Authentic Polynesian Voyaging Canoe Sails Again

In August, 1998, the Te Puke named Vaka Taumako made its first voyage. For the first time in over forty years, a Polynesian voyaging canoe, a vaka, was built using completely traditional methods and materials. For the first time since 1963 a Te Puke voyaged on a traditional route.

The people who built and sailed the Vaka Taumako sum up the experience saying “Lata, the first person to build and sail a Te Puke, came back at last.” This is their affirmation that they are still the heirs of Lata, and when they do what Lata did they feel joy without measure.

The Vaka Taumako Project

Taumako is the largest of the Duff Islands, in the far northeast of the scattered Santa Cruz Group in the southeast Solomon Islands.

Taumako has been a community for over 2,500 years old. British colonizers banned voyaging in the 1920’s, but modern technology still does not serve Taumakans. Taumako has no electricity, no airstrip or telephone, and no anchorage for the government motorship that may call every few months. Taumakans still live in leaf houses that stand up to hurricanes, and rely on traditional gardening and fishing, weaving, carving, health care, etc.

Taumakans are not happy to be so cut off from and left out of the modern world, but they know that it is precisely because of their isolation and lack of modern development projects, such as logging and mining, that they still have extensive coral reefs and a virgin hardwood forest. They are blessed in that they still have all the natural materials necessary for building a vaka. They also have people who know how to do that using completely traditional methods.

The oldest people of Taumako actually lived the life of traditional voyaging. Until the last Te Puke broke up in 1963, they kept using the same technology that enabled our ancestors to colonize a third of the earth’s surface in a few thousand years. Now they are at the mercy of the shipping schedule, and that dependence makes them both helpless and ashamed.

Today’s young Taumakans are eager experience the joys and freedoms their great grandparents once did. They dream of reestablishing a proud and free connection to the world. They believe that traditional voyaging can still give them access to the best of the old and the new, and they beg the old people to show them the voyaging skills they know before they die. Stone-age voyaging knowledge still has both practical and spiritual value in Taumako today.

Paramount Chief Koloso Kaveia, is a key emissary from the voyaging past. Kaveia followed in the footsteps, and the wake of Lata for about 85 years. He was born in the same place as Lata, his father and children are named Lata, and he voyaged on Te Puke for over forty-five years, starting in the 1920’s when there were 200 te puke in the Santa. Cruz Group. Kaveia also endured over forty years of having no Te Puke to voyage on. Yet he is still able and willing to go to sea to show what he knows to young people.

In 1993 he asked Dr. Mimi George to help him start an educational venture he named the Vaka Taumako Project. His aim was to show young people how to build and sail a Te Puke using the ancient methods. He explained that before he and the other old people died they wanted their grandchildren to experience `the return of Lata.’

Traditionally Te Puke were made on order. Kaveia explains that the immediate reason that people stopped making Te Puke was because “all the old people died.” These old people were the ones who had friends on other islands that they could trust enough to order from or receive an order from. In the modern case, about eight thousand dollars US was needed to pay wages – enough to enable the five hundred strong community of Taumako to quit other work for a year and a half, so they could still pay their childrens school fees while working on the Te Puke. In the Santa Cruz Islands this kind of money is not available. What Kaveia needed was a reliable “order” from the outside.

Kaveia wanted the fullest possible documentation of the process, and world-wide publication of the fact that there are still Polynesians who know how to make and navigate authentic voyaging canoes by ancient methods. I agreed to head the documentation effort. I also said I would try to raise the funds to make the order, if the Te Puke would become the property of the community and be used as a training vessel.

 

What Is a Te Puke?

The written record about Te Puke is confusing and sketchy. First hand reports of voyaging canoes in the Santa Cruz Group start with Quiros, Mendana’s pilot, in 1596, and end with anthropologists William Davenport and Gerd Koch in the early 1960’s. Haddon and Hornell (1935) and many others have used the term Te Puke or pukei or puki to describe a wide variety of craft, and misidentified a photo of a smaller, faster, type of vaka called Te Alolili with the Te Puke (1935:Vol. II, fig 33). While none of them fully sorted out what was and what was not a Te Puke, many of them correctly reported that Te Puke were customarily used for voyages of several hundred miles, and that the best Te Puke were made at Taumako.

