The Canoe Is the People
Indigenous Navigation in the Pacific
Building a Vaka
If you want to build a vaka, first plant a garden.
Building a large vaka can take more than a year. It can only begin if the right trees have been planted and are ready to use. A spiritual expert often performs a ritual GLOSSARY ritual - ceremony to ask the spirits for permission to cut down a tree. The experts might be paid with valuables like weaving and food as well as shown great respect. Another expert guides the vaka builders. In Satawal, heís called a senap (master vaka builder). Young children watch, and older boys help out.
Before Europeans arrived in the Pacific, people used things from the world around them to build canoes - like stone or shell axes to cut the trees and shape the canoe parts. There were no steel tools and certainly no chainsaws like today! A canoe builder knows which trees are good for different canoe parts. The wood for hulls must be strong and long-lasting but not too heavy. Other canoe parts - like the outrigger GLOSSARY outrigger - side float and the sleeping platform on Satawalese canoes - are made from softer woods. Some of the wood used for the sleeping platform is brought by ocean currents GLOSSARY currents - the directional flow of the sea from unknown places. If a community doesnít have building materials or a canoe builder, they may trade for canoes from other islands.
After the canoe is tested, thereís a ceremony to celebrate. In Satawal, they throw food all over the canoe. When theyíre finished, they feast!
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Our ancestors’ respect for the environment
Cook Islander Dorice Reid
“They learned how it was that our ancestors had this enormous respect for the environment. For instance, in the olden days, our ancestors would never cut a tree down to make a canoe without praying, without their karakia, praying for authority to take the life of that tree. Today, we just blatantly go and cut a tree down, and we donít think about the fact that it has a life.”