On Tuesday, Andy, Jake and I set out on a few errands and ended up visiting a place where they make canoes here in the Marshall Islands. It’s called the Waan Aelon In Majel. I have no idea what that means, but it’s basically a place where kids can go (usually the 20 something crowd of kids that have dropped out of school) and learn how to build the traditional Marshall Island canoes as well as learn some additional skills to help them in real life, like building furniture, laying concrete, roofing, and even office skills - whatever needs to be done around the compound. One of the yachties here is the director so he gave us a quick tour and we watched a little video about the history. It really was fascinating.
The outrigger canoe, at one time, was the only form of transport for both people and food between the islands here in the Marshalls. The canoe itself is known as the fastest known indigenous watercraft in the Pacific. It’s been fine tuned to sail closer to the wind than any other modern sail craft in the world. The video we saw showed how they actually made the canoes and the names they gave to the different parts. The canoe was designed with a man and woman in mind. Every part of the canoe has both a man and woman part, meant to symbolize the family unit and how it’s important to work together for a common goal. This concept is demonstrated throughout the construction of the canoe.
|Ken on s/v Moonbird giving Andy the lowdown on how|
the canoes are built.
|The two light blue canoes are the original Marshallese design.|
There are too many features to mention about the canoe itself and why it’s so fast, etc., (I’ll let you look those up), but it’s the stories that I enjoyed. There is a story about 12 brothers going out to race. They all made their own canoes and the mother showed up with a little bundle and wanted to go with the older son. He told her it would make the canoe too heavy, she should go ask another brother. She proceeded down the line with the same answer from each until she got to the youngest son. He said of course she could go with him. She carefully unwrapped her bundle and pulled out a sail. They took the time to rig it up (missing the start of the race), but as they caught the wind, they passed all the other brothers and won the race - another example of family working together.
Another skill the Marshallese are known for is their navigation. They made stick charts to not just chart the islands, but to chart the currents and wave patterns. These charts were used to pinpoint their canoe’s whereabouts as well as their teaching tool for future mariners.
One of the sad parts about all of this is that it’s a dying art. There are very few people who know how to make the traditional canoe anymore and there is no one who can weave the original sails, made out of panderas leaves. The folks here are apparently very artistic and catch on quick but don’t see the value of this, given the western influence already apparent here. This is why the program does more than just make canoes….they’re trying to provide these kids with some other skills as well.
With so little to do here for the young folks, I think it’s a great program and enjoyed watching the kids get into their work.