According to Taumakans, the Te Puke is a six fathom or longer, massively outrigged proa, with a riser between the hull and the crossbeam, a house on the windward platform above the outrigger, and a `crab-claw’ sail.

A minimum sized Te Puke, such as Vaka Taumako, can carry several passengers and several tons of cargo, while a large Te Puke may carry forty or more passengers. Traditionally, the paying cargo included smaller sailing canoes like the five and a half meter Te Alolili of the subtype called holoholau, and the two to four meter Te Alo, that were lashed onto the Te Puke in the manner of safety ama. Te Puke cruise at five to fifteen knots, depending on conditions, the length of the vessel, and the point of sail. A small Te Puke on an overnight voyage of one hundred nautical miles may have a crew of four, while a larger Te Puke may have six to ten crew and as many as forty passengers.

The main hull is a single hollowed out log. Since Te Puke shunt (change ends) rather than tack. When the Te Puke is sailing to windward and changes direction through the eye of the wind, crew members carry the sail from one end of the canoe to the other and restep it at the new bow. The outrigger remains on the windward side.

The sail of the Te Puke is a radically `crab-claw’ (delta wing or slender foil) shape that is woven from pandanus leaves (laufala) and tied onto a spar and a boom of almost identical dimensions. Each of these is a two part spar, the parts of which are grown to shape from a very flexible sort of mallow tree and lashed together. The spar is stepped at the bow ends (moumoa) of the hull in a special carved and lashed fitting.

Crab-claw sails outperformed every other type of sail in wind tunnel tests (Marchaj, 1995), capturing 50 to 150% more windforce than the bermudan when reaching or running, and 90% as much as bermudan when sailing to windward. In scientific terms it creates lift aided by the powerful vortices that form at the ends of the crab-claw points. Furthermore the rig has great flexibility in adjustment of the height and attitude of the sail to the wind, because the sail does not have a fixed forward edge, and is fixed only at the tack, In Taumakan terms, the way the sail works is the same as the wings of a tropic bird when it hovers over the reef.

The main hull of a Te Puke is carved from a hardwood log. Only a narrow opening is cut along the length of the hull. This opening is covered with fitted planks (tetau) and made watertight, except for an open topped, riser box that rises about a meter from the hull, midway from the ends of the hull. Using stones and drinking coconuts, the hull is trimmed to run about 90% underwater – an ancient precursor to SWATH design. The float (ama) is made of two to four floats lashed together, depending on how much buoyancy is needed. The floats are carved from soft, light, wood, such as breadfruit.

The platforms (haihale and katea) spanning the crossbeams (lakahalava) are spacious and are located almost two meters off the water, because of the riser box that is lashed between the hull and the crossbeams. There is a sturdy, streamlined leaf house (hale) on the leeward platform. It provides shelter for spare matting for the sails, cordage, tools, especially valuable cargo such as shell and feather valuables, and for the navigator/captain and any women and infants.

In the 1970s it was widely believed that the last Polynesian navigator was dead, and many thought, Taumakans included, that no more Te Puke would be built. Yet the Vaka Taumako and its crew are here today. For anyone interested in voyaging technology or traditional Polynesian culture, the launching and voyage of the Vaka Taumako is a miraculous opportunity to see what was only vaguely represented in petroglyphs and the drawings and reports of Europeans. For the community of Taumako, building and sailing the Vaka Taumako is a realisation of their ancient destiny as builders and voyagers … a manifestation of their identity as the heirs of Lata.

