Canoe Building


Canoe Life

Polynesian Migrations

Provisions for a Mircronesian Voyage

Thomas Gladwin, from "East is a Big Bird"

After the crew is selected the remainder of the preparations go forward almost automatically since everyone knows what is required to equip the canoe, provision the voyage, and meet the personal needs of each person aboard. This does not mean that the pr eparations are simple, especially the equipment which must be stowed aboard for an ocean trip. Its complexity can perhaps best be conveyed by running through the list of essential items which must be carried. They include:

--a number of paddles, enough for all crew members

--two bailers, one for each end of the canoe

--spare ropes of various sizes for mooring, repairs, and so on

--eight to ten pieces of hardwood a couple of inches in diameter and about 3 feet long used for splicing broken spars, for driving into the sand to moor the canoe, and in an emergency for firewood, lashed to the outer end of the outrigger platform

--two longer straight poles about the same diameter as the above but 14 feet long used to replace lost spars and to pole the canoe through shallows

--a heavier timber of the same length but 6 to 8 inches in diameter used as a lever to right a capsized canoe or to fashion a spare mast, lashed with the two slender poles to the inboard end of the outrigger platform

--a number of mats roughly plaited from coconut fronds used to keep food and other goods dry and to shield the canoe from the sun and drying winds when it is moored or ashore

--a box containing an adze, chisel, brace and bits, and a plane for repairs

--an open iron box (usually from wrecked Japanese equipment from World War II) for cooking fish caught at sea, with sand in it if the trip is to be short and extra weight does not matter, otherwise empty

--dried coconut husks to use for fuel for cooking

--cleaned, combed coconut fibers to twist into rope splices

--strips of coconut midrib from which to make fishhook lures, formerly used also for divination by knots

--a conch shell with a hole in its side to be blown as a horn to announce arrival, to keep track of other boats in convoy at night if there is no flashlight, and in the past to scare away storms and rain squalls

--one or two flashlights and batteries if available, used especially to check the compass at night and to shine on the sail when in convoy so that each canoe can locate the others

--a large compass, preferably protected in a box, belonging to the navigator

--needle and thread for sail repairs

--sticky breadfruit sap to patch leaks

--black paint to cover abrasions and keep the hull from waterlogging

--fishlines and fishhooks for both trolling and handlines

--a large bottle or glass float-ball filled with emergency drinking water

--if available, traditional conical hats for sun and rain made from pandanus and tied under the chin, better than any imported hats

"These things are brought aboard and stowed away, along with food, trade goods, gifts, and personal effects, and all are checked by the navigator before he pronounces the canoe ready to leave. Assembling the items is not, however, as difficult as the leng th of the list might suggest. Most of them are conveniently stowed between voyages in the eaves of the canoe house and need only be lifted down and carried to the canoe. Only after everything else is aboard and checked is the sail brought out. The sail co mes last because until it is raised it forms a bulky barrier impeding movement of men on the readying canoe.

"Meanwhile food for the voyage is prepared and assembled. There is a special word in Puluwat for the food which provisions a canoe going to a far island, but the food itself is no different from that eaten ashore. If the departure is hasty food may even b e collected from that already on hand in the various households. It is better, however, if the journey is to be long to cook freshly picked breadfruit or fresh taro and pound it and package it in big breadfruit leaves the morning the voyage begins. In thi s way it will be fresh and last as long as possible under the hot sun. For a long trip there should in addition be some preserved breadfruit. It is not as good to eat, but lasts much better even after it is taken from the cool ground. If people become hun gry after several days at sea it is usually not because too little food was put aboard but because the food became sour. Some ripe coconuts are carried as extra rations. Until the inside shell is cracked the rich, oily meat of a ripe coconut will last alm ost indefinitely. It is also good to eat along with starchy breadfruit or taro if no fish have been caught. Finally there are several bunches of younger green coconuts, drinking nuts to quench the thirst and provide the extra pleasure afterward of scrapin g out the soft white meat of the young nut."