The Canoe Is the People
Indigenous Navigation in the Pacific
Initiation and Rank
On Satawal and other Carolinian islands, boys used to go through a pwo, an initiation ceremony for wayfinders to become palu (initiated wayfinders). The Catholic Church stopped the pwo ceremony 50 years ago. This is now changing and some parts of the ceremony are being performed again.
The pwo lasts about four days, but training goes on for many months afterwards. During the pwo, the boys stay in the vaka house and have no contact with women. They are taught secret knowledge about wayfinding and learn their role as wayfinders. Then, there islanders organizr a big ceremony with dancing and singing. The women prepare the food for the men separately. They oil the palu and paint him with yellow turmeric, which has spiritual properties. The palu’s families give tur (valuable weavings) to the teacher. The teacher then takes a student on his first voyage to a distant island. If the student succeeds, he can do longer voyages. He is no longer mesag (afraid).
Palu are the lowest rank GLOSSARY rank - grade . Reb (master wayfinders) are the most wise, skilled, and respected wayfinders. Only one man on an island is given this rank. He has a special hand tattoo, sometimes showing star paths GLOSSARY star paths - the sequence of star to follow from one island to another .
Kenneth Urumolug’s pwo ceremony
In June 2002, a shortened version of the pwo ceremony to initiate wayfinders is performed on Satawal for the first time in over 50 years, as part of celebrations for Kenneth Urumolug's ordination as a Jesuit priest. Kenneth is prepared for the pwo by the women of his family, and Mau Piailug, master wayfinder, conducts the initiation. He confers spiritual power while attaching a coconut leaf bracelet to Kenneth's wrist.
From Becoming a Wayfinder, Becoming a Priest © UNESCO 2004. A film by J. Blumberg, R. Hunter-Anderson, R. Apusa, and B. Feinberg.