 

The Last Heirs of Lata

The Story of Lata remains the definitive guide to the building and sailing of Te Puke. It is the Polynesian story about the first person to build a vaka. That person is named Laka in Hawaii, La’a in Tahiti, Rata in New Zealand, and Lata at Taumako. The full story is fragmented or lost in many places, just as the practice of Polynesian voyaging almost completely stopped in this century. But, the Taumakan Story of Lata is especially informative about who, how and why to build and sail authentic vaka.

Perhaps Taumakans know more of the story because the people of Taumako kept building Te Puke until the late 1940’s or early 1950’s. Another part of this may be that, according to the story, Lata was born at Taumako and built the first vaka there, calling it a Te Puke. Today at Taumako we may still see the Te Puke mooring stones used by Lata, the place where Lata sharpened his tools, and the reef passage where Lata sailed out from never to return. There one may still hear the Story of Lata from the direct descendents of Lata, including Paramount Chief Koloso Kaveia..

The story is only really told by Taumakans during the process of building and sailing a Te Puke, and so the authentic ‘story’ takes many years. Here is a short summary of some parts of the story.

The Story of Lata

As told by Kruso Kaveia

‘A pregnant woman demanded that her husband kill a particular father eel, of the type called tuna, that was the only one that would satisfy her cravings. The father eel sent each of his ten children out of their stone house to try to fool Lata, but finally went out himself to be caught into the waiting noose. The dying eel told the husband to tell his wife to cut off his tail and keep it in a bowl of water. When the baby was born his parents left him to live in that bowl of water and suckle on the tail of the tuna. This gave the child special creative powers (mana).’

‘One day he walked out of his bowl and said “My name is Lata.” ‘

‘Eventually Lata decided to build a vaka. Lata was following a large group of people into the forest to see how they were going to try to build a vaka, when a Te Ube bird asked him to untangle its leg from a vine. Ten people before him had ignored the pigeons plea. So when Lata helped him the Te Ube told Lata he would show him how to build a Te Puke, and how to do all the labor using spiritual means.’

Te Ube showed Lata the tree and Lata (with the spiritual help of Te Ube) felled it. The next morning Lata returned to the tree and saw that it was standing again! Lata was confused at first, but then he made sure of which tree it was and he felled it again. This time some chips from the tree fell into his basket. That night he heard those chips rustling around. The next morning the chips were not in his basket and that same tree was back together again, including every chip.

‘Then a woman of mana named Hinora came out of the forest and said to Lata “this tree is mine.” Lata disagreed. So Lata and Hinora went to the mountaintop to look at the traditional property lines extending from the mountaintop down to the end of the reef. Lata saw that she was right, the tree was in her area. So, Lata apologized. Then he asked her properly for permission to use her tree, and she granted it. Later on Lata gave Hinora a conch shell to blow in answer to his own each time Lata would sail the Te Puke out of, or into, the reef passage.’

‘When it came to lashing the vaka, Lata used sennit cordage as Te Ube suggested. But Lata did not want the other people to see his lashings so he covered them with pandanus leaves. When the other people saw those lashings they copied them and lashed their own vaka with pandanus.’

‘After Lata built the Te Puke he sailed out beyond the reef. There he encountered ten people swimming in the sea. They had lashed their vaka with pandanus and it had broken up. One by one they begged Lata to come aboard and crew for him. Lata asked each one what he could do. The first said “I will bail for you.” Lata replied “come aboard.” The second said “I will manage the drinking coconuts for you.” Lata welcomed him. The third said “I will steer for you.” …etc., etc., until the ninth man said “I will steal food for you.” and Lata said “come on,” and the last man said “I will have sex with your wife,” and Lata paused, and thought to himself, “this man’s family will be very grateful if I take him along, so I will simply watch him closely.” Then Lata said “come aboard.” ‘

‘Lata and his crew sailed around during the day and in the evening Lata tried to return to Taumako, but could not. The passageway was blocked. The shell Lata gave Hinora to blow did not work, and Hinora was angry. So Hinora threw coconuts across then passage and they turned to stone, blocking the way back. That is why Lata never came back.’

