th century the Caliph Al-Wathik-Billa actually sent out an expedition, under one Sallam the Interpreter, to discover the Gates of Alexander. Sallam is said to have searched the Caucuses high and low without success before heading deeper into Asia where he discovered the mighty wall. Sallam’s report influenced a number of important Islamic geographies, most importantly for this story, the 12th century geographer Muhammed al-Idrisi, who was employed by the Sicilian monarch Roger II. Idrisi directly associates Alexander’s Gates, and consequently Gog and Magog, with the Great Wall of China. Idrisi’s work includes some of the most sophisticated and advanced cartographic work of pre-modern Europe and profoundly influenced European cartography for the next several hundred years. Though not widely distributed in his lifetime, nor solely responsible for the presence of Gog and Magog in later European maps, the influence of Idrisi’s map and geographical notations cannot be ignored in any consideration of how these Biblical kingdoms/figures entered the mainstream of later European cartography.

In the rest of Europe, tales of Gog and Magog and the horrors associated with them were a constant element in mediaeval religious rhetoric, which preached of an imminent “end of days”. Saint Augustine in his 15th century religious classic “City of God” discourses at length on the duo suggesting that when “final judgment is imminent . . . the whole city of Christ being assailed by the whole city of the Devil, as each exists on earth . . . which he names Gog and Magog”. Augustine did not associate Gog and Magog with an actual place, but rather with an evil that existed all around us. Even so, this concept must have been too abstract for the medieval man who continued to look for the lands of Gog and Magog. History was about to oblige.

In 1241 CE the hoards of Ghengis Khan swept out of Asia destroying and conquering everything in their path. The brutal, efficient, and alien Mongols must surely have seemed to be the wrath of god unleashed – the prophesied end of days had come and with it, Gog and Magog. One Russian chronicler says: “In those times there came upon us for our sins unknown nations. No one could tell their origin, whence they came, what religion they professed. God alone knows who they were, God, and, perhaps, wise men learned in books.” The period of the Mongol invasions lasted roughly from 1241 to 1285 CE. Nonetheless, after devastating the Chinese Empire, sacking Baghdad, laying waste to Russia, and storming into Croatia, Hungary, Lithuania, and Poland, the invincible hoard simply vanished … or so it must have seemed in Europe. In fact, beset with internal political turmoil and the death of the Great Khan, the hoards retreated to Central Asia in order to reorganize. At this time Europe, who had yet to rediscover Ptolemy and truly develop a modern cartographic tradition, wasn’t actively making maps, but when it did, a place of origin Tartars or Mongols (Gog and Magog) would have to be identified.

1697 Rossi Map of Asia - Magog appears north of China.

1697 Rossi Map of Asia - Magog appears north of China.

Marco Polo, in his Travels, is possibly the first European literary figure to identify Gog and Magog with the Tartars. Polo, claimed to have lived in China from 1271 to 1298, where he became an important functionary in the court of Kublai Khan. Polo worked for years as an emissary of the Great Khan and traveled extensively throughout the vast empire. Much of the information about Asia appearing on early maps of the continent, including the Vinland Map and the Waldseemuler Map, can be directly linked to Polo’s narratives. Polo associates Gog and Magog with the lands of Tenduk, a province to the north of China ruled by Prester John. In Polo’s narrative Gog is translated as Ung and Magog is the home of the Tartars. Ibn Battuta, the great 14th century Moroccan traveler, referring to the tale of Dhul Qarnayan, supports Polo by himself connecting the Great Wall of China with the gates setup to restrain Gog and Magog, “Between it [the city] and the rampart of Yajuj and Majuj is sixty days’ travel.”

Zoom of of Magog in Rossi's 1697 Map of Asia.

Zoom of Magog in Rossi's 1697 Map of Asia.

Though many dispute the validity of Polo’s journals, his impact on the European conception of the world was profound. With the rediscovery of Ptolemy’s Geography by Italian humanists and the development of a sophisticated European cartographic tradition the need for more advanced and updated Ptolemaic maps emerged. Many of these maps referenced Polo and al-Idrisi in adding Gog and Magog in the unknown lands of east Asia, thus influencing the cartographic representation of this area for centuries to come.

Today Gog and Magog are considered by many scholars to be a Jungian representation of “the other”, “the frontier”, or both.

