All across the south pacific, the dugout outrigger canoes have served as the go-to, workhorse boats for centuries, providing reliable transportation for fishing, traveling, exploring, and even warring and conquering. In many places these very capable boats are being phased out, as the skills to handle and build the boats get lost to subsequent generations. But the more modern fiberglass open boats ("fibers") are expensive to buy and repair, and their outboard motors are also expensive, and can be nearly impossible to maintain in remote communities.
|Mele's old canoe|
The chief of the village of Muanaicake has expressed a desire for the men of the village to build more of the canoes, both to keep the cultural expertise alive among the skilled carvers of the village, but even more importantly as a source of reliable time proven transport within the lagoon.
Very interesting boats, the outrigger designs of the south pacific always need to have the outrigger on the upwind side. This means that to reverse direction, the rudder is moved to the opposite end of the boat, and the sailrig moved back where the rudder was!!!
|Mele sailing his old canoe with Graham from s/y Maunie. Note the bailing bucket, in use constantly!!! Photo by s/v Charisma|
At present there is just one remaining sailable canoe left in Muanaicake. One of the other villages on Fulaga has one or two as well. We heard that Mele, one of the village's most skilled carver and sailor, had been working in the bush on a new dugout to replace his aging (6 years old) canoe....they apparently don't have a very long usable lifespan before rot and waterlogging claim their next victim. Mele had been working on his new canoe for 5 months, and he needed help to haul it to the water.
Along with a few men from the village, 4 or 5 of us kaipalangis met at the beach early one morning, and together dinghied over to the location where the boat could be launched from the woods. We left the boats in the mangroves and followed Mele about 1/2 mile into the dense bush, stepping over the logs that he had felled to serve as rollers for his new boat.
|Mele leads the way|
|Planning the next move...|
Mele, a charismatic, quiet leader, sat down to work, and with a few deft strokes, cut slots to anchor sticks securing a tow vine which he cut with his machete from a tree above.
|Mele working on a piece which will become the canoe's deck|
|Elegant system to secure towing vine|
|Ready to go!!!|
At last, after about 4 hours we arrived at the mangroves, and with a final 1.....2.....3......, the dugout slid into the water for the first time.
|Mele and his new and old boats|
Two other men in the village, Sake and Alfreddi say they will be starting their canoes soon, and promise that we will be able to hold races when we return to visit next year!!! We can't wait!