Thu, Mar 19, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Children of the ocean

The Evergreen Maritime Museum provides an excellent introduction to Taiwan’s nautical history, emphasizing the nation’s close relationship to the sea and exploration

By Jerome Keating  /  Contributing reporter

A model replica of the Mayflower.

Photo: Jerome Keating

“I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, and all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by.” So John Masefield opens Sea Fever, a poem in which he addresses our attraction, fascination and relationship with the sea — an attraction that the Chang Yung-Fa Foundation seeks to celebrate with its Evergreen Maritime Museum.

This must-see museum, which opened in 2008, houses some 4,000 maritime artifacts, paintings and nautical instruments that were in the private collection of Evergreen Group (長榮集團) Chairman and founder Chang Yung-fa (張榮發). Born on Penghu, Chang made his fortune in shipping and considers himself a “son of the ocean.” One of his philanthropic dreams was to create this educational museum.

A fascination with the sea is immediately apparent as you walk into the building’s lobby. Of the many ship models that greet visitors, three larger ones stand out. The largest is an Arabian dhow, such as those that plied the trade routes between India and the Arabian Peninsula. Beside that is a model of a treasure ship that would have been used by Chinese mariner Zheng He (鄭和, 1371-1435) and finally an authentic Orchid Island (蘭嶼, also known as Lanyu) caravel canoe fashioned by the Tao Aboriginal people.

TAIWAN’S MARITIME CULTURE

Given the country’s location, a maritime culture should be part of Taiwan’s history and destiny. Recent theories indicate that Austronesian culture originated from Taiwan 5,000 years ago and spread overseas reaching as far as Madagascar, New Zealand and Easter Island. Taiwan’s name, Ilha Formosa, came from Portuguese seafarers passing the island, while the Dutch and Spanish made it part of their overseas trade empires. Minnan and Hakka ancestors from China braved the Taiwan Strait to find a new life here. In short, this museum is a much-needed venue to redevelop and promote Taiwan’s maritime culture.

A brief HISTORY OF SHIPS

One starts on the fifth floor with the history of ships. Numerous models begin with Egyptian, Phoenician and Roman galleys as well as Viking long boats. With the Age of Sail come the caravel, the carrack and the galleon, all of which enabled Europeans to cross oceans, explore the world and reach Asia. Models include Sir Francis Drake’s galleon, the Golden Hind, which circumnavigated the globe from 1577 to 1580, Captain James Cook’s HMS Endeavor, the Mayflower, the French warship, Le Soleil Royal, the ill-fated Swedish Vasa, tea clipper and speed merchants like the Cutty Sark. These contrast with Chinese junks and Thai galleys.

The Age of Steam, diesel engines and propeller driven ships changed everything and so the fourth floor emphasizes modern ships including ocean liners, war ships and the cargo and container ships that made Evergreen famous. Stand out names include the Titanic, the Queen Mary, well known battleships like the Bismarck, Yamoto and Missouri, as well as air craft carriers, submarines and destroyers.

The third floor begins with a wide array of marine paintings from the pre-photography era when ships carried painters to capture and document dramatic sea experiences like storms, battles and port dockings. The floor topic then switches to focus on Taiwan’s role in sea history. Previous floors contrast Asian and Western shipping but here it is all Taiwan. Viewers learn the importance of Taiwan’s currents, trade ports, mapping and products.

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