How a Little Paint Saves Sailors from Drowning

How a Little Paint Saves Sailors from Drowning


It’s amazing how long
certain traditions can last. Here in Malta, there are a pair of eyes
that have been watching over these people for over four thousand years. They watched as the pharaohs rose and fell. They watched as the Phoenicians
conquered the Mediterranean. They watched as the Italians fought the Ottomans
and the Maltese were bombed by the Germans. They’ve been watching over these lands
for as long as the Pyramids have stood. But it’s only because we keep applying them. Superstition. It’s more than just a song by Stevie Wonder. It’s human nature. Our brains are habitual. And we are always looking for patterns. And just because there aren’t any patterns
to find doesn’t mean we won’t find any. Chances are you’re acting
in superstitious ways, right now, even if you don’t believe that
your actions actually have purpose. Take sports for example. Every true fan knows that if you’re team is
doing well, you don’t say it out loud. That’s how you jinx it. Especially if you’re a Canadian team
playing Boston. Where I grew up, people believed
in the lucky power of rabbit’s feet. Which is such a weird and
obviously ancient idea. You’re telling me if I carry around
a lobbed off limb of an animal that it’s so me how going to keep me
safe from harm? It certainly didn’t keep the rabbit safe. I have its foot. Superstitions are usually quite strange,
but even knowing that, it doesn’t necessarily mean
we’ll stop doing them. Because they’re generally intended as a public display just as much as a private concern. Even though I don’t know anybody who
actually believes that saying bless you will stop demons from entering your nose,
I do know a lot of people who would be very
uncomfortable not saying it. And it isn’t like this is just
an act of the uneducated. Many astronauts are highly superstitious,
and I think we can all agree that the job self-selects for fairly rational
and educated people. Everyone who has ever flown Soyuz has stopped
to pee on the right rear tire of the van that drove them out to the rocket. Even the women. Yuri Gagarin did it, and he survived,
so they do it to survive, too. By this point, it’s just as much tradition
as it is superstition. It’s ritual. Routine. But my point is to say that no matter
how aloofly you present your intelligence, superstition is a part of all of us. It permeates through the religious
and atheistic alike. There is no corner of our globe
that it doesn’t touch. No person it doesn’t affect. And here in Malta, they’re hanging on to
a superstition that is thousands of years old. In the town of Marsaxlokk,
on the southern tip of this island, there’s a famously unique fishing fleet. An entire harbour of small, sturdy-hulled
wooden boats painted in bright colours. They’re called Luzzu, and the superstitions
associated with them are some of the strongest and oldest on the island. You don’t change the colours of a Luzzu. That’s bad luck, and you may drown and die. You don’t change the design, either. That’s also bad luck and
you may drown and die. But most important of all, you absolutely
must paint a pair of eyes on the bow. Because if you don’t. Yep, you guessed it. Drown and die. Those eyes transcend language and culture. They transcend religion and race. When we began painting these eyes on this
type of boat, the alphabet was a new idea. The pyramids of Giza were fresh on the landscape. For over a hundred generations across thousands
of miles, their unblinking gaze has watched entire civilizations rise and fall. They saw the Colossus of Rhodes
fall into the sea. They watched helplessly as Rome
razed Carthage to the dust. They represent, at least in theory,
the eye of Horus and the eye of Ra, the sun and the moon of Egypt’s mythology. Together they promised protection from fear
and healing from pain. Safety from death and drowning. They promised comfort in the afterlife. They promised everything that a sailor
needed to hear. If the eyes were watching over you,
you were safe. But the Egyptians weren’t
the only ones who believed. The idea of an eye containing power is prevalent
in almost every society throughout history. In many ways, we still believe it today. In fact, if you’ve ever heard someone say
that eyes are the gateways to the soul, they’re really just repeating an ancient superstition. It just happens to be one that we
all innately understand. Stare into someone’s eyes and tell me
you don’t feel something. Whether or not there’s actually power
there, we certainly sense one. Eyes have a certain energy that we can feel. Even animals do. Try looking a dog in the eyes when
they’ve done something wrong. They feel our gaze just as much as we do. And when it comes to living life,
and even more so surviving death, feeling is just as important to us as fact. It may be mythology, but its rooted in feeling. And the most effective lie is always rooted
in something you can feel. Malta is a nation living off the sea, and
the sea has always been unpredictable. But it doesn’t matter how the weather looks,
a fishermen still needs his catch. It’s never been a job where everybody comes
home at the end of the day, and they all know it. Some people die with their lungs full of water,
and that’s a terrible way to go. And if you know that’s a possibility
every time you head out from shore, you do everything in your power to stop it. The greatest sailors you’d ever known
had painted the eyes. So you did it too. Even if you didn’t really know why. In the harbour of Marsaxlokk today, the eyes
of dozens of Luzzu stare back at the shore. They’re painted by modern men
with modern educations. Men with iPhones and Netflix accounts. I really doubt that any of them are truly believing
that these are what’s keeping them safe from harm. But they’re all still painting them. Because at the end of the day,
nobody wants to be the guy who jinxed it. This is Rare Earth. In the harbour of Marsaxlokk today… ‘Marsashlock’, ‘marsashlock’… It’s a hard town name. In the harbour of Marshashlokk. Aah. That’s gonna be trouble…

