Who We Are
What We Do
We support learning how to build and sail voyaging canoes from the last Polynesian people who are experienced in doing that using fully ancient designs, methods, materials and tools. We document the technology and cultural meanings of voyaging for the crews and communities involved. We create educational collaborations and international awareness of ancient arts as they as being practiced and learned and shared by Taumako artisans and wayfinders.
Where We Work
We have worked in Temotu Province, Solomon Islands, since the Vaka Taumako Project officially started in 1996. The international office of the VTP has been located in Hawaii. As local capacities and resources are developed among the Taumako leadership, they take control directly. Local leadership works through a charitable organization called the Vaka Taumako Project of the Solomon Islands/Vaka Valo Association (VTPSI/VVA, or just VVA). VVA will assume full administrative control of all of our programs and initiatives as soon as they have adequate communications and are self-supporting. Click the link to read or download VTPSI’s Memorandum of Understanding.
A Story of Voyaging Heritage
In the far western Pacific Ocean, in a remote part of the Solomon Islands, the Polynesian communities of Taumako and Vaeakau know something that most of the rest of the world has forgotten. They build voyaging canoes, or vaka, using only local, sustainable, natural materials. They sail hundreds of miles with no modern equipment. They find their way precisely using comprehensive knowledge of wind, waves, currents, stars, and observations of phenomena that are unknown to modern mariners and other Polynesian revival programs.
Taumako artisans hand-weave pandanus leaves into fine sails, hand-twist coconut fibers into cordage, adze hulls and outrigger parts, and lash them together in complex patterns. They, use ancient designs that are supremely efficient and practical. They use a wind-based concept to connect universal phenomena such as swell patterns with star movements, seasons, light flashes on the surface of the ocean, etc, Taumakans are the only Polynesians today who use the methods and forms that their ancestors proved during millennia of voyages across most of the earth’s surface.
Taumako and Vaeakau people are the heirs of Lata, a pan-Polynesian culture-hero. Lata is known by slightly differing names – “La’a,” “Rata,” and “Laka”, throughout the Pacific. “Lata” is more male in Taumako and “Laka” is more female in Hawaii. According to Temotu oral traditions, Lata was the first person to build and sail a voyaging canoe,, and Lata was born on Taumako. Lata’s story may be thousands of years old, but it lives to this day through the maritime prowess, community relations, and outlook of these islanders. Every Taumakan is a character in the Story of Lata. As far as they are concerned everyone else is too.
As with many indigenous cultural traditions, Taumakans struggled to retain their wealth of ancient knowledge. Under British and missionary policies, the Polynesians of Temotu were forced to stop using their own vessels for several decades. The last functioning Te Puke voyaging canoe broke up in the early 1960s. Modern ships, and then fiberglass canoes with outboard motors, became the only transport in the region. A western economy replaced many Kastom ways. But petroleum is expensive. Ships are infrequent and unreliable for a sparse population of islanders who cannot afford the costs. On the Outer Reef and Duff Islands (Vaeakau and Taumako in local language) the people became poor, unhappy, and isolated. Many hoped that there could be a return to the old ways … for a “return of Lata.”
A group of old people, led by Kruso Kaveia, Paramount Chief of Taumako Island and a master navigator, dreamed of bringing their community’s voyaging practice back to life. In 1993, passing sailors David Lewis and Marianne “Mimi” George, both maritime researchers, visited Kaveia on Taumako. Kaveia asked for help in starting a project to train a new generation in the voyaging arts of his ancestors and to build a new vaka for Taumako. The Vaka Taumako Project (VTP) was officially launched in 1996, and a community of 350 men, women and children, sprang to life.
The old people led the building of the first vaka. It was a Te Puke. Because of the disorder caused by civil war in the Solomons, that Te Puke only made two long voyages But these voyages resulted in marriages of the crew members, and a desire for learning.
The young VTP students still want to gain the skills of building and sailing aTe Puke. In the 17 years since the VTP started, many Taumako and Vaeakau youth worked hard building smaller types of traditional vaka, called Te Alo Lili. Many of these students sailed Te Alo Lili to nearby islands reuniting with long-lost families and communities. Now they hope to complete their education by building the larger type of vaka called Te Puke, so that they can navigate to more distant islands. They dream to sail to Vanuatu to reunite with siblings who were sent to school there 70 years ago. They never could come back. Taumako people want to see their family members again. They want to follow in the wake of Lata, and by so doing, demonstrate the voyaging history of the region and show support for a political movement to re-open the border.
In 2009, at about age 98, Chief Kaveia passed away. In his students Kaveia left the seeds to grow the Story of Lata. The Vaka Taumako Project is now led by Chief Jonas Hollani and his Vaka Valo Group. Jonas’ students are learning more advanced lessons in how to be voyagers. Through teaching others at a school on Taumako, and in books and video they aim share what they are learning with people around the world.
The living traditions of the Vaka Taumako Project are distinguished from other Polynesian voyaging revivals in the use exclusively ancient materials, tools, and methods of building and navigation. Theirs is a world connected by sea roads and star paths, populated by cultural heroes as universal archetypes, and embodied in their community and Kastom ways.
If you can imagine the vast oceans of the world as a bounty of natural signs that bring distant islands to those voyaging canoe crews who know enough to draw on the deep knowledge of the ancients, as they search for a sustainable future, then you understand the Vaka Taumako Project. If you want to join the crew of Lata … then come right aboard. You are very welcome!