RAINBOW WARRIOR: George Dibbern, The Fun-loving Visionary Vagabond & Controversial Sailor-Philosopher – By Erika Grundmann

Source – georgedibbern.com

“…I, George Dibbern, through long years in different countries and sincere friendship with many people in many lands feel my place to be outside of nationality, a citizen of the world and a friend of all peoples”

George Dibbern, author of Quest (New York: W.W. Norton, 1941), was a sailor-philosopher, self-declared citizen of the world for whom the 32 foot ketch Te Rapunga (the third of eighteen steps in the New Zealand Maori creation myth: the pre-dawn, “dark sun” moment of anticipation referred to as “longing” or “seeking”) became the means to break free from the constraints and conventions of society, to share his philosophy of the sea, his message of peace, brotherly love and world citizenship at a time when the world was bracing itself for World War II. Of the opinion that a flag represented one’s beliefs and principles, he refused to fly the obligatory swastika Nazi flag and in 1937 first raised the flag of his own design. This represented his belief in equal rights for every person to evolve, each according to his or her individuality, within the family of humankind. He later (1940) rejected his German passport and created his own passport with the following declaration:

I, George Dibbern, through long years in different countries and sincere friendship with many people in many lands feel my place to be outside of nationality, a citizen of the world and a friend of all peoples.

I recognize the divine origin of all nations and therefore their value in being as they are, respect their laws, and feel my existence solely as a bridge of good fellowship between them.

This is why, on my own ship I fly my own flag, why I have my own passport and so place myself without other protection under the goodwill of the world.

Unlike Garry Davis who renounced his American citizenship in 1948, after the war had ended, German-born Dibbern made his move at a time most dangerous to himself and his family. His actions did not go unnoticed by the Nazi Party Chapters in New Zealand, USA, Canada and were reported to party headquarters in Berlin. The Gestapo subsequently threatened Dibbern’s wife and three daughters whom he had left, some would say abandoned, in Germany, with reprisals for his actions and initiated steps to force him to return. If he had, he would immediately have been sent to a concentration camp.

Nevertheless, with the exception of a five year internment in New Zealand where authorities refused to recognize his passport, and with a hiatus of four years when, with winnings from a lottery ticket he bought an island in Tasmania to set up a “friendship home”, he pursued his mission to be a bridge of friendship aboard Te Rapunga. He lived by the premise that there was no harsher judge of his actions than his own conscience, no force more absorbing and humbling than the sea. “My life is one with the sea,” he said. “We respect each other and I have no other master.”

References to George Dibbern appear in books on small boat sailing (e.g. Sea Quest by Charles Borden; South Sea Vagabonds, by John Wray, Salt on the Wind by Dan Rubin) as well as biographies of American author Henry Miller who on reading Quest in 1945 was so moved by the book that he wrote to Dibbern as a “brother”—thereby initiating a correspondence friendship which lasted till Dibbern’s death. However, until the publication of Dark Sun by Erika Grundmann, no complete account existed of the man who taught by example, who lived by the principle “serve life and life will take care of you.”

Flag and Passport – FLAG – 1937

George Dibbern felt a flag ought to represent one’s principles. Since the swastika, declared to be obligatory by the Nazi Party in September 1935,clashed with his beliefs, he refused to raise it and as a result created a flag of his own design. Friend Beatrice Krauss in Hawaii surprised him one day when she presented him with a flag she had made for Te Rapunga.

Dibbern’s explanation of the symbolism of his flag was as follows:

It has a white ground with a red cross of St. George cutting a dark blue circle; and in the upper left hand corner is a blue star. The white stands for equal rights, not equality, but equal rights for men to evolve, each according to his individuality. On this right the human world stands or falls.

The dark blue circle stands for the brotherhood of man, for though we fight like brothers we must grow a loyalty to our one family if we are to survive. On top of the circle of brotherhood lies the red cross of freedom and of pain. It is through freedom to experience, and the pain experience brings, that we learn.

The blue circle also represents a planet, like the earth, which receives its light from the sun as we have received our light from God. But I believe that God is within each of us, and that our aim should be to be conscious of him, to become a self-shining light, a star.

So the star in the corner represents my aim. It is a blue star because I try to become a brother of a new brotherhood.

PASSPORT – 1940

Once he became known as a “Man without a Country” (1939) it became evident to Dibbern that if he were to remain true to his mission of breaking down barriers and of being a bridge of friendship, he could no longer travel with a German passport. (In view of the Nazi move to divest him of his German citizenship it likely would not have been renewed in any case.) In 1940, after careful consideration of the wording, he created his own passport and had it notarized in San Francisco, May 31,1940. Included was a depiction of the flag he had conceived and with which Te Rapunga had arrived in Victoria, Canada, in July 1937.

Text of the passport:

I, George Dibbern, through long years in different countries and sincere friendship with many people in many lands feel my place to be outside of nationality, a citizen of the world and a friend of all peoples.

I recognize the divine origin of all nations and therefore their value in being as they are, respect their laws, and feel my existence solely as a bridge of good fellowship between them.

This is why, on my own ship I fly my own flag, why I have my own passport and so place myself without other protection under the goodwill of the world.

Several versions of the passport were created in various languages—and with a variety of photographs. After he was released from Internment in New Zealand, Dibbern sailed with his own passport which was tolerated—and stamped—by South Sea authorities.