‘In his absence, we the people of Taumako are miserable and we fight among ourselves. When Lata returns we come together as a people and we feel joy.’

How to Build a Te Puke

These are the traditional steps for building a Te Puke. They include some steps that modern boatbuilders do not speak of. But they are steps that Lata took, and are true for all of us.

Step 1) Plant the Gardens. To build a Te Puke, first we plant seven to nine large gardens of yams, sweet potatoes and bananas, and we start to really fatten our pigs. The foods will be eaten with fish and breadfruit and other non-garden foods as part of the feasting that marks every workday. Some big pigs will be eaten at the launching.

Step 2) Make the Sennit Cordage (Kaha). We bury piles of coconut husks in the tidal sands each week A few weeks later we retrieve them and beat them with small wooden sticks until the blackened, rotten pulp drops off the golden, seasoned fibers. A few at a time, we twist these fibers together and braid the strands into cordage. The pattern of the weave is the same pattern Te Ube told Lata to copy from the tail of the moko`uli lizard, guardian of the tree that would be selected for the main hull.

It took us seven months to make the cordage for Vaka Taumako. Cordage for a Te Puke is made of three different diameters: the biggest for lashing the hull, the riser, and the crossbeams together, the middle size for lashing the floats together, and the smallest for sewing and lashing the sail. When four hundred fathoms of sennit cordage is made, enough to lash the Te Puke, it is time to fell the tree.

Step 3) Fell the Tree. The Te Ube bird told Lata “Follow me into the forest. When I land on a tree and flutter my wings you will know that that is the tree for your Te Puke.” Te Ube pointed out a Mountain, or “True” Tamanu (Callophyllum) tree, and on 16 January, 1997, the community opened the great earth ovens in which they had baked the fruits of the first harvest from the canoe gardens. Hundreds of workers paddled to the other side of the island and climbed three miles into their virgin forest carrying adzes, axes, cooking pots and and baskets of food. Every such work day is a feast day, for Te Ube explained to Lata that if the workers do not eat well, the adze blades will not eat well. The area was cleared and the twenty-five meter tree was felled and barked in one day

The steel blades on the adzes (tupa) and axes (tekila) are our sole concession to modernity when we build Te Puke. The traditional tridacna clamshell blades such as Lata used, are just as sharp as the steel ones, but they get dull faster.

Step 4) Adze the Roughcut. To roughcut a Te Puke we first plane the top of the log, and then dig out the heartwood until the sides are about five inches thick and the bottom about eight inches. Holes are made in both ends to tie on the hauling ropes. In five workdays the roughcut of Vaka Taumako was ready to be taken to the sea.

Step 5) Make the Hauling Rope. Our community harvests the inner sheath from the bark of hundreds of haumamalu (mallow) trees, tears them into strips, and seasons them in seawater for a week. We dry the strips and then twist them together into three ropes. We braided these into a long, strong rope of about one inch diameter.

Step 6) Haul the Te Puke. To the Sea According to the Story of Lata, we haul the roughcut to the sea is aided by a long slow rain which caused the sort of slow, muddy, flooding (Te Puke) that naturally eased the tree to down to the sea. We Taumakans could not use this ancient method in 1997, because that particular part of our weather magic has been lost. Nowadays it seems that when we call rain, it rains too hard. The floods are no longer gentle enough to safely bring the roughcut down without damaging it or endangering our workers.

In January, 1997, I, Kruso Kaveia, annointed the hull with coconut water and invoked an ancient blessing. One person began to beat on the Te Puke hull with a stick in the manner of a drum and hundreds of voices rose from the surrounding forest giving full throat to the lyrical and haunting hauling chants of Lata. The joyful exuberance and gut wrenching effort of the workers was coordinated and soothed by the chanting. Roughly equal numbers of men, women, and children,alternately pulled or restrained the Te Puke using four different lengths of rope tied to it, belayed around convenient trees, and extended out through the forest to the haulers. Some of us handplanted sticks to guide the bow around obstacles and keep it from capsizing, but in some critical turns in steep sections a few `cowboy’ pointmen virtually rode the bow down kicking and planting their legs on one side or the other of the bow to steer the careening log. The lines of haulers in the forest often cannot see each other or even the hull itself as they work. The chant keeps us working together.

