In preparation for this etching, Reuvers consulted the oracle of the mah-jong. By arranging a number of mah-jong stones randomly, the stones may answer every question. Reuvers inquired after Ahab. The figuration as represented in the centre of the print depicts the answer he had obtained: the white stone stands for a white, magical animal; the bamboo canes refer to sea voyages; and the westerly wind at 10 o’clock signifies adversity. Naturally, nothing happens by chance.
At the bottom left, the sculpture represents Ol-olum, the god of water and richness, who lives in a palace under water, and who has people and fish as servants – a reference to the negro-savage Daggoo, third among the harpooners and the squire of Flask. Next to it, in reference to the Parsi harpooner Fedallah on Ahab’s whaling boat, we see the top view of a Persian Tower of Silence. Parsi are not allowed to bury, burn, or to dispose of their dead in water, and they, therefore, build towers for excarnation – that is, for dead bodies to be exposed to vultures and other carrion birds. The sculpture to the right represents the Indian Tashtego, Stubbs’ squire. It is the handle of a stick representing a killer whale that devours a man.
When The Pequod crosses the Street of Sunda (see the map in the centre of the background), it is being chased by Malaysian pirates. At the top right, we see an image showing a prau of Malaysian pirates. Then, The Pequod meets the French whaling vessel The Rosebud (cf. the faded cockade) that has a number of stinking sperm whales tied alongside. Stubbs deceives the captain into thinking that his crew can fall ill because of the stinking whales, and the French captain decides to cut them loose. Shortly afterwards, The Pequod grabs one of the carcases, which are full of precious ambergris, just like Stubbs anticipated. Hence, below in the centre of the print, we notice the small label that is used in the perfume industry.
A squeeze of the hand
The spermaceti from the head of a sperm whale solidifies into lumps that has to be squeezed by the sailors in a large tub. The sweet aroma of the sperm and the endless squeezing, with the men squeezing each other’s hands in the long run too, sends them into ecstasies of a homo-erotic nature (see the picture bottom centre in the background).
At the bottom right, we see the English whaler ship, The Samuel Enderby, on which the captain loses an arm after an encounter with Moby Dick.