The Canoe Is the People
Indigenous Navigation in the Pacific
Canoe or Vaka
The seagoing boats of Pacific voyagers had to be big enough, and safe enough, to carry people, and their food and cargo, across the open ocean to distant islands. Their types of boats are often called “canoes” in the English language. But Pacific languages use the names that the ancestors gave them.
Pacific peoples speak Austronesian languages. Austronesian-speaking people traveled far and wide across the Pacific and Indian Oceans. They share similar words for their canoes. Austronesian names for canoes that make voyages across the deep sea include waa, wa’a, waqa, waga, wangka, va’a, vaa, vaka, and bangka, amongst others.
During the last 30 years, the word vaka has come to be widely used for voyaging canoes in general. But we should remember that each of the many Pacific peoples have their own names, designs and stories about their voyaging canoes including the names above.
In this website, we use the word vaka for voyaging canoes in general. However, when we refer to voyaging canoes from a specific place then we do our best to use the local name.