Laughter and tears are constant. The foods and refreshments are superb. It is a party. But there is great risk involved and intense effort required to get a perhaps ten ton log down a very rough and often very steep mountainside. In the end there are no injuries to persons or to the roughcut Te Puke hull as it slithers and digs, and sometimes bounces its way down over three (in the case of Vaka Taumako) miles of ravines and crests to the sea.

Step 7) Thin the Hull and Ends. We then shape the ends (moumoa) and smooth the outer hull. We adze the inside of the hull to about two to three inches thick, and carve the bow-ends the shape of the top and back of Te Ube birds head. The hardest part is thinning inside the turn of the bilge, which is located at the gunnels just outboard of the narrow hull opening. For this work we lash our adzes so that the heads may be rotated to the side of the handle. Our best carvers do this job. We then haul the hull ashore for assembly with other parts.

Step 8) Start Making the Sail (Laula). There are eight panels that make up a sail. Each of eight groups of women and girls undertake to make each of the eight panels. First they pick pandanus leaves, peel off the thorns, and twist each leaf to soften it. They then singe the leaves in a fire, and, when they are dry, deftly using a few inches of twisted sennit fibers held between their forefingers and thumb, to slice the leaves into quarter inch strips. The strips were woven into eight mats about one meter wide. Two of the panels were made in each of four different lengths, with the longest panels allocated to the outer edges, and the shortest panels in the center.

The height of the sail must be the same length as the hull of the Te Puke. The shortest panels are joined to each other in a zigzag pattern to make the belly of the sail. Each panel is woven as a single-weave except for double-woven “belts” about three inches wide on the outer edges and right up the middle of the panels. This process takes months.

Step 9) Paint (Limu). Our children gather many baskets of a particular seaweed from the reef, clean it, and pile it into a very large tridacna shell. Several of them pound the seaweed with stone pestles until it was crushed into a milky white soupy paste. Then older people use fragments of seaweed as rags to rub the paste into the Te Puke hull as protective paint against insects. Each coat is allowed to dry and three coats are applied. More will be made and applied to all the structures and cordage under the platform once they are made and lashed together.

Step 10) Build a Shed. We build a shed around the Te Puke to protect it and the workers from sun and rain. A temporary building of coconut leaf thatch is usually adequate, since normally a newly built Te Puke is delivered to the island of the person who ordered it very soon after it is finished.

Step 11) The Crossbeams (Lakahalava). We cut the massive crossbeams from a light, strong, hardwood named gnaignai. We adze the beams to shape, and along the section near the ama end, we carve pyramidal serrations to represent the tail of Tuna, the eelfish. This may be a reference to the holding power of the tail of a saltwater eel if one is hooked by the head rather than the middle of the body, as Polynesian fishermen and women well know. The very ends of the crossbeams have the stylized carved icon of a pigs head, because when we take pigs as cargo we hang them in cages from these crossbeams.

Step 12) The End Risers (Taupou). We adze the end risers from viaka talinge, a somewhat heavier hardwood, timber. We fashion a dovetail key between each riser and the crossbeam, so that they fit and stay perfectly in place. We shape the bottom plane of each end riser to fit down inside the gunnel flanges, and we shape a “leg” at each of the four corners of the box to hook the outside of the gunnel flanges. We lash the crossbeam in position with windlasses or tourniquet sticks (li’i) that are internal to the crossbeam, riser box, and hull structure (see step 23).

Step 13a and 13b) The Side Risers (papa or Papa Lova and Matai or Papa Matai). The Papa is the side-panel on the riser box which forms the opening into the hullon the outrigger (windward) side. The papa and the matai (below) are joined to the vertical edges of the end risers.

