The Economist has a great obituary on the last of the great Micronesian ocean navigators – Mau Piailug.
Piailug grew up on a tiny (less than 3km long) island where survival required sailing far out to sea for deep water fishing. The inhabitants of the island were experts in navigation using stars, winds, birds and various other signs available before the advent of modern navigation.
Piailug began studying to be a master navigator with his grandfather at age 5 and was the last local to learn navigation in the traditional way. From the article:
“He could read how far he was from shore, and its direction, by the feel of the swell against the hull. He could detect shallower water by colour, and see the light of invisible lagoons reflected in the undersides of clouds. Sweeter-tasting fish meant rivers in the offing; groups of birds, homing in the evening, showed him where land lay.”
He became famous by successfully sailing a little double hulled canoe from Hawaii to Tahiti using no modern equipment at all. In an expedition reminiscent of the great Kon Tiki journey he did so to prove that it was possible for ancient navigators to do so.
In his later life Piailug taught others the ways of navigation, this time allowing them to make notes and record the ancient knowledge. If he hadn’t done so, this amazing knowledge would have been lost to us forever.
If I were to pick a single article from each week’s Economist it would be the obituary. The last article in each edition, I often find the obituaries the most enjoyable to read.
Reading an obituary in The Economist is to be given a series of glimpses into a life, after which you have a feeling for the subject that mere story telling can’t provide.
Not every such article captures me, but some are certainly stunning and I always look forward to the final article in each edition.
This week the subject of the obituary is Charis Wilson, a model and writer who was prominent in the 1930’s and 40’s.
Initially the subject of beautiful photographs by Edward Weston she eventually wrote the articles for his books.
The article is a gem and I recommend it – good returns for a single page of reading.
Arthur C. Clarke was a very well known science fiction writer who died on March 18 at 90 years old. The Economist always has superb obituary articles (probably my favorite section of the magazine) and this week the obit was about Clarke. It is an interesting read, but I enjoyed the quotes that were dropped in – some I had heard, some I had not.
- Asked if extra-terrestrials exist: “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying”
- Asked about UFOs: “They tell us absolutely nothing about intelligence elsewhere in the universe, but they do prove how rare it is on Earth”
- Probably his most famous quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”
- His self-penned epitaph: “He never grew up; but he never stopped growing”
Forty years ago last week Che Guevara was killed by government soldiers in Bolivia. Since then, his image has become highly fashionable and this iconic photo “has become one of the world’s most familiar images”.
The image is so popular that at one point I read a lengthy synopsis on the man to find out what everyone was on about. I was mildly surprised to find that a lot about Che does not tie up with his modern day image.
The Economist has this article describing just that disconnect. From the article:
The wider the cult spreads, the further it strays from the man. Rather than a Christian romantic, Guevara was a ruthless and dogmatic Marxist, who stood not for liberation but for a new tyranny. In the Sierra Maestra, he shot those suspected of treachery; in victory, Mr [Fidel] Castro placed him in charge of the firing squads that executed “counter-revolutionaries”; as minister of industries, Guevara advocated expropriation down to the last farm and shop. His exhortation to guerrilla warfare, irrespective of political circumstance, lured thousands of idealistic Latin Americans to their deaths, helped to create brutal dictatorships and delayed the achievement of democracy.
As the article says: “Sadly, most of those who buy the T-shirt neither know nor care.”