Friday, 10 August 2012
The World The RIGHT Way Up or The Downunder Folk Are Revolting
I am not alone in thinking this way either. The map above was actually created by one young Stuart McArthur of Melbourne, Australia. When he actually drew his first "right side up" map at the age of twelve years old his geography teacher told him to redraw his assignment the "correct" way up if he wanted to pass the subject. Years later while attending Melbourne University, he produced the world's first modern "south up" map, and launched it on Australia Day in 1979.
Here's the thing. There is no particular reason why the Northern hemisphere should be perceived as being "up" or "on top" of the planet nor is this perspective necessarily "correct". Equally there is no reason why the South should be seen as "below" or "downunder" as it is often described as being. This is a convention that has taken place over a few centuries now, when northern hemisphere navigators started using the North Star and Magnetic compass.
Before that, the top of the map was to the East which is where the word orientation comes from. The perception therefore of North as "above" is a eurocentric idea, and because most of us in this modern westernised world grow up in cultures where this view is familiar, we "believe" unquestioningly that it is the only view.
So in Biblical Times the evidence from the Torah showed that east was at the top of all maps. (At least this is how it was told to me, I am no biblical scholar myself). In Genesis when Abraham's nephew, Lot, is captured in war and carried away and Abraham races to the rescue, when he and his men catch up with Lot's captors and set him free, this happens in "Chovah which is to the left of Damascus." (Gen. 14:15). Chovah is north of Damascus. In Psalms 89:13 it says, "The north and the right, You created them". This implies that right is synonymous with south, so you are facing east when you read the map.
People in Ancient Arabia placed south at the top. This is because when you wake up (in Arabia) and face the sun, south is on the right. Because of positive associations with the right as opposed to left, they put that on top. Yemen is so named because it is on the "yamin" right of Arabia. And of course, with the sea to the south of them there was nothing "on top" of the country, so they preferred it that way.
The Ancient Chinese were the first to invent the compass, which they always thought of as pointing south. To them, South was a sacred direction, and in ceremonies, the king would always face south. (Living in the southern part of our world, in the South Island of Aotearoa/New Zealand even, I'm inclined to like this idea).
In Medieval Europe cartographers always drew Jerusalem on top of their maps because that was the Holy Land. This meant that east was more or less at the top. Again.
And in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the area where New Zealand's capital city Wellington now stands was known to our first nations people (tangatawhenua) as Te Upoku O Te Ika (the Head of the Fish). This fish - as we all know from the Maui legend - is the North Island of New Zealand. But when we look at the now "normalised" modern map of our world it shows the head of the fish facing "down" towards Antarctica; the tail of the fish is on the northern end of the fish body. The problem here is that in the Maori view of the sacred and profane (tapu and noa), the head can never below the tail. One does not, for example, place your bum on a pillow where your head may later lie. In Maori cosmology, therefore, the head of the fish has to be on the "above" and southern end of the North Island. South is pointing upwards and now the Antarctic is on the "top of the world", as shown in the McArthur map.