References: (partially researched by Lindsay McMullen)
Augustine, Saint, The City of God, (Translated by Marcus Dods), page 658.
The Bible
The Koran
Stoneman, Richard (editor and translator) (1991). The Greek Alexander Romance. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-044560-9.
Boyle, J. A., “The Alexander Romance In The East And West”, Bulletin Of The John Rylands University Library Of Manchester, 60 (1977), pp. 19–20.
Yule, Henry; Cordier, Henri (1923), The Travels Of Marco Polo, Mineola: Dover Publications, ISBN 9780486275864.
Pliny, Natural History, (translated by H. Rackham).
Lester, Toby, The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Making of History’s Greatest Map, pp. 45-64.
Anderson, A. R., Alexander’s Gate, Gog and Magog, and the Inclosed Nations, 1932.
The Chatauquan, Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle, Chautauqua Institution, vol 3, pp. 304.

Antique Map of the Week: 1710 Nansenbushu Map of the World

Monday, March 1st, 2010

First Printed Japanese Map to Show Europe, Africa, and America

First Printed Japanese Map to Show Europe, Africa, and America

Entitled, Nansenbushu Bankoku Shoka No Zu or “Outline Map of All Countries of the Universe”, this is considered to be the first Japanese printed map to depict the world, including Europe and America, from a Buddhist cosmographical perspective. Printed by woodblock in 1710 (Hoei 7), this map was composed by the Buddhist monk Rokashi Hotan. Inspired by the 1653 publication of Si-yu-ki, a pilgrimage narrative of the Chinese monk Hsuang-Tsang’s (602-604) travels to India in search of sacred Sanskrit writings, Rokashi Hotan’s map attempts to update Buddhist mythological cartography, as exemplified in the 1634 manuscript map Gotenjikuzu (Map of the Five Regions of India), to correspond with the Si-yu-ki, as well as with contemporary and ancient religious texts, Chinese annals, travel narratives, and even some European maps. Rokashi Hotan lists these texts, 102 in all, at the top of the map. The consequent product of Rokashi Hotan’s work is this magnificent amalgam of disparate ideas and traditions.

In essence this is a traditional Buddhist world view in the Gotenjikuzu mold centered on the world spanning continent of Jambu-Dvipa. At its center is Lake Anavatapta, a whirlpool-like quadruple helix lake believed to be the center of the universe. This lake, which is commonly associated with Lake Manasarovar in northern India, is believed in Buddhist mythology to be the legendary site where Queen Maya conceived the Buddha. From the quadrouple beast headed helix (heads of a horse, a lion, an elephant, and an ox) of Manasarovar or Lake Anavatapta radiate the four sacred rivers of the region: the Indus, the Ganges, the Bramaputra, and the Sutlej.

South of Jambu-Dvipa, India is recognizable for in its peninsular form. Japan itself appears as a series of Islands in the upper right and, like India, is one of the few recognizable elements – at least from a cartographic perspective. China and Korea appear to the west of Japan and are vaguely identifiable geographically, which itself represents a significant advancement over the Gotenjikuzu map. Southeast Asia also makes one of its first appearances in a Japanese Buddhist map as an island cluster to the east of India.

On the opposite side of the map a series of islands is intended to represent Europe, which had no place at all in earlier Buddhist world maps, making this one of the first Japanese maps to depict Europe. Umukari (Hungary), Oranda, Baratan, Komo (Holland or the country of the red hair), Arubaniya (Albania?), Itarya (Italy), Suransa (France) and Inkeresu (England) are all named. Africa appears as a small island in the western sea identified as the “Land of Western Women.”

Of special note is Rokashi Hotan’s mapping of the Americas. Prior to this map America had rarely if ever been depicted on Japanese maps, so Rokashi Hotan turned to the Chinese map Daimin Kyuhen Zu (Map of China under the Ming Dynasty and its surrounding Countries), from which he copied both the small island-like form of South America (just south of Japan), and the curious land bridge (the Aelutian Islands?) connecting Asia to what the Japanese historians Nobuo Muroga and Kazutaka Unno conclude “must undoubtedly be a reflection of North America” (page 63). Whether this represents ancient knowledge from early Chinese navigations in this region, for which there is some literary if not historical evidence, or merely a printing error, we can only speculate.

