Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Vikings of the Sunrise

I. The Great Ocean

page 3

I. The Great Ocean

The fame of your canoes can never be dimmed
The canoes which crossed the ocean depths,
The purple sea, the Great-Ocean-of-Kiwa,
Which lay stretched before them.

The Mediterranean Sea, locked in by land on all sides like a lake, except for its narrow western opening between the Pillars of Hercules, was the great sea of the Caucasian ancients. On the shores of the ‘Purple Sea’, as Homer called it, early civilizations rose and fell. The Phœnician sailors who reached the zenith of seacraft in that area ran no risk of being lost on wide expanses of angry waters. On their most daring expeditions they hugged the western coasts of Spain and France and slipped across the English Channel to exploit the tin mines of Cornwall. Even if ‘once upon a time’ they groped their way around the continent of Africa, it is doubtful whether that particular Odyssey ever lost sight of land. They could call in at any time to replenish food supplies and water and drop anchor near land until storms passed by. They followed the shoreline and had no need of consulting the stars above the open seas. In spite of having metal tools with which to build seagoing ships, the Phœnicians were coastwise folk.

When history dawned on the shores of the North Sea, it page 4 revealed a hardy race of seamen, who boldly set forth on the cold waters of its upper bounds. The Vikings, with their winged helmets and metal battle-axes, rowed their long ships down the western shoreline of the North Sea to harry the coasts of Britain and Scotland. They took no short cuts through the open sea that lay on their starboard side.

More courageous Vikings sailed out of the narrow seas into the unknown north Atlantic. They discovered and colonized Iceland and Greenland. On a voyage to Greenland, a Viking was driven to the west and reported sighting an island upon which he did not land. Leif Ericsson, a son of Eric the Red, intrigued by the tale of land to the west, sailed forth in 1003 a.d. and reached the eastern coast of North America. He coasted south to some part of what is now New England and named it Vineland. This was a dazzling achievement, and yet the Vikings, with all the courage needed to breed deep-sea sailors, kept to the familiar northern seas and were not lured by the beckoning stars toward the wider expanses of the southern ocean.

The widest part of the Atlantic was eventually crossed by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Europe was attracted by reports of the wealth of the Great Khan and the riches of Cipango and far-away Cathay. The transport of goods by land took too long, and so Columbus, inspired by a superb conviction that the world was round, sought to shorten the time of transport by sailing west across the Atlantic to reach the distant east. He set forth with a letter from Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain to the Great Khan to establish commercial contact between India and Spain. The seamen did not share their leader's theory about the shape of the world, and, as they sailed farther and farther from land, their fears of dropping over the edge of a square world brought them page 5 to the verge of mutiny. Only by falsifying his reports of the distances sailed each day could Columbus allay the fears of his crew until the sighting of an island brought timely relief. The island lay off the coast of an undreamed-of continent that had interposed itself between Europe and the India of their search. The name West Indies, applied to the island and others in its vicinity, embodies the record of a wonderful mistake.

Startling and momentous as were the discovery of a vast new continent and the confirmation of Columbus' new theory, the conquest of the seas by Europeans had scarcely begun. Between America and Asia stretched the largest of all oceans, beside which the explorations on other oceans seem puny by comparison. When later Balboa stood ‘silent upon a peak in Darien’ and gazed on the Pacific with a ‘wild surmise’, he was justified, for he was the first European to behold the Great Ocean stretching out to infinity from the shores of the new continent. Yet long before Columbus made his great voyage, a stone-age people, in efficient crafts, had crossed the Pacific from continent to continent across its widest part and had colonized every habitable island within its vast interior.

After the discovery of America, the continent was explored, settled, and exploited by Europeans. It gave refuge to those seeking freedom from the oppression of the older countries, and tales of wealth and rich resources lured adventurers, traders, and buccaneers. New lands were developed on the eastern shores of North America in addition to the older gold-seeking colonies in South America. Commerce grew, and the maritime centre of gravity which had swung from the Mediterranean Sea to the North Sea, passed on to the Atlantic Ocean.

page 6

Finally European interest and curiosity expanded westward to embrace the Pacific. Belated exploration of the Pacific by European navigators, equipped at least with compass and sextant, opened up new commercial prospects. Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Americans, and British, all made their contributions in rediscoveries and imposed their own names on islands already named by the original native discoverers. Great Britain, by colonizing Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand, supplied the present human boundaries to the south Pacific. Between Australia and Asia, Holland established her rule over a large indigenous population. Great Britain and France extended their influence to the southeast corner of the continent of Asia. Spain, after colonizing the Philippines and Marianas Islands, relinquished her possessions and left the United States to puzzle over a problem. The Asiatic western boundary remained under the power of the original Mongoloid settlers, but Russia crept in on the extreme north. The western coast of South America had been infused by peoples of Spanish stock. The western coast of North America had been peopled by Anglo-Saxons who spread from the Atlantic coast and maintained contact with the eastern seaboard through railways.