Quest by George Dibbern

The physical adventures, the physical hazards, which alone would make it an exciting book, are nothing compared to the moral and spiritual struggles which he tells about. He is always truthful and revealing, and the more he strips himself the more he finds himself in harmony with his fellow man.

Henry Miller, Circle 7-8, 1946
Quest first edition
Quest reprint

Quest, by George Dibbern, is his compelling account of breaking free from the constraints of society and from the impending scourge of Nazism. It was first published in 1941, in New York by W.W. Norton and in London by John Lane The Bodley Head.

Having been at sea as a young man, having jumped ship in Australia and spent part of WWI interned in NZ after which he was deported to the country of his birth, restless and outspoken, he was unable to settle into life in post-war Germany. Believing his conscience to be a harsher judge of his actions than any god or court of law, he left his wife and three young daughters in Germany in 1930 and, aboard his 32-foot ketch Te Rapunga, with a baroness and a student of agriculture as crew, set sail for New Zealand. There— he was convinced of it—the Maori friends of his youth would surely help him acquire land which would then provide the means for his family to join him.

The adventurous four-year voyage took him through raging storms, through halcyon days of longed-for freedom—tarnished with feelings of guilt at having left his family behind. Yet, convinced that “man does not live by bread alone” and that life is meant to be more than a desperate scramble for survival (as it had been in Germany), he persevered.

Five years later, in New Zealand, he was faced with the fact that his family, having created a life of their own in Germany, would not join him in the new world. He recognized he had outgrown nationhood, and he committed to his life’s mission: with Te Rapunga flying a flag representing his ideals, he would be a bridge of friendship, goodwill, and understanding.

Told with insight and humour, Quest won the admiration of American author Henry Miller, who in 1945 wrote to Dibbern “as a brother.” Like Miller, Dibbern was a man ahead of his time—and Quest continues to inspire

Dark Sun: Te Rapunga and the Quest of George Dibbern – By Erika Grundmann

You breathe a spirit as warm and large as Walt Whitman’s. I salute you as one of the good, Honest men of the earth, one we shall always be proud of. Henry Miller, letter to George Dibbern, 1945

Dark Sun book cover, by Erika Grundmann

Dark Sun recounts the life of German-born Georg Johann Dibbern (1889-1962)—the controversial, free-spirited vagabond, visionary sailor-philosopher, author of Quest, friend of American writer Henry Miller—and of the extraordinary women (like Dibbern ahead of their time) who shared his life.

Refusing to live as a sheep in the herd he defied conventionality and broke free in 1930, with his conscience as his only guide. He took a stand against Nazism, in 1937 creating his own flag, then his own passport which was notarized in San Francisco, USA, in 1940.

With these symbols of his personal beliefs, admired by some, scorned by others, he dared to sail his 32 foot ketch Te Rapunga (the third of eighteen steps in the New Zealand Maori creation myth, that pre-dawn, dark sun moment signifying “longing” or “seeking”) in his mission to build bridges of international brotherhood and friendship—not without consequences to himself (including a second internment in New Zealand) and to the family he left behind in Germany.

The result of ten years of research, this absorbing biography of the adventurous author of Quest—the book that won the respect and praise of Henry Miller—reads like a carefully-crafted and spell-binding novel.

He was one of the most unforgettable characters I have ever met … bringing a breath of romance and freedom and unconventionality … He recognized no nationality, flew own self-designed flag and moved wherever the spirit moved him …

Norman Hacking, Vancouver Province, 1962

Erika Grundmann:

From 1993 till 2003, with the support of Dibbern’s family, I researched and documented the adventurous and committed life of George Dibbern, a fun-loving vagabond, visionary and controversial sailor-philosopher with views well ahead of his time. I examined what motivated him, the sacrifices he made and what became of the family he left behind in Germany. The ensuing biography, titled Dark Sun: Te Rapunga and the Quest of George Dibbern, is a timely and inspiring chronicle of what one man can accomplish when he thinks for himself and acts upon his convictions.

My goal to bring about an affordable reprint of George Dibbern’s much sought-after book Quest has also been met. The process took several tries and in the end I self-published, but to see the new Quest take shape has been very rewarding.

In addition, my long-held vision of a restoration of Dibbern’s ketch Te Rapunga is being realized! Twenty years after my husband and I made our first research trip to Australia, I received the news that the boat had been purchased by an a group of wooden boat and local history enthusiasts, backed by an eco-tourism company of Bruny Island, Tasmania. The restoration of this historical boat will, they feel, be a way of bringing attention to Dibbern’s life and philosophy, so applicable to these challenging times. The progress of this new adventure will be recorded in the Restoration segment of this site.

The “George story” seems to be never-ending, and new findings continue to appear. In the early years of my research, there was nothing about “Dibbern” on line — except for fine bone china. That has changed substantially and thanks to the generosity of people who have known him and have sent memorabilia as well as anecdotes, newspaper clippings and photographs, the Dibbern collection continues to grow. It will be up to the Dibbern families to decide where the collection will ultimately be housed, but in the meantime, for anything you might want to know about George Dibbern, this is the place to visit.

ERIKA GRUNDMANN

http://georgedibbern.com/george-dibbern/flag-passport

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