The ocean. Photo by Caleb Jones on Unsplash


Proposed Date – 22-23 March 2018, 2 days
Venue – Kochi, Kerala, India

The twin objectives of this Conference is (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. The Conference recognizes the maritime traditions of the two 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 Conference will help the Academic wing of Project Mausam in the study of knowledge exchanges, traditions and technologies along maritime routes from the Ocean littoral to countries in Australasia, South, South East, East and West Asia and Africa.

Further, it will become a forum for bringing together Academic, Non-Governmental (NGO) and Governmental institutions and individuals from the Indian and Pacific 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.

Conference Schedule

Day 1

Keynote address – Converging discrete understandings of shared oceanic pre-histories

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

Day 2

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

1. Create a network of scholars and professionals who can help put together a body of information and knowledge on various themes related to seafaring communities. In addition, it will create collaborative and evidence based knowledge on trade routes and cultural products, coastal architecture as cultural landscapes, Oral traditions and literary writings.
2. Create a publicly accessible online gallery of experiential knowledge of indigenous maritime communities and societies in the dual-ocean region.
3. Create the content base for an installation and exhibition on maritime communities and technologies of the two oceans, using tangible and intangible material collected from participants. This could travel to all the participating countries while forming an ancillary event at the Kochi Biennale 2018.

Archives of Indian Maritime Traditions at Ambedkar University Delhi
An indication of traditional Indian seafaring knowledge is available for viewing at, an ethnographic collection of images, texts and notes, made accessible by the Centre for Community Knowledge, Ambedkar University Delhi. This collection describes the research undertaken by eminent ethnographer Dr Lotika Varadarajan on seafaring communities of the Indian coastline and its islands over five decades and provides a rare glimpse of Indian maritime communities in the pre-tsunami period.. The online collection includes almost twenty thousand photographs of which some are annotated and visible, forty published papers, research notes and field diaries covering the period 1960 to 2000, besides a catalogue of books and reference material available at the University.

An indicative brief sketch on Project Mausam is available at

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