Today the shores of the Pacific are peopled by teeming millions beside which the population of Europe dwindles ever into less importance. Increased trade and an ever-increasing population in eastern Asia are causing the centre of world interest to swing from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Small islands in its vast interior, hitherto of no economic interest, have assumed an extraordinary value because of their strategic position with regard to airway transport. Great countries have come to realize that islands in the Pacific can be used as outposts of defence for their huge continental page 7 holdings. The Pacific has assumed a vast importance. Let us consider the land boundaries of the Pacific.

The Pacific Ocean is bounded on the west by the continent of Asia and on the southwest by the closely set islands of Indonesia and the large island of New Guinea. South of New Guinea lies the continent of Australia, and southeast of New Guinea stretch the high islands of Melanesia, extending nearly 2000 miles into the Pacific to end in Fiji. Geologists hold that the islands of Indonesia, New Guinea, and Melanesia are continental islands which form a southeastern extension of the ancient land mass of Asia with which they were connected in remote ages. They have had their various ups and downs, and at the dawn of human history they formed a broken Asiatic corridor into the Pacific.

The eastern boundary of the Pacific is formed by the western coast of the two Americas, which stretch in unbroken continuity from Bering Sea to Cape Horn. Bering Strait in the north interposes but thirty-six miles of water between Asia and America. In past geological times, this ocean gap may have been further closed by a land bridge, whose broken-down pillars may be represented by the Diomede Islands. Farther to the south, the Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutian chain of islands, the Komondorski, and the Bering Islands form a series of stepping-stones from Asia to America. Even without these land bridges, the frozen sea in winter could provide a broad pathway for the migrations of early man without any need for a knowledge of seacraft.

After man appeared on this earth of ours, he grew and multiplied. When numbers grew too large for the food supplies of the region originally occupied, groups were forced to venture farther afield. Some groups were forced to move by the surge of hordes behind them; others ventured page 8 voluntarily, lured by attractive prospects before them. They hunted for fish, birds, and animals and gathered leaves, fruit, seeds, and roots that they found to be edible. Ever-present hunger stimulated them to invent improved methods of acquiring food. In the course of time, they learned to cultivate edible food plants and to tame animals. When forced to move onward into unoccupied lands, they took their cultivable food plants and domesticated animals with them.

Early man probably originated somewhere in ancient Asia, and, through causes as yet but dimly understood, developed into different types. These have been grouped into three main divisions: Mongoloid, Negroid, and Europoid (Caucasian). The Mongoloids peopled the entire eastern coast of Asia, spreading north to cross dry-shod over the narrow northern extremity of the Pacific and colonizing the two Americas from Alaska to Cape Horn. In the age-long wanderings before the southern outposts were established, they skirted wide rivers and mountain ranges, but ever they travelled on foot to the regions they were destined to occupy. Thus the continental boundaries stretching for thousands of miles on either side of the Great Ocean were peopled primarily by pedestrians of Mongoloid stock.

The Negroids early divided into two branches: the Continental Negroids who moved west and south into Africa, and the Oceanic Negroids who wandered east and were forced by peoples behind them down the Asiatic corridor into the Pacific. Each of the Negroid branches had a pygmy or Negrito branch. The Negrito branch of the Oceanic Negroids is held to have been the earliest group to be pushed off the mainland of Asia. They were shoved aside by later waves of people and survive today in the Malay Peninsula, the Andaman Islands, and the mountains of the Philippines and New Guinea.

page 9

The next people to move down the Asiatic corridor were the Australian aborigines, who reached New Guinea and crossed to Australia. They belong to Dravidian stock, and their nearest relatives are the Veddas of Ceylon. Their hair is straight or wavy but never frizzy or woolly. In spite of their dark colour, scientific investigation as to their blood grouping proves conclusively that they are not Negroids but that their next of kin are among the races of the north and west of the Mediterranean area. Wood Jones sums up the problem by saying that Australia received its primitive animals such as the monotremes and marsupials when Australia was connected with the Asiatic land masses, but became separated ‘before the higher mammals, like cats and deer, and rabbits and monkeys had arrived in southern Asia’. Australia was, therefore, ‘an island continent before man or any of his poor relations could avail themselves of land bridges’. The Australian aborigines, with their women and their dogs, must, therefore, have reached Australia by sea, ‘not as a castaway, but as the navigator of a seaworthy boat’. The aborigine deserves all honour for his achievement early in the stone age.

