The First Canoes (Vanuatu, Melanesia)

Nobody lived on the island of Vao. The only way to get there from Mallikolo (Malekula) was to swim. One evening, the people of Mallikolo heard scary sounds coming from Vao. Then their food started disappearing overnight. One morning, a woman screamed that her toe had been eaten!

Many days and nights passed, and more food and toes were eaten! Then, one day, a guard saw a rat speeding away. He chased it, but it jumped onto a hollow stick floated towards Vao. The chief ordered some men to swim to Vao and bring back the missing toes. The men were afraid of sharks in the sea, so they copied the rat and built a raft. They cut down strong pieces of bamboo and tied them together with coconut rope.

The men were away a whole night, and the villagers were worried. When they finally returned, they didn't come in their raft. They had carved a canoe like the rats' hollow piece of wood. Their canoe was big and strong because they had carved it from a tree. Later, they carved many more canoes. When they had a whole army, they attacked Vao. The rats tried to escape on the sea, but a storm drowned them all. Since then, the people of Mallikolo have used canoes to travel between islands ... and they've kept all their food and toes!

Canoes and Sailing

Ko te iwi te wairua o te waka, ko te waka te wairua o te iwi ... the people are the spirit of the canoe, the canoe is the spirit of the people.
Maori saying

In Aotearoa GLOSSARY Aotearoa - New Zealand , one of the last places to be settled GLOSSARY settled - came to and occupied in the Pacific, every Maori iwi (tribe) is connected to the crew of one of the big canoes that first arrived there. This is the starting point of their whakapapa (family line, history). Waka, the word for canoe, can be used in many different ways - for example, to mean a project or voyage done together, both physical and spiritual.

Canoes were (and still are) of great importance to Pacific peoples. In the past, they were the way to travel, trade, and get food. They were part of stories and the work of everyday life. The whole community had huge respect for them. The Pacific peoples developed different types of canoes and ways of sailing for different purposes.