The Contemporary Pacific 13.2 (2001) 614-616
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Heirs of Lata: A Renewal of Polynesian Voyaging
Vaka Taumako: The First Voyage
Vaka Taumako: The First Voyage. 17 minutes, 1999, VHS (NTSC), color. Producer: Juniroa Productions. Vaka Taumako Project Archive and Research Center, Lihu'e, HI. US$20. (Both films available as a set for US$35.)
Taumako is the main island of the Duff Group in the Solomon Islands' Temotu Province. Like their well-documented Polynesian compatriots on Tikopia and Anuta, two hundred miles to the south-southeast, Duff Islanders are remote from centers of governmental authority and economic development; and like Tikopia and Anuta, this community of approximately five hundred people has retained much of its earlier culture and social organization. Duff Islanders are renowned throughout the Solomons for their seafaring exploits and their outstanding voyaging canoes, known as tepuke. Polynesians from the neighboring Reef Islands once made similar canoes and shared essentially the same seafaring traditions, as described by commentators from Haddon and Hornell to William Davenport and David Lewis.
In 1993, Taumako's elderly paramount chief, Koloso Kaveia, established the Vaka Taumako Project. His objective was to promote mastery of traditional canoe-building and voyaging skills among younger community members by building several tepuke and sailing them to remote destinations under the direction of skilled navigators. The entire procedure was to be captured on video. The project was embraced and carried out by the Taumako community, with financial support from several government ministries and private businesses, and with anthropologist Mimi George serving as director and principal investigator. These two films represent a first step in documenting the project's accomplishments.
Heirs of Lata focuses on the process of constructing a voyaging canoe, from selection and felling of a tree for the hull to the eventual launching. It includes scenes of the community pulling an enormous log along skids from the island's interior to the beach. And it shows the major canoe-making activities: shaping the hull with axes and adzes; plaiting sennit cord; lashing pieces together; fashioning pandanus sails; and preparing wood preservative from seaweed. Vaka Taumako covers some of the same ground, even using some of the same video footage, but it focuses on the project's first interisland voyage. It shows preparations for departure, the canoe's performance at sea, its arrival at Nifiloli in the Reef Islands, and the voyagers' enthusiastic reception. Both films nicely depict the community working together and provide impressive views of Taumako's elaborate, sophisticated voyaging canoes with neatly crafted shelters and gracefully curved "crab-claw" sails.
The video footage raises some intriguing comparative issues. The literature on Oceanic seafaring contains descriptions of tepuke, including a good deal of information on how they [End Page 614] are put together, accompanied by a number of photographs. The photos, however, are mostly of models; and they do not show the vessels at sea. In the films, I was struck by the Taumako canoes' round hulls, which are surprisingly slender for the complex superstructure that they support. These contrast with the deep-V voyaging hulls found in such areas as Micronesia, the Polynesian outlier atolls of Papua New Guinea and the western Solomons, or Tikopia and Anuta. Unlike those hulls, which may measure four or five feet from keel to gunwales and provide plenty of freeboard, tepuke hulls and outriggers are entirely submerged for much of their time on the open sea. This system would seem to create a lot of drag, impair the vessels' speed and efficiency, and produce a great deal of wear and tear.
Even such basic maneuvers as bailing would appear to present an intriguing challenge. The hull is essentially a hollowed-out log with a narrow opening on top. Although the opening is covered and caulked, on a lengthy...