While this map represents a significant step forward in the Japanese attempt to combine religious and contemporary geographic knowledge it remains in essence a Buddhist map. It is likely that Rokashi Hotan was aware important European style maps circulating in China at the time. The Mateo Ricci Map is one such example and copies were known to have reached Japan in the 17th century. It is curious that Rokashi Hotan chose to ignore it and other Eurocentric data in exchange for a religious world view, while at the same time attempting to reconcile Buddhist and modern geography. Ultimately, this map makes a lot more sense when one understands that Rokashi Hotan scaled his world map not by distance but rather by religious importance. India, the birthplace of the Buddha, is the central locale in the Jabmu-Dvipa conception and on this map. Other countries, including China, Japan itself, and even more so the distant continents of Africa, Europe and the Americas, Rokashi Hotan considered “but mote-like countries in the Jambu-Dvipa” and “as small as a millet-grain”.

Rokashi Hotan’s map became the model on which all future Japanese Buddhist world maps were drawn well into the 19th century. The confused cosmological view upon which his map is based, referencing at once religious, secular, and non-Buddhist teachings, matched the growing religio-secular conflict that would emerge in Japan during the coming centuries. Ultimately this is one of the most important, beautiful, and influential printed maps ever to emerge in Japan.

Two identical versions of this woodblock map appeared in 1710. The more common was published by Chobei Nagata of Kyoto. A less common example was published by the bookseller Bundaiken Uhei and corresponds to this example. Bundaiken Uhei’s mark and name appear in the lower left quadrant. In most examples coloration varies. A strong crisp image suggests that this is one of the first examples that Bundaiken Uhei printed, as wooden plates tend to wear quickly and many other examples show signs that the woodblock was more heavily worn.

A must for any serious collection of Japanese cartography.


Liakhov: The Ivory Islands of the Russian Arctic

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

1818 Pinkerton Map of the Eastern Hemisphere

1818 Pinkerton Map of the Eastern Hemisphere

Around the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, Liakhov Island began appearing on maps of Asia and Siberia. This island group, alternatively called Lyakhov, Liakhov, or Lyakhovsky, is today part of the New Siberia Island Group. Though Liakhov Island had most certainly been visited earlier, its official discovery is credited to the Russian fur and ivory trader Ivan Liakhov, who happened upon the islands in 1773. Liakhov notes discovering a copper pot on one of the islands, now aptly named Kettle Island. While it is impossible to know where this pot came from, there is a good chance it was left behind by one of the two Cossack expeditions known to have reached the island in the first part of the 18th century.

Liakhov’s first inkling that there might be a land north of the Siberian coast came from caribou tracks leading northward across the Arctic ice sheet. Navigating his sled on the trajectory of these tracks, he discovered the unusual coastline that was later named after him. The most interesting and distinctive feature of Liakhov Island it is massive mammoth ivory deposits. Liakhov discovered such enormous quantities of fossilized ivory on these islands that he was led to speculate that many of the islands were formed entirely of the stuff. Further it is said that this ivory, due to the permafrost, was of such fine quality that it matched and even surpassed the elephant ivories of Africa.

Close of on Pinkerton's 1818 Map of Asia

Close of on Pinkerton's 1818 Map of Asia

Though we do not know for certain why so much mammoth ivory rests on the island, the most common route of speculation follows. About 35,000 years earlier, during the last great glaciation, this island was little more than a hill on the vast Arctic plain. Mammoth, rhinoceros, musk-oxen and other mega-herbivores roamed widely across the plain. As the glacial period came to an end, ice melt caused a global increase in sea level, thus turning the once great Arctic plains into an even greater Arctic sea. As the mammoth and other mega-herbivores fled to ever higher ground, they eventually found themselves stranded with limited sustenance and began to die off at an alarming rate. We know that the sea in this region has as many or more mammoth ivory deposits than the island itself. Liakhov and other subsequent explorers of the island group noted that, following Arctic storms, the shores were always littered with bones and ivory. Over thousands of years, these storms deposited layer after layer of ivory creating the impression, noted by Liakov and others, that the islands were actually composed of ivory. Of course, there are problems with this theory – most notably that the catastrophic nature of the event described is incompatible in regard to time frame with most contemporary theories of glacial regression.

To Liakhov and most who followed him to New Siberia the significance of this find was the staggering economic value of the ivory deposits. On his first trip, Liakhov returned to the mainland with 10,000 tons of mammoth ivory. Subsequent traders would score even larger payloads, some in excess of 30,000 tons. Within a few years of Liakhov’s discovery over 200,000 tons of ivory had been removed from the island. Even in the 1880s, after 100 years of providing the bulk of the world’s supply of ivory, travelers to the region noted no apparent diminishment of fossil ivory.

