By Pippa Sarjeant-Jenkins
There were many different boats made by the people of the pacific nations in the first section of the Maritime museum we visited. All of the boats had something that was the same or similar, and something that was different. Some of the differences were the oars. Some of them were longer than others, some of them were rounded at the end, while others were quite pointed. Some other traits that made them different from each other were where they came from and what they were used for, for example:
RAV: the rav is an outrigger canoe from Wala, Vanuatu. Like most Melanesian paddling canoes, the outrigger is on the right, or starboard, side. Polynesian canoes, however, have their outriggers on the left, or port, side. Utility canoes like rav are used for fishing and for transportation throughout Vanuatu. The length of the rav is nine feet four inches, or two point eighty-four metres. Its beam is six feet two inches, or one point eighty-eight metres.
VAKA HEKE TAHI: the vaka heke tahi is an outrigger paddling canoe from Niue. To go fishing from Niue, a fisherman has to carry his canoe over the reef and launch it straight into the ocean, for there is no sheltered lagoon. To make it easier for the fisherman, the hull of his canoe is intentionally very light. A small log is dug out, then a “whale back” deck and “washstrake” sides are added to stop the water from coming in. The wooden pole, or stringer, between the cross beams is tied at one end so that it can be moved when the vaka heke tahi is being carried across the reef on the shoulder of the fisherman. The length of the vaka heke tahi is fourteen feet three inches, or four point fifty two meters. Its beam overall is four feet three inches, or one point three meters.
PAOPAO: the paopao is a fishing canoe from Samoa. Carved from a single log, the paopao is a one-person paddling canoe usually used for fishing from quiet lagoons or for transportation between neighbouring villages. There are two booms to attach the outrigger log, which, for fishing canoes from Samoa, is on the left, or port, side. The fisherman would regularly sit on the rear boom. The length of the paopao is eight feet six inches, or two point six meters. Its beam is thirteen inches, or three hundred and thirty milometers.
BEAM: the beam is the distance from the outside of the canoe to the outside of the outrigger.
BOOM: the booms are what connect the outrigger to the canoe.
OUTRIGGER: outriggers, which are attached to the outrigger canoe by booms, are there to balance the canoe. If a canoe has an outrigger, it also allows it to make itself a sailboat.
WHALE BACK: the “whale back” is the ridge along the stern of the canoe
WASHTRAKE: a washtrake is a side made of wood added to the hull to keep water out.
Green sea turtles
The green sea turtle, whose scientific name is Chelonia mydas, which Word does not like because it’s a Latin word, gets its name from the colour of the body fat under the shell, not from its actual shell, because, the shell is actually a brown colour, not green. Green turtles have an oval, scallop-shaped shell, a beaked head at the end of a short neck and paddle-like arms for swimming. Adults can grow up to one and a half meters long with an average weight of around two hundred kilograms. This species is found all over the world in tropical or sub-tropical waters, with two distinct populations in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The Green Sea Turtle is a protected endangered species. So be careful out there when you’re fishing.
The shark calling
At the begin of the twentieth century, shark calling was widespread in Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia, which are tiny places in the Pacific that I have practically never heard of. Today, there are only a few islands left that still use this ancient tradition.
This practice has different meanings in different parts of the Pacific. For instance, in the Solomon Islands shark calling is a playful tradition where the sharks are called into the shallower waters so that a boy can hand- feed them with pork. Then the boy would climb onto the back of the biggest shark, which would swim around before returning the boy back to where he had started. However, shark calling in New Ireland and Tonga is a dangerous and skillful tradition practiced in deep water, where the sharks are killed by hand for food. It is a process forbidden for women and accompanied with many tabus.
Shark callers have the ability to draw shark towards them with their voices and with coconut rattles. When shark callers reach their destination in the water, they shake their coconut rattle across the surface of the water and start to sing a shark-calling song. The shark callers know that sharks are attracted by underwater vibrations, which I think is super cool, and will only come with the sound of the coconut rattle and the magic of the shark-calling song. Sometimes, however, it doesn’t work and the shark doesn’t come. When that happens, one of the crewmembers has to jump overboard and be live human bait. Yikes! I suggest not doing this on your holiday.
The New Ireland people use the safest and most successful method. Safest, I am guessing, because they don’t throw their crewmembers overboard. In New Ireland, they attract the sharks to the shark caller’s small outrigger canoe with the coconut rattle and then they somehow lure the shark into a thing called an open plaited cane noose. The noose is attached to the wooden propeller shaped float, which they made from light kapiak wood. After having lured in the shark, the shark caller then holds the float above the water while keeping the noose underwater. Then he passes a lure fish on a pole through the noose and offers the lure to the approaching shark. Then, at the right moment, he pounces! When the shark is through the noose, the shark caller drops the float on the sharks back (rude!) and tightens the noose. Then he casts the shark away to fight the propeller float, which resists the sharks pull (in an announcer voice, “round one, shark versus float, fight! Ding ding!). And, since it’s a noose, whenever the shark tries to dive, the noose tightens around its body. When the shark is too exhausted to carry on, the light float brings the shark to surface of the water. Then once it has broken the surface, the shark caller kills it by smashing it on the head with big club (sounds like what a cave man would do. “Me have club, me hit bad sharky on head. Me kill bad sharky.”)
I tell you, it sounds like this all started when some queen was at the beach one day, then a group of shark scares her, then she gets mad and yells “off with their heads!”, oh wait…Just kidding! It’s actually a tradition where men prove their strength, prowess and skill.