The Canoe Is the People
Indigenous Navigation in the Pacific
Welcome to the User Guide
The Canoe Is the People honours and explores the knowledge and skills of traditional Pacific wayfinding. It is designed mostly for Pacific youth but will be of great interest to others as well.
The cultures of the Pacific are diverse. For this reason, the story of wayfinding has many faces and is told in many ways. This website celebrates the similarities and the differences in these traditions. We learn about ancient ways from wayfinders of two remote islands, in particular. These are Satawal in the Caroline Islands of the Federated States of Micronesia, and Taumako, of the Duff Islands Group of southeast Solomon Islands. In these two regions, ancient canoe (vaka) building and wayfinding practices are still used in everyday life. But people from all over the Pacific have knowledge and skills, and harbour stories that are not known elsewhere. For this reason, the website tries to include voyaging knowledge from many parts of the Pacific.
Learning about wayfinding, building vaka and how to make voyages is a life-long process that is rooted in specific cultures, societies and spiritualities. For this reason, the website does not aim to teach wayfinding or vaka building. Instead, it gives people a taste of the wealth of knowledge that still exists and is being practiced across the Pacific. We encourages those who want to learn to go into their communities to find out more – to rediscover their past and, by doing so, to take part and pride in the voyage of revival. Doing this will perpetuate and revive the brilliant cultural heritage of Pacific peoples. Wayfinding knowledge is valuable to everyone who is trying to understand how our world works, what resources we have, how to use them sustainably, and what is changing with the climate.
Notes on Language
This website uses English as a common language but gives indigenous words where possible. (Note that the spellings of these words vary from place to place in the Pacific.) The English has been kept as simple as possible. The meanings of some words are given in a pop-up glossary. The meanings relate to the ways the words are used in this website. Some words may have different meanings when they are used in other places and ways.
A New Zealand Maori version of this website is available here.
The canoe belongs to the people
Cook Islands wayfinder Tua Pittman
“It's not just the canoe and the connection between the canoe and our ancestors, but it's the canoe and the connection with our future as well. And I think what we need to do over the next 12 months is what I really wanted to do right from the beginning, when the canoe first came out, and that is to take the canoe to the people. The canoe belongs to the people. The more people that touch the canoe, the more mana (prestige, power) that flows from within them to the canoe, and the more they feel they belong.”