100 thoughts on “How a Little Paint Saves Sailors from Drowning

  1. Malta da malta ne maltaymış aminakoyayim bi cikamadin maltadan. Siktir abi artik sikim kadar adaya bu kadar hayranlik olur mu ya. Al gotune sok maltayi

  2. Amazing video… You sad marsaxlokk with the correct pronunciation… Youre getting good haha. You have to visit the Hypugeum of HalSaflieni in the town of Paola…. To see how advanced the prehistoric Maltese were and many belive we are decendets of atlantis haha and the cart ruts that from the center of the island go deep in to the see. Or go to zurrieq… The people there are called zriraq, zriraq means people with blue eyes and it is sad that the vikings raided zurrieq and off course raped alot of women and when they saw how strong the maltese were they decided to not kill the women and let them live to give birth to their children, and all the children had blue eyes that was never seen or extremely rare in Malta…. That what the legend says… Haha

  3. I like the cultural/aesthetic aspect of this specific tradition, but I hope the ones like the sports one don't stick around for too long. It can be really annoying to hear "don't do it, it's bad luck". I probably still follow some superstitions in a "I know there's nothing there, but turning around and looking will make me feel more relaxed" way, but please, even if you feel uncomfortable talking about your team winning or not looking in the mirror when coming back home for a second or whatever, don't tell other people to follow those.

    Way too much text that can sound way too pretentious for such a small problem, but that's a pet peeve of mine.

  4. The words "your" and "you're" should sound different when spoken out loud. While you meant to say "you're" you pronounced it as "your"

    "You're" has the "ou" sound of the word "you" whereas "your" has the "ou" sound of "pour"

  5. Okk, but how are these women peeing on this tyre? Do you bend over forward and pee on it behind you, or do you crab-walk up to it? 😂
    Ok sorry, but i couldn't help but wonder 😂

  6. Personally I believe some form of Superstition,whether be Religious or otherwise,is a important keystone to civilization.Its a easy way of enforcing good behavior and safety.Dont Break mirrors because of Bad Luck is just to trick kids to not break something expensive and never walk under ladders because of said bad luck is just a way to stop people from having things dropped on there heads. When you put science and numbers behind something dangerous,people will still think "Oh that wont happen to me though" because you can control and understand science but put some superstition behind it,something beyond human control or reason and it become far more scarier.

  7. We have these everywhere, phoenicians did trade all over the Mediterranean. Here's one from portugal https://3.bp.blogspot.com/-N2CU_grqKtE/Wx7RmPDmBoI/AAAAAAAAG70/2Fj3QJGHIGMjMQhq2uIeoCNlYDnFEtCFgCEwYBhgL/s1600/depositphotos_79877658-stock-photo-fishing-boats-on-the-beach.jpg

  8. Sometimes I like to mess with people by deliberately doing the opposite of their superstition, for some people watching you do that they can't help but wince, anticipating some horribleness in the future that will befall you because you decided to tempt fate and not act in accordance with their superstition.

