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Tuesday, October 4, 2022

The mystery of the Tamil bell in New Zealand

It all started in 1836 when the English missionary William Selenso saw a metal contraption that the inhabitants of a small New Zealand village used as a cooking pot.

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There are artefacts with a mysterious history in the world. Usually, several versions are put forward about their origin, but none of them finds full confirmation. One such item is the so-called “Tamil bell” found in a Maori settlement in New Zealand.

Cauldron with runes

It all started in 1836 when the English missionary William Selenso saw a metal contraption that the inhabitants of a small New Zealand village used as a cooking pot. They told Selenso that they found this thing many years ago under the roots of a large tree that was uprooted from the ground during a strong hurricane.

The missionary carefully examined the find and saw that it was inscribed with symbols and runes, obviously in some ancient language. In the end, he became so interested in it that he traded with the natives for an ordinary bowler hat. He gave the incomprehensible curiosity to the Otago Museum in Dunedin, from where it ended up in the Dominion Museum, which today has become the Museum of New Zealand in Wellington.

In 1870, the exhibit caught the eye of the ethnographer J. T. Thompson. He photographed strange writings, which, as it seemed to him, belonged to some ancient Indian language, and sent the photographs to researchers he knew.

It turned out that the inscriptions on the artefact were made in Tamil. By that time, this language had been dead for hundreds of years and was not used in everyday life. The inscription read: Mohoyideen Buks (“Bell of the ship of Mohaidin Bakhsh”).

Only in 1940 was the age of the exhibit established. It turned out that it was made between 1400 and 1500 AD. But the fact is that, according to the official version, external contact with New Zealand began only in 1769, when the famous captain Thomas Cook landed in the Bay of Poverty.

Subsequently, it became known that in 1877, between the New Zealand ports of Raglan and Aotea, the wreckage of a sunken ship was found half buried in the sand. Inside, they found a brass plate with inscriptions in Tamil and a wooden board on which was inscribed a name reminiscent of “Mohaideen Bakhsh”. The finds were transported to Auckland, where they were lost, so it was impossible to compare them with the museum bell.

Tamils ​​or Portuguese?

How did a ship from India end up off the coast of New Zealand? Versions were put forward different. For example, the Tamil shipbuilders and navigators were so skilled in their craft that travelling to New Zealand at that time was not a problem. Although, judging by other sources, the ancient Indians did not swim further than the island of Lombok, located in the Bali region on the territory of modern Indonesia.

New Zealand's Tamil Bell
New Zealand’s Tamil Bell

Another hypothesis suggests that the bell hung on one of the ships of the Portuguese fleet. From the end of the 15th century, the Portuguese supplied Asian goods to Europe across the Indian Ocean.

In 1521, the Viceroy of Portugal sent a fleet of three caravels to explore the lands beyond the so-called Spice Islands. Only one of the three ships returned back; the other two were lost somewhere in the ocean. Is one of these caravels wrecked off the coast of New Zealand? According to the researchers, the found vessel was most likely built in Goa, where the Tamil language was widely used. And it was there that the harbour of the Portuguese ships was located.

Stuck in the Pacific

A curious version is put forward by historian Robert Langdon in his book The Lost Caravel. In 1524, the King of Spain organized an expedition to the Spice Islands, sending a flotilla of six ships there. However, as a result, two ships were wrecked off the coast of Patagonia and the Philippines, and two more disappeared without a trace. It is assumed that they were simply swept into the sea. One of the caravels, “San Lesmes”, was noticed in the Pacific Ocean in 1526.

Langdon speculates that the two missing ships ran aground in the French Polynesia region (rusty guns were found from these ships). Having made repairs, the sailors sailed on. For some time, they spent on the atolls of Ana and Raiatea, and some of them remained there, starting families with local natives. The rest decided to return to Spain and headed west but lost their way and, arriving on the shores of future New Zealand, settled there. Their descendants subsequently settled throughout the Pacific Ocean. This is allegedly evidenced by evidence that people of Caucasian appearance lived on many Pacific islands – fair-skinned, red-haired and blue-eyed.

However, Langdon’s theory is considered unsubstantiated: most of his statements have not been found to have any hard evidence.

Meanwhile, by 1890, the wreck of the sunken ship from which the notorious bell allegedly fell off mysteriously disappeared. So the mystery of the artefact from the Museum of New Zealand remains unsolved. But there is an increasing number of questions concerning world history and geographical discoveries.

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