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Conference on Maritime Traditions of Indian and Pacific Oceans

22 March 2018 - 24 March 2018

Kochi, Kerala, India.


The Conference recognizes the maritime traditions of the Indian and Pacific ocean regions as a compendium of knowledge based on seafaring experiences from a number of countries and regions. The conference will draw a post-industrial reassessment of a pre-industrial past, by locating the inter-connections and cross fertilisation of ideas from the perspective of scholars and professionals from the region. Further, the exploration of other paradigms of looking at this oceanic region, will contribute to the discussions on pre-European catalysts in this extensive maritime region.                   

The objectives of this Conference are (i) to reassess current knowledge on nautical and maritime traditions in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and (ii) to begin the process of creating a database of coastal sites on maritime routes, sites and oral traditions for collectively narrating the cultural and natural linkages across the Ocean world. This conference is being organised to bring together a network of people working on maritime pasts from the Indian and Pacific ocean region, who could help in putting together content for the proposed new maritime museum at Muziris in Kerala. The conference aims to draw attention to aspects of the pre-European maritime traditions that indicate the various strands of a pre-colonial connection between the two oceanic regions. 



Austronesian is the most geographically dispersed of any global language family in pre-modern times and the inclusion of the Malagasy language in it implies that — complementary to the eastward spread of Austronesian into the Pacific —a westward extension of Austronesian speaking seafarers was involved in the peopling of Madagascar. This ‘discovery’ of Madagascar, like the ‘discovery’ of the Pacific islands, has been little recorded, yet ranks as an extraordinary human achievement carried out at the peripheries of the known world of the time. Not to be overlooked in this world is the spread of Lapita culture, about which little is known in this country.

These movements describe a dynamic prehistoric eastern Ocean, combining the Pacific with the Indian Oceans, in which links were created between societies from East Africa through South and Southeast Asia to the islands of the western Pacific, prior to the development of the better documented trade of later periods. This picture emerges from archaeological evidence, and particularly the archaeobotanical evidence of translocated crops, as well as from historical linguistics, most notably relating to tree crops. Contributions from genetic studies of animals, including domesticated and commensal species, apart from boat technology may also be included.

Project Mausam also is a multidisciplinary project to re-kindle long lost ties across nations of Ocean world and to forge new avenues of cooperation and exchange. Recent interdisciplinary research has revealed the processes of cultural contact, trade and biological translocations in the Indian as well as in Pacific Oceans in prehistory, from what can be termed the Bronze Age through to the Iron Age and later. The prime movers of these have been small scale island and coastal societies, creating seafaring technologies of unparalleled innovation, responsible for the archaeology and cultural transfer in these island cultures.

This conference aims to bring together researchers from across disciplines and geographical regions. It will also converge discrete understandings of our shared oceanic pre-histories, and draw a post-industrial reassessment of a pre-industrial past. This will also allow for building up on other paradigms of looking at the region, and contribute to the discussions on pre-European stimuli in maritime Asia.

            SESSION THEMES

Multi disciplinary analysis on cultural contacts and transfers.

The ever-increasing body of linguistic, genetic and archaeological evidence unearthed in the past two decades can tell us much about the origin and dispersion of population across the Indian and Pacific Oceans. What remains unclear is whether this was an expansion driven by agriculture, or a seaborne dispersal in quest of aquatic resources and trade. This process of cross fertilisation indicates a trans-national narrative that re-evaluates these coastal and island civilisations.

Connections between Memory, Folklore, Myths of Origin and Belief systems.

Lore, legend and belief systems of maritime societies emphasise among other things, the power of wind and thunder far more than those found in later rice growing societies. This commonality of the oceanic traditions indicates a link to nature, environment and social organisations of a smaller scale. An examination of symbols from these areas is indicative of congruence in the development of specialised patterns of life and living.

Between Land and Sea – Trade Routes and Cultural links

The early globalisation through the oceans has to be looked at in terms of a rethinking of cultural processes on wide spatial and temporal scales, to emphasise social, economic, trade and cultural products and their integration. The similarity in contiguous island and seagoing societies found through ethnographic studies of maritime cultural landscapes and seascapes, merit comparison with findings from archaeology and material culture.

Crossing the Oceans

This theme looks at evidence from Navigation systems and practices, Ethno-botany, Archaeo-botany and Underwater Archaeology. Navigation involves knowledge of direction, space and time. Time was taken both as diurnal as well as seasonal. Mathematically complex systems had their counterparts in terms of body measurements and sensory perception. The astrolabe could vie with the stick chart of Polynesia. Chronology could be subsumed in material culture. Evidences from ethno- as well as archaeo-botany would enable a better understanding of environmental issues.

Boat-building, Seafaring and Human Interaction with Maritime Spaces 

The maritime environment has led to the development of specific technologies for human survival. Fishing technology needs to be distinguished from those which ensure ocean going survival. Management of seagoing crafts is varied from the simple to the complex. Shipwrecks facilitate an understanding of the engineering involved across space and time. Seafaring comprises an intricate knowledge of the aquatic environment connecting factors which are both controllable as well as fractious.

Knowledge for the Maritime Museums

Maritime Museums use knowledge gathered from disciplines like underwater archaeology, which in turn has shaped its own discipline to garner evidence from the sea. The session will also look at sources like coastal architecture as cultural landscapes, maritime community traditions and literary writings.


For presenting paper or

attending the conference proceedings at Kochi

and further details, please register at


Surajit Sarkar, Centre for Community Knowledge, Ambedkar University Delhi, India

Joy Kuriakose, Project Director(Mausam), Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts, New Delhi, India

Ned Bertz, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Hawai’i, USA

Suresh Babu, School of Human Ecology, Ambedkar University Delhi, India

Venu Vasudevan, Principal Secretary, Dept of Tourism, Kerala, India

Vinod Daniel, Chairman AusHeritage and Board Member, International Council of Museums.

Felipe Castro, Anthropology Department, Texas A&M University. USA

Swarup Bhattacharyya, Maulana Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies (MAKAIAS), Kolkata, India 

Ranjani Prasad, Centre for Community Knowledge, Ambedkar University Delhi, India. 

Sewn boat, Odam, from Lakshadweep. 1997.

Abdul Kader Malmi showing star elevation measurement in the Indian Ocean islands. 1987.


Archive created by the Centre for Community Knowledge, Ambedkar University Delhi
with the support of
Vasant J Sheth Memorial Foundation, and
Project Mausam, Indira Gandhi Centre for the Arts
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