In 19th century, Europeans had a fascination with these islands and they figured prominently in two Jules Verne novels, Waif of the Cynthia (1885) and César Cascabel (1890). The story of Liakhov Island’s ivory deposits is also popular with creationists, who believe that it proves a Biblical rather than evolutionary timeline – though it our opinion the exact rational on this is inconsistent and confused. Today, Liakhov Island is the site of a Russian weather station.


Whitley, D.G., 1910, “The Ivory Islands of the Arctic Ocean”, Journal of the Transactions of the Victoria Institute. vol. XLII, pp. 35-57.
Fujita, K., and D.B. Cook, 1990, “The Arctic continental margin of eastern Siberia, in A. Grantz, L. Johnson, and J. F. Sweeney, eds.”, pp. 289-304, The Arctic Ocean Region. Geology of North America, vol L, Geological Society of America, Boulder, Colorado.


Fou-Sang or Fusang, a 5th Century Chinese Colony in Western America?

Friday, June 5th, 2009

1776 Zatta Map of the Pacific Northwest Showing Fusang

1776 Zatta Map of the Pacific Northwest Showing Fusang

East of the Eastern Ocean lie
The shores of the Land of Fusang.
If, after landing there, you travel
East for 10,000 li
You will come to another ocean, blue,
Vast, huge, boundless.

This ancient poem, written by a 3rd century Chinese poet, describes a place that is often referred to in Chinese folklore as the “Birthplace of the Sun”. It was a place well known in ancient China. It appears frequently in poetry and around the 2nd century BC, one Han emperor is said to have sent an expedition to colonize this land. Where was the legendary land of Fusang? Eighteenth century mapmakers placed it in North America, usually near what is today Washington or Vancouver. These cartographers, most notably De L’Isle and Zatta, mapped Fusang based on a popular essay written by the French orientalist historian Josepth de Guignes in his 1761 article “Le Fou-Sang des Chinois est-il l’Amérique? ” De Guignes was a dubious historian at best, but with this he may have been on to something. Fusang is most fully described on by the 6th century itinerant monk Hui Shen.

Hui Shen is said to have been a mendicant Gondaran monk and to have appeared in the court of the Emperor Wu Ti at Jingzhou in Southern Qi in 499 AD. His adventures, which are described by Yao Sialian in the 7th century Book of Liang, describes his voyage in both known and unknown lands. Starting around 455 AD, he traveled to the coast of China, to Japan, Korea, to the Kamchatka Peninsula, then to Fusang. Fusang, he reports is some 20,000 Chinese Li (about 9,000 km) east of Kamchatka. This would place it somewhere around what is today British Columbia, roughly where Zatta and De L’Isle map the colony of Fusang.

While it is a subject of ferocious debate, numerous scholars and historians have embraced the idea that the Chinese not only visited the New World but maintained regular contact with it. We have long known that, given the advanced stated of shipbuilding and navigation in ancient China, the Chinese were capable of launching expeditions across the Pacific. The real question is, did they? The story of Hui Shen is one of the few actual documents that describe such an voyage. Hui Shen’s tale, which offers anthropological and geographic commentary consistent with Pacific Coast of America, describes Fusang in considerable detail. Over the past 200 years numerous scholars, both eastern and western, have broken down the Hui Shen text. Some have declared it a fabrication, but most have embraced the idea that the Chinese did in fact not only visit America, but maintained a minor but active back and forth communication.

1772 Vaugondy Map of the Pacific Northwest showing Fou-Sang

1772 Vaugondy Map of the Pacific Northwest showing Fou-Sang

Though many scholars agree that the Fusang tale does have some element of truth, few agree on where it may have been. Some point to Peru (Hui Shen describes the leader of Fusang as the “Inki”), others to Mexico (Fusang = Maguey), and still others to British Columbia (most likely arrival point sailing east from Kamchatka with the easterly North Pacific Current). The name Fusang itself is derived from Chinese mythology where it is a land or tree in the east from which the Sun is born. This kind of plant, or something similar, is described as common in the Land of Fusang. Fusang is billed as a kind of all purpose plant which can be eaten, made into clothing and made into paper, etc. There is considerable debate as to what Fusang may have been, with some identifying it with the Maguay of Mexico, others with various types of Cactus, and still others ancient varieties of corn (which were common along the Pacific Coast of North America).

