The Canoe Is the People
Indigenous Navigation in the Pacific
Roles of Women
Old stories tell of the special role of women in navigation. A Micronesian story tells how the kuling bird (sandpiper) gave the knowledge of navigation to the people of Pulap by teaching the chief’s daughter. A story from the Marshall Islands tells how Liktanur passed on the knowledge of sails to her sons.
From 1920 to 1940, in Outer Reef Islands, there was a woman who was a Captain and a Wayfinder. Her name was Hoakena, she was a cousin of Joslyn Sale, and she owned a Te Puke that she bought from Basil Tevake. She used to transport food and passengers between Santa Cruz Island (Ndeni), Vanikoro, Outer Reefs, and Taumako.
In Satawal, girls used to be trained as wyfinders, but now it is mostly a male activity. However, girls whose fathers are wyfinders still learn many things. This way, they can help to guide a vaka if a navigator becomes confused. It is like a safety net.
Women prepare the food for navigation rituals GLOSSARY rituals - ceremonies and voyages. Another important contribution GLOSSARY contribution - thing that is given is their weaving. In the past, women wove not only pandanus vaka sails but also special tur (valuable weavings). Carolinians carried valuable tur to their relations in Yap on sawei voyages (a traditional ceremonial voyage in Micronesia).
In Carolinian Pwo (initiation ceremony for wayfinders), hundreds of tur were given to the reb (master wayfinder) who taught young wayfinders. A community that didn’t have a vaka builder could use tur to buy a vaka from another island.
Weaving on Satawal
Carmen Piailug (Mau Piailug’s oldest daughter) weaves on Satawal. Modern tur are made from cotton. Traditional tur are made from banana and hibiscus fibres (strings). Weaving a tur takes a long time. This makes them very valuable. Girls start learning to weave before they finish primary school.