  9. Expat retired here in S.E.Asia. I've just moved to Vietnam, and all boats have eyes here as well. "Conflicting" origins stories, "so the boat can find it's way back to shore", "so the boat can see evil spirits and avoid them" ect. What ever the origins of the custom, it's still strong, and I've read there is a ceremony when the eyes are applied, as it signifies the boats "awakening", and when the "life" is 1st awakened in her.

    Whatever the root, they're beautiful, and they're on ALL ships and boats, from the tiny long tails to the huge grain and ore haulers. I've already started a folder to post up on my facebook page for the friends and family back home.

    Love your stuff.

    On the "plain of jars" in Laos, I recently had a US airforce vet tell me that the reason there was so much bombing on that site was it was chosen as the place pilots would "off load" their cargo of bombs. If an intended target turned out to be obscured by weather, they weren't allowed to bomb, BUT, they also weren't allowed to land "loaded for bear". They had to drop the ordinance before returning to base, in case of an accidental crash on landing (a belly full of explosives being a non optimal condition in that situation). Most crashes happen on take off or landing (minus the whole "people shooting at you because of war" thingy. I/they mean in normal operations). Which to me makes that destruction doubly tragic. They chose there because of low population, but c'mon guys, dump that stuff out at sea.

  10. Pretty please: an episode on the 1942 siege of Malta if you can… Evan, you know there would be so much to talk about it , so many perspectives, lessons, insights, etc, etc… I'll promise I'll become a patron if you do! 😉

  11. I'm not too sure about the "everyone is superstitious" and "nobody want's to jinx it". For one I'm regularly the guy that deliberately tires to "jinx" stuff for the joy of watching more superstitious people freak out. Unfortunately I've yet to display any actual ability to reliably jinx stuff since obviously superstition has 0 impact on reality aside from what we attribute to it.

    As for eyes, I'm not sure I'd place that under superstition… It's clearly got more to it given how innate it is (not exclusive to humans) and how autism seems to make people look at the background more than at their conversation partner's face/eyes. Aside from eyes being in pretty much the center of someone's head and being arguably the most interesting feature to look at they can provide us with additional information as they are often used to convey emotions. In a sense looking at someone's eyes is like looking at someone's lips in a loud room to better "hear" them by automatically lip reading what they're saying and combining it with what you're hearing. Thus the "eyes are the gateway to the soul" is not entirely inaccurate if you define soul as the person's character/personality/current emotions/etc.

    Edit: On a completely unrelated note, I should probably mention I got to hear your dad, Chris Hadfield give a talk about leadership on Thursday and it was awesome! Kind of disappointed I didn't get to talk with him afterward but it was still a memorable experience.

  12. all superstitions ( this includes religion) needs to be eradicated from this world in order for our species to evolve beyond what we are now.

  13. In the game "Age of Empires," they designed the Trireme with a pair of eyes in front of it. Now I know where did the developers got that.

  14. I regularly interact with a very superstitious group…

    Pokemon Go players XD

    Seriously, they have lots of little habits to improve their shiny chances or chances of catching legendaries. They'll all acknowledge it's entirely irrational, but still, keep doing it all the same

  15. Interesting way to tell about this tradition. Note, that some boats you were singling out in the shots where you said "Luzzu", were in fact a "Kajjiek" (Kahyeek), not a Luzzu. Kajjiek is smaller, and has its stern flat. Luzzu is bigger, and is pointy on boat ends, more suitable for rough waters.

  16. Thanks for yet another well-written, well-made, interesting, thought-provoking, instructive video. Just don't ever let anyone convince you that you're tilting at windmills!!! Many of us out here in cyberspace (not to mention regular old space) are listening, learning & enjoying. The writing here is absolutely impeccable and spot on… inspiring! I fully agree that humans have a thing for eyes based on the idea of the gaze, going back through evolution as an instinct. "Did you ever have the feeling you was being watched?" said Bugs Bunny, & he was right. I also find it fascinating (and sometimes dangerous) that we can lose the meaning or content behind something we do (even out of superstitious and/or religious beliefs), yet still carry on that belief / behavior for thousands of years. Social inertia is definitely a thing. As Frank Herbert wrote, we carry our instincts – and even the beliefs of our ancestors – forward with us, like a wave (a fitting metaphor for boats with eyes!) Sometimes though, that wave carries us, even spilling & dumping us onto uncharted land… or drowning us at sea. Thanks again. Rikki Tikki.

