from The New Yorker

In the Outlaw Area



When Richard Buckminster Fuller was in New Zealand a year ago, he spent several rewarding hours at the University of Auckland with a friend of his, a cultural anthropologist who also happens to be Keeper of the Chants of the people he belongs to, the Maoris. These chants go back more than fifty generations and constitute, in effect, an oral history of the Maoris, and Fuller, a man who is intensely interested in almost everything, undertook to persuade his friend that it was high time they were recorded on tape and made available to scholars, himself included. The anthropologist said that he had often thought of recording them, but that, according to an ancient tradition, the Keeper of the Chants was allowed to repeat them only to fellow-Maoris. Fuller thereupon launched into an extensive monologue. It was buttressed at every point by seemingly irrefutable data on tides, prevailing winds, boat design, mathematics, linguistics, archeology, architecture, and religion, and the gist of it was that the Maoris had been among the first peoples to discover the principles of celestial navigation, that they had found a way of sailing around the world from their base in the South Seas, and that they had done so a long, long time before any such voyages were commonly believed to have been made—at least ten thousand years ago, in fact. In conclusion, Fuller explained, with a straight face, that he himself had been a Maori, a few generations before the earliest chant, and that he had sailed off into the seas one day, lacking the navigational lore that gradually worked its way into the chants, and had been unable to find his way back, so that he had a personal interest in seeing that the chants got recorded. We have Fuller’s assurance that the anthropologist is now engaged in recording all the chants, together with their English translations.

The somewhat overwhelming effect of a Fuller monologue is well known today in many parts of the world, and while his claim to Maori ancestry must remain open to question, even that seems an oddly plausible conjecture. An association with the origins of circumnavigating the globe would be an ideal background for his current activities as an engineer, inventor, mathematician, architect, cartographer, philosopher, poet, cosmogonist, and comprehensive designer whose ideas, once considered wildly visionary, are now influential in so many countries that he averages a complete circuit of the globe each year in fulfillment of various lecture and teaching commitments.

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