The Canoe Is the People
Indigenous Navigation in the Pacific
Satawalese kids play with model canoes
Maverick Eranginug and other Satawalese kids play with model canoes. They learn how a canoe behaves in the wind and water – first without a sail and later with one. A father makes several model canoes for his sons as they grow up. Sometimes the boys make the boats themselves. If the father is a navigator, he takes his sons on a canoe and teaches them more. When the boys are ready, he lets them sail a real canoe for practice.
From Becoming a Navigator, Becoming a Priest © UNESCO 2004. A film by J. Blumberg, R. Hunter-Anderson, R. Apusa, and B. Feinberg.
The wind on a sail can push a canoe right over. Therefore, most European boats have a deep, heavy keel GLOSSARY keel - the structure on the bottom of a European hull that works against the force of the wind to keep the boat upright that works against the force of the wind to keep the boat upright. They also have a heavy ballast GLOSSARY ballast - heavy weight placed low in the hull of European boats to keep them upright . Both the keel and the ballast slow the boat down [See figure 1].
Pacific canoes are different. They sail by working with the natural forces of the wind and water. Because of this, they don’t need extra weight to stay upright. Instead of having a deep keel in the water, the outrigger canoe puts the balancing weight (the outrigger itself) to the side – a clever solution because it doesn’t slow the boat down [See figure 2]. The canoes don’t crash through the water because their parts are flexible GLOSSARY flexible - easy to bend and move with the waves. This means less stress on the boat and less equipment failure, which is essential for long voyages. The canoes are built with very few materials. This is important on islands with few resources.
It’s not surprising that the lightest and fastest boats in the world today are modern catamarans. Their designs are based on Pacific double-hulled canoes GLOSSARY double-hulled canoes - canoes with two hulls !