~ Sustainable Seafaring from Oceania. History, Design, and Relevance ~

August 21, 2012

Iconography and... the crab-claw sails in Oceania

From an article here at Proafile:

In 1900-1930, one in twenty of all postcards of Fiji featured canoes and a famous large Samoan ‘alia (double-hulled voyaging canoe) photographed by AJ Tattersall and constructed as a gift for the German Kaiser at the turn of the century, and subsequently left to rot on a Samoan beach, featured consistently in magazine articles, books, reports and encyclopedia about Samoa. ~Iconography and identity – the appropriation of crab-claw sails in Oceania

The above document found here:

Some excerpted here:

Iconography and identity
– the appropriation of crab-claw sails in Oceania.


Art, photography and graphic images of Oceanic sails are scattered across the last four hundred years of visual history in Oceania. The crab-claw or inverted triangular shaped sail, initially depicted in ethnographic and technical drawings, historical tableaux, etchings, photographs, postcards and illustrated books and magazines, took on a new meaning in western imaging when stamps, letterheads, logo and advertisements displaced earlier methods of representing Oceania. The soaring sail, shown detached from the double-hulled canoe or outrigger, lost its association with long-distance voyaging when stylized, graphic art and computer-generated sail images began to play a symbolic role and national entities, movements, organizations and institutions sought to assert Oceanic identities, cultural unity and political relationships. What began as a visual record of maritime achievement became an evolving iconography of appropriation and commodification serving a range of sovereignty, political and regional campaigns.

The distinctive, inverted sail in Oceania, catalogued according to regional differences as crab-claw, lateen, boomsprit, spritsail or two-boom triangular sail1 became an icon and artistic and commercial commodity in Oceania as its striking and simple form was appropriated in a sequence of differing iconographic uses.2 In these appropriations the sail lost its ethnographic connection to actual long distance voyaging, canoe construction, navigation and associated maritime cultural practices.

The visual transition from early twentieth century ethnographic photographs of canoes under sail to a stylized twenty-first century icon is exemplified by the graphic rendering of a crab-claw sail, often detached from its double-hulled or outrigger canoe, as the central motif in the logo of the Northern Marianas College, the Secretariat of the Pacific community (SPC), the 2000 Festival of Pacific Arts, the 2000 Pacific Peoples Partnership conference, the Outrigger Hotel chain, Province Sud
(Southern Province) in New Caledonia, the 2000 Pacific Festival of Arts, the 2003 Fiji Wesleyan Conference, the Pacific Islands Political Studies Association and the Sociétés d’Études Mélanésiennes. Artistic representations of sails appear on the flag of French Polynesia, on-line home pages, advertisements for banks, book publishers, Fiji coffee, newspapers and the covers of monographs, annual reports, conference
papers and national and regional surveys...