The Matai is the side-panel that forms the leeward wall of the riser box. For both these pieces buttresses we cut buttresses from the Viaka Ina or Na tree, which is a heavy timber strong enough to not break either from the flexing of the outrigger or at the holes where they are lashed to the risers (taupou).

Step 14) The Outrigger Platforms (Katea and Haihale). We make platforms over the outrigger (haihale) and over the hull (katea) . We lash long strips of betel nut palm to frames that are lashed to top of the superstructure. The platforms on a Te Puke must be one and a half to two meters above the water.

Step 15) The Primary Connectives (Hakatu). The hakatu are two pairs of sticks made of mallow saplings called ike. A man drives the ends of each hakatu into holes underneath each crossbeam in the midsection of the internal or primary floats (see step 17). We lash the upper ends of the hakatu to the crossbeams where they cross over them.

Step 16) The Crossbeams-to-Floatends Strut (Lou). We use kau kupenga trees for these robust, curved struts that serve to brace the ends of the floats outboard.

Step 17) The Secondary Connectives (Kaukaui). We lash sticks made of noa saplings from the primaries, or from the same hole in the floats that the primaries are driven into, to the ends of the longitudinal poles of the lath platform, and extend as far as the outrigger platform. We lash two kaukaui that on the outboard ends to a vertical pole that is driven into the primary float (utongi) in the manner of the primary connectives (hakatu), and we lash the inboard end to the outside frames of the outrigger platform (katea).

Step 18) The Primary Floats (Utongi). The utongi are the middle or primary floats (ama) into which the primary connectives (hakatu) are driven and lashed. We lash any other floats, depending on the buoyancy desired, to the utongi in the same places where the crossbeams-to-floatends strut (lou) and the secondary connectives (kaukaui) are lashed to the floats. We refer to the ends of the utongi as the Tuna, though they cannot be serrated like the ends of the crossbeams because of the lashing that must by done near the ends of the utongi. We adze the utongi from breadfruit trees of the right diameter.

Step 19) The Horizontal Stringer (Opoalu). We lash a horizontal member, the opoalu, to all the connectors to the floats. We then connect that to the crossbeam-to- floatends strut (lou) by rattan lashings that we serve with rattan. We also connect the lou to the opoalu with two more sets of served rattan lashings.

Step 20) Cut The Holes for the Lashings between End-Risers, Matai, and PapaLova. We cut two or three smooth-edged rectangular holes along each vertical edge of the end-risers. We cut corresponding holes into the side panels of the riser box (matai and papa).

Step 21) The Riser-Box to Crossbeam (Umu) Lashings. These sennit lashings hold the crossbeam to the riser-box. These lashings cannot be relashed at sea. When these began to fail on Vaka Taumako, we added rattan lashings on top of them to bind together the outside of all the structures involved. We call the patterns made in these lashings the fishtail and the earth oven (umu).

Step 22) Lash the Floats (Ama). We use the umu pattern and sennit cordage to lash the top end of the hakatu where they are joined to the crossbeam (lakahalava).

Step 23) Make the House (Hale). We lash a frame of betel nut palm timbers together into rectangular based house with a rounded, lean-to roof. We sew sego palm leaves over basts and lash these to the frame, making the entire structure watertight. We lash this house to the outrigger platform (katea) to make a streamlined and secure shelter.

Step 24) The Windlasses or Tourniquet Sticks (Li’i). Four big windlasses hold the crossbeams to the hull, three at each end of the riser box. We make the windlasses with a stick turned in rattan lashings until they are drum tight, and then we brace the stick against the inner walls formed by each riser and the matai and papa adjoining it. We make two smaller windlasses span the two crossbeams outboard of the hull and under the platforms. These prevent the crossbeams from changing their relationship to eachother.

Step 25) The Waterproof Boards (Tetau). The hull opening is sealed from the moumoa to the riser-box by boards called the tetau. We carve the tetau from Ngaingai, and lash it down with several small toggles that are braced against the inner walls of the gunnel flanges. The tetau has a carved ledge inside the longitudinal edges, so that our coconut husk caulking will compress against it. Once the edges of the tetau are well caulked, we seal the seam with a putty we make from mixing breadfruit sap and some finely shredded bark of a potu (mallow) tree.

Step 26) The Manumoumoa. We carve the Te Ube bird with a socket between it’s wings, into which we step the spar of the sail. We mount the carving of Te Ube and lash it into a special board with a hole called the “mouth of Lata” which adjoins the end of the tetau (above). The mouth of Lata is part of the face of Te Ube that stares upwards from each moumoa. While the Te Ube grips the moumoa with its feet the mouth of Lata grips Te Ube with its teeth. When Te Puke set sail, our crew members become Te Ube birds, as represented in this artful fitting.

Step 27) Sew the Sail (Laula). Lata learned to “Make the sail like a man with his arms curved over his head.” We lay the eight lengths of pandanus matting out into the crab-claw shape, the extra matting cut and the edges folded over and sewn using either mallow bark twisted cordage or sennit. We sew the seams between the panels and then tie the tip of the crab-claw to the spar is shaped very slightly more straight than the tip of the edge that we tie to the boom. We tie and serve the tack and the tips with sennit, and then When we bend the sail on, we tie the tack to both the spar and boom, and the tips of the sail to the boom and spar ends. We make long, tasseled, ties along the feet of the sails (the edges tied to the boom and spar) of sennit, and when we reefi we loosen these ties from the spar and boom at the crab-claw tip ends.

Step 28) Make the Rig. We cut the mast and reaching pole from a certain type of mallow or other light, bug resistent tree. We make the running rigging from three part twisted mallow bark cordage or fifteen part sennit braided to be oval shaped for easy handling. There are two shroud/halyards (lele kiama and lele katea) and two ends to the long, two-ended sheet. One of these is handled (haha kiama), and the other one is wrapped round the mast and round the lele ama and made fast to the mast (haha katea). The lazy end of the rope called haha katea is used to tighten the lele katea. This is called the tonga lele.

Step 29) Make the Steering Blades (Foe Vaka and Foe Ama). There are two long handled steering blades. We use the smaller one (foe ama) on the float side of the hull and the larger one (foe vaka) on the leeward side of the hull. We use brine seasoned and dried Callophylum timber for the blades.

Step 30) Test and Deliver. We must deliver the trpuke to the island of the person who ordered it. Before we do this we sail right out into stormy seas and we go out by way of a passage that is as rough as it gets. We want to know if anything is going to break. Once we know the Te Puke is seaworthy we carefully prepare and load the cargo, do our weather control work, and, when the sun is about twenty degrees off the water (at about 4:45 PM) we depart Taumako. When we arrive at our destination we blow our conch shell and listen for a reply. When the hosts blow their shell we know that they are ready to receive us and we go ashore to the valuables and feast they have prepared for us. When they are ready they will sail us back to our island and depart as proud owners of their new Te Puke.

 

‘I share this knowledge on behalf of my people, the direct heirs of Lata. It is our hope that sailors and boatbuilders who are interested in authentic voyaging knowledge will lend support to the Vaka Taumako Project. Now our community aspires to build a large tealolili to use for training of novices, and sail it to New Caledonia for the Pacific Arts Festival in 2000. Also we need modern building materials to build a “Canoe House” that will shelter our various vaka, provide a place for training and maintenance activities, and accomodate a research archive and resthouse for foreign visitors. We think that some of our supporters may wish to participate in the building and sailing programs and personally experience `the return of Lata.’

-Paramount Chief Kruso Kaveia


by Dr. Marianne “Mimi” George and Kruso Kaveia, with translation assistance by Mr. Mostyne Vane.
Originally published in Sailing New Zealand Magazine, July 1999