There is some, but not significant, historical evidence to support the idea that the Chinese were active in Ancient America. Ancient Chinese coins, ship anchors (James R. Moriarty of the University of San Diego), and other relics have been discovered along the American coast – some dating back as much as 2,000 years! Also, Hui Shen’s descriptions do correspond somewhat with what we know of the New World around 450 AD. It is far too much for this short blog post to breakdown the details of Hui Shen’s narrative, especially when it has been done so well and so well by others, however, our list of references below can offer significant further reading.


San Francisco Chronicle, November 25, 1979.
Guignes, Jospeh, de, “Le Fou-Sang des Chinois est-il l’Amérique?”, Mémoires de l’Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, tome 28, Paris, 1761
Mertz, Henriette, Columbus Was Last, Hyperion 1992.
Wei Chu-Hsien, China and America -Volume One, Shuo Wen Shu Dian Bookstore, 1982.

Cayamay Lactus – Apocryphal Source of the five Great River Systems of Southeast Asia

Monday, May 18th, 2009

1570 Ortelius Map of Asia - Chiammay

1570 Ortelius Map of Asia - Chiammay

For nearly four hundred years many maps of Asia, and particularly India and Southeast Asia, depicted an enormous lake far to the northeast of the Bay of Bengal. This lake, alternately called Chiamay, Chiam-may, Chian-nay, or Cayamay, is postulated to be the source of four to five of the great Southeast Asian river systems, the Irrawaddy, the Dharla, the Chao Phraya, the Bramaputra, and the Mekong. Today we know that the Lago de Chiamay is entirely non-existent, but where did this persistent myth come from?

1685 Bormeester Map of the World showing Chiamay

1685 Bormeester Map of the World showing Chiamay

The earliest reference to the Lago de Chiamay that we have been able to come across is the c. 1550 geographical study produced by Jao de Barros. Barros, who is not known to have traveled to the orient himself, compiled his geography from reports from Portugese explorers in the region, who themselves no doubt extracted many of their ideas about the remote interior of Asia from indigenous authorities. His most likely source for our purposes is most likely Fernao Mendez Pinto. Today the Barros geography is unfortunately lost, but some of its commentary survives via G. B. Ramusio and his 1554 edition of “Navigationi et viaggi”. While some have argued that Ramusio could not have possibly have had access to Barros’ commentary, as it had not been published at the time, Ramusio himself provides clear reference that he did in fact have an unpublished Barros manuscript. Ramusio includes several maps in his “Navigationi et viaggi” that were drawn around 1550 and depict the Lago.

Fernao Mendez Pinto, Barros most likely source and the lake’s supposed “discoverer”, is the only European who claims to have visited the lake itself. Pinto apparently discovered the lake in 1744. Generally speaking, while Barros was well respected in his day, Pinto is considered an unreliable geographer at best and at worse has been dubbed the “prince of fiction”. Why this is the case when he was without a doubt actually in Siam, may be explainable when his own sources are evaluated. Pinto may have heard about the lake in the Royal Court of Siam, one of the kings of which is said to have invaded Chiamay and captured many cities around it.

1540 Seutter Map of India, Tibet and Southeast Asia

1540 Seutter Map of India, Tibet and Southeast Asia

That Pinto derived much of his geography from local sources is highly likely. What he and his readers back in Europe may not have counted on is the presence of a mythical and semi-mythical Hindu-Buddhist geography overlaying the actual geography. Hindu and related Buddhist mythology consider Lake Manasarovar and Lake Rakshastal, in modern day Tibet, to be the spiritual source of four religiously and geographically important subcontinent rivers, the Brahmaputra, the Karnali, the Indus and the Sutlej. As the Hindu-Buddhist culture expanded into southeast Asia, these four rivers and their source lake were reassociated with local rivers such as the Irrawaddy, the Dharla, the Mekong, and the Chao Phraya.

From a European perspective, associating these rivers systems with one another and with a single source is an almost natural assumption. All five rivers bear a great deal of similarity. That is, all seem to originate from roughly the same area, all flow along roughly parallel courses, and all have enormous fluvial volume. Associating a great lake with said source is equally natural. Given the size and orientation of these river systems, one naturally speculates that the source lake itself must be enormous. Such speculation was not uncommon for map makers working in the 18th century and earlier. Cartographers, who rarely traveled the world themselves, had the difficult job of piecing together and interpreting various vague and often contradictory traveler’s accounts as well as reconciling such new information with accepted mappings.

