Thursday, July 2, 2020

The first sail (Feminist Folktales 20.)

Another Thursday, another post for Feminist Folktales! It's a series of traditional stories from around the world that display motifs that reflect feminist values. I am not changing any of the stories, merely researching and compiling them, and posting them here as food for thought. You can find the list of posts here.

Origin: Marshall Islands

The story

Twelve brothers organize a boat race to decide who gets to rule the "eastern islands". While they are getting ready, their mother Loktanur appears, carrying a large, heavy bundle. She asks her eldest to allow her in the canoe, but he is afraid she would slow him down so he declines. She then asks all the others in turn, but only the youngest, Jebro agrees to take her on. The race starts, and right away Loktanur delays her son, telling him to pull the boat up on shore. It's worth the delay: turns out Loktanur has invented sailing. Mother and son put the mast and the sail and the rigging up, and they set out flying, soon overtaking all the other brothers.
When they reach the eldest, he demands to be given the sailing ship, because he "deserves" it. Jebro wants to decline but his mother tells him to hand the ship over... after taking out some of the rigging. Not knowing how to work the sail, the elder brother flops around in circles, while Jebro and his mother comfortably win the race. They go on to teach people how to sail, and Jebro eventually becomes the Pleiades, signaling the start of the sailing season.

What makes it a feminist story?

I like stories where the brave / clever / wily female hero is not a young girl, but a grown woman or even a mother - one who did not lose her creativity, independence, and initiative just because she had children. In this case Loktanur doesn't only show up to help her youngest son: She has an invention of her own, something she dreamed up, created, and learned to use. She owns her knowledge, and she only shares it with those who show her respect. She hands the ship to her eldest, but not the knowledge that goes with it (and not all the essential parts). She knows her worth and her boundaries, and knows that the only one who deserves her invention and her knowledge is the one who respects her as a person, not just wants her stuff.
And of course she is a good role model, because how cool is it that she invented sailing?!

Things to consider

In multiple cultures of Oceania navigation was something women did; there are legends about them learning the secrets of wayfinding, or inventing tools to help sailing (see the Sources below). They are fascinating stories, worth digging into.


Laurence M. Carucci: From the Spaces to the Holes: Ralik-Ratak remembrances of World War II (Isla III, 1995.)
Gerald Knight: A History of the Marshall Islands (Micronitor News and Printing Co., 1999.)
Jack A. Tobin: Stories from the Marshall Islands (University of Hawaii Press, 2002.)
Anono Lieom Loeak, Veronica C. Kiluwe, Linda Crowl: Life in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (University of the South Pacific, 2004.)


This is not the only culture that believes a woman invented sailing. I read a similar story from Qatar too.

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