Three canoe-builders from Ifaluk Island, in the State of Yap, Federated States of Micronesia, are teaching canoe-building skills and helping forge an international community in the process. The Honolulu Advertiser reported on August 21 that three people from Ifaluk (or Ifalik as it is called in the story) have joined five others from New Zealand and Kaua’i in an international effort to build a traditional Pacific, sea-going, outrigger canoe.
Two of the individuals from Kaua’i got together several years ago with a few other people and shared their fascination with traditional canoe-building. One day they found a large monkeypod tree in a spot where it had to be removed, in a sacred area. They realized it was an ideal size for a canoe, and they decided to build one using entirely traditional tools and methods for the construction.
Their first project, while the big tree started to dry under a shed, was to build a smaller canoe. The big canoe, now nearly finished, is 27 feet long, nearly three feet deep, and reinforced with heavy cross-beams. A photo accompanying the story shows the eight people lined up behind their construction project.
The Ifaluk canoe builders brought not only their skills but also their traditional tools, one of which is a slab of iron they got 150 years ago from German traders. The Ifaluk are teaching the others more than just canoe-building: they are also teaching how to make the carving tools. A man from Hanalei, part of Kaua’i, showed the reporter an adz he had fabricated out of a discarded lawn-mower blade. He told the reporter, “for myself, it’s about lost culture. I’m a Polynesian. We’re Polynesians together, and fulfilling one dream.”
One of the originators of the project added, however, “this is a cooperative experience between the Polynesian community, Micronesian community and the old-time haole community on the island.” Catherine Lutz mentions the fact that the Ifaluk still build traditional canoes and put out to sea in them in an excellent 1990 article, which has just been added to the Archive of this website. (See another story about that article.) Lutz relates, page 208-209 in her article, how some men took a foreign woman tourist out to sea “on one of the island’s impressive ocean-going canoes,” an action that violated island taboos and resulted in justifiable anger by the Ifaluk chiefs.
The newspaper article concludes on a hopeful, internationalist note. “We’re not just building canoes. It’s about building friendship and trust, a strong bond among people,” one of the originators of the project concluded.