Anciently, the fishermen of Polynesia went to sea in wooden sailing canoes; they were expert navigators and fishermen, and the people on land depended on them to bring the bounty of the ocean back to the shore.
But these canoes had their drawbacks; although built by the world’s foremost seafaring people, they were constructed using Stone Age technology. They were hewn from solid logs, with additional planks added with lashings and breadfruit sap sealant to keep the water out. They had sails of woven pandanus matting rather than canvas or dacron; and ropes of coconut twine rather than nylon.
(Below) This is Kaiveia standing on his canoe. The canoe is built using Stone Age technology; there’s not a single metal part in it.
Occasionally a canoe would break up and sink, leaving the fishermen at the mercy of the ocean. This was the risk the fishermen took; that they would encounter heavy winds or seas that their canoes could not conquer. But they had to go; they had to feed the people back on shore. Fishing was a risky business then; it wasn’t just about bringing fish back, but also about whether the fisherman would come back.
When the modern world came to the Pacific Island region, gasoline and outboard motors rendered the traditional fishing canoes almost obsolete. Gas was cheap, and you could go to the fishing grounds in a motorboat much faster than in a canoe, and carry many more fish back. The old ways were abandoned, and motorboats became the new standard.
(Below) Stone-Age construction still in use today; this is two fishermen in Puluwat; heading out into the lagoon to feed their community.
(Below) Two more Stone-Age canoes finishing a race, with the reminders of our modern age on the right, and in the background on the left. Otherwise, this scene could easily have been from 2,500 years ago, when the first Micronesians started expanding eastward across the Pacific in canoes just like this (well, except for the t-shirts; they didn’t have t-shirts then!).
We’re building a “canoe” with the best qualities of these ancient ones, using modern materials and design knowledge. You can be a part of this too! To find out more about the canoe we’re building, click on the blue text below: