Cause for Celebration: Open House in Taumako

from Pacific Paddler Magazine, June 2002 – by Meph Wyeth

Dateline: Duff Islands, Temoto Province, eastern Solomon Islands.

Sunday 24 March was a red letter day for the people of Taumako, Duff Islands: The official opening of the new community Hale Vaka (canoe house).

They had good reason to celebrate. This massive structure, built entirely of traditional plant materials, may be the biggest man-made thing on any island in Temotu. It’s 16 meter long main hall certainly dwarfs every building on Taumako, including the island’s stone and coral church.

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Planted at Kahula village, home turf of Lata, the Polynesian culture hero also known as Rata, La’a, and Laka, the hale vaka embodies the Taumako people’s commitment to preserve and teach their ancient canoe voyaging culture. According to their oral history, Lata was born at Taumako and built his first voyaging canoe there. He then sailed off, never returning. When Lata’s descendent Paramount Chief Koloso Kaveia started the Vaka Taumako Project in 1996, many people spoke of this effort to revive traditional building and seafaring skills as Lata’s homecoming. Now he even has a house to come back to!

This statement contains more than fancy. In Taumako tradition, a voyaging canoe embodies Lata, the first man to build one. Its elegant delta-winged sail represents Lata standing with his arms outspread to catch the wind. On both ends of its hull canoe builders carve Lata’s face, which looks up to the sky to watch the wind, and also peers forward and backward. Lata thus not only the powers of fore- and hindsight, but also propels his own canoe through time and space. Providing a home for his canoe is a fitting way to welcome Lata and the knowledge he holds back to his birthplace.