Whatever the original source for the Lago de Chiamay may have been, it begins appearing on maps as early as the Gastaldi map of 1550 (though some speculate that this map was actually drawn a few years earlier). The Lago was embraced by Ortelius in his c. 1570 mappings of Asia and was eventually associated with various hopeful fantasies of a river passage through central Asia to the North Sea. Almost all subsequent mappings until the late 18th century included the Lago de Chiamay in various forms. Later, as explorers began to penetrate the region with greater regularity, Chiamatwas at various point associated with any lake discovered in the area, including Koko Nor (Qinghai Lake) in China and the actual Lake Manasarovar in Tibet. By the late 18th century the lake had moved far west of its original location and been reduced to a fraction of its original size. By the 19th century, it disappeared entirely.

The source of the name itself, “Chiamay” may be derived from Pinto’s original discovery of the lake in the records at the Royal court in Siam. Pinto was told of a royal raid to conquer and claim Chiang Mai, once the Capital of the Lanna Kingdom.

1848 Homann Heirs Map of India & Southeast Asia

1848 Homann Heirs Map of India & Southeast Asia

The city of Chaing Mai, now fully part of Thailand was founded in 1296 and was frequently invaded and conquered by both the Siamese and Burmese empires before being formally incorporated into the Siamese empire in the late 18th century. Though there is no lake near Chiang Mai, Pinto, who is not known for reliability, may have misinterpreted what he was told. The Lago de Chiamay is most likely the result of Pinto’s misunderstanding of stories from the royal court of Siam, misassociations regarding the Buddhist-Hindu mythology associated with Lake Manasarovar, and natural assumptions based upon the observable similarities of the great southeast Asian river systems.

Sven Hedin discusses this lake and its origins in great detail in his fascinating and well researched 1919 article, “Early European Knowledge of Tibet”.


REF: Hedin, Sven, “Early European Knowledge of Tibet”, Geografiska Annaler, Vol. 1 (1919), pp. 290-339. Carpentier, Jarl, Some Additional Remarks on Vol. 1 of Dr. Sven Hedin’s ‘Southern Tibet’, Geografiska Annaler, Vol. 1 (1919), pp. 269-289

Baraku Villages in Old Japanese Maps – and Google Earth

Wednesday, May 6th, 2009

c. 1850 Map of Edo or Tokyo

c. 1850 Map of Edo or Tokyo

Google has recently been the subject of a major backlash from the Japanese government, Burakumin equal rights groups, and the Japanese Press regarding its addition of a collection of rare 18th and 19th century Japanese maps of Tokyo or Edo to the Google Earth service. The Burakumin are a social minority group labeled as “outcasts” under old Japanese caste system. This system, which dates to the early days of the feudal shogun era, identified the Burakumin as “untouchable” due to their employment in death related professions such as gravediggers, undertakers, embalmers and leather workers. Burakumin were believed to have been “tainted by death” and thus unlucky. Though the caste system was legally abolished in 1871, Japan is a deeply traditional society and discrimination remains an issue to this day. The remarkable Japanese family registry or Koseki makes it easy for companies and individuals to track families back over 100 years, thus identifying the modern descendents of the Buraku. Today many large and prominent Japanese corporations actively discriminate against the descendents of Burakumin. Further, residents known to reside in old Buraku districts in the massive Tokyo urban zone are similarly discriminated against.

When Google added a collection of stunning woodblock maps from the Berkley Collection to its Google Earth project by overlaying them with modern satellite views, the locations of several previously unremarked Buraku villages came to light. Some are located in high profile and wealthy central neighborhoods, such as the “Eta” village just a few blocks from the Asakusa district. Residents fear that the satellite overlays and relative availability on this information on Google Earth will enflame a new wave discriminatory activities against the Buraku.

Berkley, Google, and prominent map collector David Rumsey, whose combined efforts are responsible for the Google Earth images, responded by editing out many of the references to Buraku villages, but publicly stated that they would be willing to reinstate them as historical documents. Personally, I agree, these maps are historically important and reflect a reality of life in feudal Japan. Modern discrimination against Buraku villages and those who are descended from the Burakumin is a contemporary issue and must consequently be dealt with in contemporary ways. Hiding or obscuring history does little to solve or resolve modern prejudices.

Over the years we have had the privilege of owning many stunning Japanese woodblock maps of Edo (Tokyo), Osaka, Kyoto, and many other important Japanese cities. These maps are masterful constructions of unparalleled beauty and should available for everyone to appreciate.

Related Maps: