Doc Simon interviewed in The Island Sun

Vaka Taumako Project’s Dr. Simon Salopuka was recently interviewed by The Island Sun newspaper of Solomon Islands.

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From the Archives: The Return of Lata

In answer to recent requests, here is a scan of the 1999 Sailing New Zealand article “The Return of Lata: An Authentic Polynesian Voyaging Canoe Sails Again,” by Dr. Mimi George with Paramount Chief Koloso K. Kaveia of Taumako.  The second half of the article is a brief statement of the 30 Steps to Build a Te Puke.

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Isis Maria showing a few of the beds at the organic cooperative farm

Women in Cuba

by Mimi George and Catherine Downey

When we think of the Cuban Revolution it is Che Guevara and Fidel Castro and the men who fought the Baptista Regime of totalitarianism. Little is mentioned of the roll of women. While on the bus to the western mountains of Cuba, we asked our guide “Can you speak to the role of women in the revolution?” Read more

Two Oceans or One? Hokule’a at the SW Capes of Africa

The aim of the Malama Honua World-Wide voyage is to sail a thread of connection round the world and share stories of hope that will help us all Malama Honua – care for each other and our planet.

According to Hokule’a crewman, Kaimana Barcarse, the Hawaiian concept of moana is singular – there is one ocean and it is our mother all around the world.   But in written history the Cape of Agulhas and the Cape of Good Hope are where the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Oceans meet, with often violent results. Hokule’a was not built for the giant winds and waves of this coastline. I joined the crew of the escort vessel, Gershon II, to help “Hoku” get around safely.

Agulhas & Benguela Currents along the SW Capes of South Africa

At daybreak a National Sea-Rescue Institute (NSRI) vessel towed Hokule’a out the harbor at Mossel Bay. We were so grateful for the help of this all-volunteer crew in maneuvering engineless Hokule’a in and out of South African ports. This helped us Gershon II crew to do our job of helping Hokule’a to avoid storms along the dangerous South African Coast. The crews of all three vessels were one ohana (family) supporting the message she carries.

Gershon II sailing – taken from Hokule’a by crew member Dan Lin

As we rounded Cape Agulhas at 11AM, the big low pressure we were trying to dodge slowed in its approach to western South Africa. We searched close to shore, then moved miles to seaward, until we knew we found the Agulhas current by a 2 knot increase in our speed. After sunrise we dropped the towline. Hokule’a wore her tanbark colored sails and she soon sailed past us toward Simon’s Town. We were thrilled to see her sailing free. Congregations of fur seals and whales seemed to celebrate all around us.

At Simon’s Town he NSRI crew expertly guided engine-less Hokule’a alongside a floating dock. As Gershon II approached the yacht basin we were greeted by a Jackass Penguin who swam close alongside our hull and looked in our eyes, cocking it’s head in the most engaging way. We mentioned this on the radio with NSRI and they noted “yes, the penguins are quite well trained here.”

Later we learned that this creature had next approached the NSRI inflatable, and on seeing it the crew recognized that it was in serious trouble – hyperbuoyant, dehydrated, and cold – probably as a result of having been “oiled” by a chronic leak from a military ship. It had been begging us for help! The NSRI crew swaddled the penguin to warm it, and turned it over to the nearby penguin rescue facility for treatment.

Along the tourist-safe promenade of Simon’s Town we watched small submarines depart the Naval Base, and wandered the craft vendor booths, old stone Dutch-style restaurants and shops on shore. Naval cadets jogged the streets, and did laps in a large swimming pool. We guessed it was a warm seawater pool since it was completely blanketed by seagulls after the cadets left at 6pm.

Some Afrikaners in Simon’s Town told us that they resisted complying with the 1950 Areas Act, which required non-whites to vacate areas that the government wanted to be for whites only. But eventually over 60% of the non-white residents of Simon’s Town were forced to leave with the clothes on their backs. In other areas it was 100%…and today the “townships” are still 100% non-white and most homes are tin or cardboard.

The next day the “Doc” (Carolyn Annerud) the medical officer on Hokule’a, , and I, walked to the penguin reserve on a beach just out of Simon’s Town. Hundreds of them were all around the visitors walkway, and they took turns making the “Jackass” braying sound that they were named for. We also saw some Dassi – (Petromus typicus) walking on the rocks surrounded by Native plantations in the reserve. “What is that” we asked each other. A Japanese visitor next to us declared “It’s a Lacoon!” Doc was dubious … “With no striped tail?” To me it looked like triple-size, rounded, rat.

We finally rounded Cape of Good Hope the southerly breeze strengthened and we had and a lift from the cold Benguela current. Hokule’a raised her sails, including the large spinnaker, Soon after, seven humpback whales surrounded Gershon II, and dozens of fur seals played among them and above them. They appeared to be creating a lot of bubbles – perhaps surrounding schools of fish feeding on the dense concentrations of krill that result from the upwelling of plankton between the currents. The seals and whales made great moans and cries as they dove and swooped through the bubbly areas.

Another NSRI vessel helped push Hokule’a to the dock in Capetown Harbor as a school band from a township played. Speeches and performances by an Xhosa tribal drum and dance group followed. Then Kamehameha Schools and Punahou students performed oli and hula about great Pacific voyagers and voyages. Parts of the celebration can be seen on

Capetown township school students at meeting with Hokule’a outreach team
Hawaiian students perform at Capetown township school

Days later, at the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation, we met the “Rabble-Rouser for Peace” at more length. We glimpsed the gentle balance of Arch Bishop Emeritus (ABE) Tutu and the staff members who devote themselves to peaceful actions to improve the lives of children and care for our planet. Desmond Tutu would not be quiet about injustice and suffering under apartheid, and he still speaks against wrongdoing while holding everyone to a high standard of peaceful actions.  He did so much toward bringing a peaceful end to apartheid and bringing democratic elections to South Africa..

Arch Bishop Emiritus Desmond Tutu dancing with high school band members at arrival of Hokule’a in Capetown

Nainoa spoke to ABE Tutu of the “starlight” created by his navigation of a path promoting a peaceful end apartheid in South Africa. Nainoa noted that the pointer stars of the Southern Cross are used by Hokule’a navigators, and in South Africa they appear to us upside down, perhaps signaling that we are on the opposite end of our planet from Hawaii. He eventually asked Tutu if he would permit PVS to name on of these stars for him.   D. Tutu stood up and said “I don’t think I am the right one to give such a permission” and started laughing. The laughter spread as we understood that part of what he was saying was that there was a greater authority who should be asked – i.e. the maker of stars.

Perhaps the most educational experience for our crews was a tour of Robbens Island, the World Heritage Site, located 5KM out of Capetown Harbor. This is where Nelson Mandela spent at least 27 or the 33 years in maximum security block of the prison, for leading the anti-apartheid movement. Robben Island was a prison for hundreds of years. One of the two who ever escaped the prison was the Muslim prophet Autshamato, who swam to the mainland in 1634 not withstanding Great White sharks and ripping currents.

Entry to Robbens Island World Heritage Site

Over a thousand people were detained there for having leprosy (shades of Kalaupapa), a disease that we now know is very difficult to transmit, and only 3% of people even have the genetic makeup that could allow them to catch it. Many people died at Robbens Island, from the horrible conditions as well as the torture by their captors. So now the island is dedicated to the “transcendence of the spirit” that Nelson Mandela and many others demonstrated there. The former prisoners now educate visitors as to what happened there.

Nelson Mandela’s cell at Robbens Island

Our tour guide was ‘hard core.’ He started the tour saying “If you are not asking questions you are going to be locked in one of the cells.” He was locked in the Maximum Security block B for 4 years of a 14 year sentence, when the de Klerck government freed Mandela and hundreds of other political prisoners as part of agreement with the ANC in 1993.   One journalist in the Hokule’a crew asked him what he had been arrested for. “Terrorism” was his terse reply. The journalist asked for more details. Our guide stared back at him. Then he said “if I tell you then if I want to go to the USA sometime I will not be allowed in!”

Perhaps the story of our humanity is like the story of one ocean. Various streams and currents that swirl, and often clash, as they round the south of Africa. But the result is a great upwelling of life. Today the meeting of cultures in this rainbow nation is still rewarding for those who sail in there with open hearts and commitment to the peaceful path of Malama Honua.

by Mimi George, photographs by Dan Lin

Author Mimi George

The Children of Taumako

We now have a translation of the research report of social anthropologist and round-the-world sailor, Renate Westner, MA.  She came to Taumako in 2007 to study the educational and life experience of children.

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VTP talks sustainability at Fiji Talanoa

by H. Meph Wyeth

From 14-18 July, the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, hosted a combined conference on climate change and sustainable sea transport. Read more

Sustainability & How Ancient Vessels Are Better

Superior Design and Performance Features of Nga Vaka o Lata; Sustainability and How Ancient Vessels Are Better

abstract by M. George and Simon Salopuka, for the Sustainable Sea Transport Workshop, July  2014

From the 1500s through the 1960’s, Pacific islanders lost control of their land and sea resources, their health, and their dignity, as they were impacted by colonialism, world wars, and a global economy.  During the 1970’s until now, movements for “cultural revival” featured voyages over ancient sea roads using traditionally inspired craft.

These recent cultural revival voyages were made using mostly modern materials and methods. Chainsaws, epoxy, fiberglass, plywood, metal fasteners, nylon rope, and dacron sails.  The designs of most of the revival vessels were based on stick figure petroglyphs and drawings of artists who accompanied European explorers, like Captain Cook.

Only in 1993 was it learned by outsiders that the Polynesian people of Taumako, in the SE Solomon Islands, were still capable and willing to make voyaging canoes (Vaka o Lata) using only ancient methods, tools, and materials, and amazingly efficient and practical designs.

The superior and sustainable design and performance capabilities of Vaka o Lata include:

  1. a sail shape that has been proven in wind tunnel tests to capture radically more wind force than any other,
  2. a mostly submarine hull shape that is more hydrodynamically efficient that any other,
  3. an outrigger structure that has great integrity,
  4. various windlasses and lashing patterns that are extremely strong and that allow the structure to flex when necessary, rather than break,
  5. use of specific sustainable plants and materials for each part of the canoe, according to their particular strengths and qualities,
  6. no petrochemical in the construction materials or methods,and no fuels required to power the canoe, no toxic leakage,
  7. no need for docks, deep passages, or anchorages, and no damage the coral, electrolysis, or radiation,
  8. easily renewable from locally grown plants and hand tools,
  9. cost much less to build than modern vessels, and every bit of money would benefit the community that builds it,
  10. maintenance of the vessels requires only a shelter for it, and continuing access to plants and resources that grow on the island, 11) great cargo carrying capacity, comfortable, dry, and tabile platform, and shelter from the elements for cargo, crew, and passengers

In this paper we describe the particulars of Vaka o Lata and show how many of the design features are superior to modern vessels, in addition to being much more sustainable and practical.

Holau Kaveia

Aloha Kakou!

I am so happy to tell you the good news. At last, the educational vision of the late Chief Kaveia is being fully realized! Taumako has a new generation of leaders in place, and now the small children who prepared coconut husks for sennit and who gathered and crushed seaweed into paint for the 1997 te puke, and the mature adults who made several vaka since then, are all fervently focused on learning to be voyagers. There is no confusion about the value of this ancient knowledge for the future of these Polynesians. Theywant to sail in the old way because it is who they are and because they see that the sustainable and appropriate, ancient technology, as well as the wisdom, of their ancestors is still the key to their future wellbeing. At last the phenomenal enthusiasm of the community is matched by pro-active provincial and national political support for a renewal of traditional voyaging. The customary relationships and activities that occur when a voyaging canoe arrives at a distant island are now happening. At last Kaveia’s dream is coming true.

Here I tell the story of what happened during the voyages of Holau Kaveia. I intend to write more science oriented reports next. However this story includes my subjective feelings and senses as well as some of the data about the navigation methods and environmental conditions we experienced at sea.

During September, 2012, 9 crew members from Taumako, were joined by 4 crew members from Nifiloli, 5 video and escort boat crew from Hawaii, and many community members from Taumako, Nifiloli, Matema, Fenualoa, Pileni, Nukapu, Makalom, Ndeni, Pigeon and Lomlom Islands, and Honiara. All participants and communities gave strong support for sea-going education for the new generation.

Holau Kaveia is now at Nifiloli awaiting westerly and northerly winds to make voyages to Santa Cruz, and back to Taumako. Ideally the vessel will sail home to Taumako in time for the big memorial for Kaveia. There thanks will be given, and plans will be made for future voyages. We hope to sail a fleet of Vaka o Lata to Vanuatu for a reunion with lost family members in November, 2013.

Marianne “Mimi” George, PhD.
Principal Investigator
The Vaka Taumako Project

Holau Kaveia 2012 – Report


The Cognitive and Cultural Dynamics of Taumako Navigation

A Preliminary Report by Dr. Marianne “Mimi” George
Prepared for the National Science Foundation 2009 Read more

Canoe Sailing in the Solomon Islands

You haven’t seen me on the river since the end of August. The reason is that I’ve been on Taumako, a remote island in the Solomon Islands, learning about voyaging canoes, their construction, operation, and systems of non-instrument navigation. I’ve just returned to Ohio for a few months before going back to Taumako to continue the project. Read more