  17. What about painting eyes on your boat just because it looks cool? I'm lazy, so I would generally not bother, but if everyone else is doing it I would probably make the effort.

  18. perhaps its an imported tradition, or maybe coincidence- but allot of places on the cornish and scottish coasts have these eyes painted on the boats just like this

  19. As a former civil engineer student who worked in The Canary Islands you will always see a small statue of some virgin in the entrances of the tunnels, people who dig are extremely superstitious

  20. I would have used the word "myth" instead of "superstition". And yes our societies are all based on myths that enable us to work together. Even capitalism is one just like every idiology out there. You should read "Sapiens, a brief history of humanity" even if you know the broad lines of our history he sums up some things really really well.

    Oh and they didn't just 'watch' all those Historic events btw, they endured them what with them being at the crossroad between Europe and Africa.

  21. Dude, Malta was prolly one of the most awesome and beautiful countries I‘ve ever visited. I love that you‘re making vids there Evan, and if you‘re ever in Northern Europe I‘ll try my best to catch you hahaha

  22. nice note on Stevie Wonder! Would also be great to add "its a part of human nature, of which Michael Jackson sung (or Miles Davis played – depending on your taste=)

  23. The eyes greet you in the morning when you come to work.
    Boats have names, too. And are usually feminine. Same with planes. Airmen used to paint faces on planes, too.
    If you are going to be spending all day, every day in something, it's easier to talk about it by name than just saying "my boat" or "the plane". Having a name distinguishes it from every other boat.

    I think that cars are designed with the headlights looking like eyes. It think it's the wide-eyed innocent look of the round headlights in a Volkswagen Beetle that was a big part of its popularity. I miss that look when I see the newer designs.

    And I think that the windows in the front of houses look like eyes. If the house is missing windows on either side of the front door, something looks wrong to me and it seems like an unwelcoming, closed in, claustrophobic look.

  24. well that was a long-winded curve ball on the third eye , the collective unconscious and chaos magick. He's rambling but there is a much shorter explanation

  25. "if you don't have eyes on your boat, you will get abducted by aliens and get probed" "really?" "no, you drown, just like all the others"

  26. Saying "bless you" is no longer superstition. It's just etiquette now. The vast majority of people don't know the origins of it, and anyone who just thinks about it could probably come to the conclusion that it used to be saying "bless you, I pray that you aren't sick."

  27. All these little pagan practises, all over Europe, all surviving in little pockets as culture, tradition, or superstition – sometimes with the names filed off, and sometimes not. It's interesting to see how the old ways, like making sure Ra and Horus are watching over your boat, never really die; maybe people just forget why they do it.

  28. 1:55 I know that Russian people are a superstitious lot but damn, their "space rituals" border on OCD! https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/08/21/space-launch-rituals/

  29. Old Korean Saying goes
    "If Body is worth 1000 Nyang (put any unit of currency you may prefer), Eyes are wroth 900 Nyang."
    ie, blind man is only worth 1/10th of fully able bodied man.

  30. Tradition, once born of superstition, is maintained in order to show respect for the shades of the ancesters, to stay connected with that long line of souls from whence we spring. Changing a tradition is like casting aside the ancients, it is assault and battery on their memory.

  31. kinda disappointed that this tradition didn't survive in England and Western Europe, or we could've had aircraft carriers and the Iowa-class with big yellow-and-blue eyes on the front.

  32. You missed a big reason; tradition. Their great grandparents did it and it's a way to feel connected to their past. Heritage matters, man. We all came from somewhere and that's worth honoring.

  33. Rituals: A part of us all… A part of us all… A part of us all… Sorry for repeating, but you need to remember this.

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