The Canoe Is the People
Indigenous Navigation in the Pacific
Role of the Wayfinders
Ua fili e le tai se agavaa - the sea tests the quality of a sailor.
In Pacific communities, wayfinders are highly respected – not only for their practical skills but also for their wisdom. A wayfinder has to know huge amounts of information about the environment. Having access to navigational knowledge is an honour, and a navigator has a responsibility to use, protect, and pass on that knowledge in a way that best serves the community. He also has to live by the highest values — like modesty, respect, and patience. He is seen as the father of his crew and must protect them from danger. He is considered a wise leader, both on and off the canoe.
When wayfinders and their crews are away, the community sings to keep them safe and to be close to them.
Songs about Satawalese wayfinders
Lourdes Lepanemai and Josefa Napiailug
The women of Peinripinong are sad and tired because we haven’t seen them, those boys from our place. When they have a meeting at the mesan eraw (men’s house), we get mad at our ancestors who taught them how to sail! They are not with us now. We wish the ancestors could see their sons now - surround them and smell the good smell of their mwarmwar (flower headdresses) - the men under the sun, under the rain. I don’t want them to spend two weeks on the ocean!