Next down the Asiatic corridor came the Oceanic Negroids who, by massing in New Guinea, drove the Negritos into the mountain fastnesses and perhaps completed the evacuation of the Australian aborigines. In response to the urge to seek out new lands, a section of the Negroids moved down along the chain of continental islands now known as Melanesia to the southeast of New Guinea. Those who remained behind are known as the Papuans and those who moved on are designated as Melanesians. Between the high volcanic islands the sea distances are comparatively short and could be crossed by primitive craft without venturing into wide page 10 ocean expanses. And so by land and by short voyages, the Melanesian seamen reached Fiji at the eastern end of the broken Asiatic corridor.

The most travelled group of the Negroids are those who by will or accident found their way to the island of Tasmania, south of Australia. The Tasmanians have woolly hair and come of a stock distinct from the Australian aboriginals. The people most like them in physical appearance are the Melanesians of New Caledonia. The evidence is all against the hypothesis that the Tasmanians traversed by foot the entire length of the Australian continent to arrive at Bass Strait which separates Tasmania from Australia. A long sea voyage from New Caledonia to Tasmania seems equally impossible. It appears certain, however, that the Tasmanians must have reached the eastern coast of Australia by some form of craft from a Melanesian island and perhaps by short coastal voyages reached Bass Strait and crossed over to the unoccupied island of Tasmania. They successfully survived the ordeals of the sea, but they were brutally exterminated by the Europoids who came centuries later.

The Europoids migrated from the Asiatic centre westward into Europe, and types exist in India, hither Asia, and northern Africa. Except for the Australian aborigines and the equally puzzling Ainu of Japan, the Europoids apparently had little to do with the early peopling of the Pacific boundaries. Their main hordes had turned their backs on the Orient and arrived at the Occident. Thus East remained East and West became West.

The western and eastern boundaries of the Great Ocean were thus settled by landsmen. The Asiatic corridor was peopled also by landsmen who were coastwise folk. They had neither sufficient push from behind nor the inward urge page 11 of the spirit to take to the open sea that lay beyond Fiji. The contention that Melanesians penetrated into the central and eastern Pacific rests on skeletal material to which Melanesian ownership is unproved. The widely-spaced islands between Fiji and South America remained unvisited by man until late in the world's history. They are included in a vast triangular area with its points at Hawai‘i in the north, New Zealand in the south, and Easter Island in the east. This area, now known as the Polynesian Triangle, lies with its base to the west inviting entry and its apex far on the path of the rising sun, 2030 miles from South America. The scattered specks of land within the triangle are oceanic islands separated by abysmal depths. Never within the period of human migrations have they been joined together to offer an easy path to footmen.

For untold centuries after the boundaries of the Pacific had been peopled by man, these islands remained isolated and unoccupied save by land shells, insects, reptiles, and birds. Even the native flora was meagre as regards potential food for man. The coconut palm, the banana, and the breadfruit, now so characteristic of the oceanic flora, awaited human transport. The westerly winds and the constant trades blew over empty seas, for no primitive navigator had yet dared to raise a matting sail to waft him to waiting islands. Years after countless years, the Pleiades rose on the eastern horizon, but no man hailed their coming with dance and song as the sign of the new year. The stars rose and travelled across the sky, but no craft groped its way across unknown waters by their aid. The moon waxed and waned, but its phases went unstudied. Fish spawned, increased, and went their unhampered way through reef channels into silent and unlit lagoons. The Ocean Maid in her tumultuous page 12 moods vented her wrath against inanimate rock and reef, for no conqueror had yet appeared to mark her heaving bosom with the wake of the voyaging canoe or to dig into her yielding body with the dripping blade of the deep-sea paddle. Pedestrians had reached the eastern bounds of the Asiatic corridor and could walk no farther. The hanging skies to the east of the Fijis remained unpierced. Beyond the eastern horizon, earth, sea, and sky awaited the coming of a breed of men who not only had an effective form of ocean transport but who had the courage to dare and both the will and the skill to conquer. The uncharted seas awaited the coming of the Polynesian navigators.