I’ve had an interest in the watercraft culture of Oceania since living in Hawaii in the mid 1970s, and seeing an old small outrigger canoe in the Bernice Bishop museum. Just amazing to me how people without metal tools; fashioned completely smooth boards, sewed them together with coconut fiber lines atop of the dugout log base to which also were lashed the outriggers. The narrow boat hulls made them fast and efficient. The outriggers made them stable.
Some of the outrigger designs were not just simple stabilizing floats. The flexible function of the outriggers on the Marshall islands canoes were a stroke of genius. Their ingenious design, developed over hundreds of years, is only part of their intriguing story. How they used them over hundreds of miles of open ocean pathways between islands hundreds of miles away is another great story, too.
The features and functions of the canoes of Micronesia, in this case the canoes of the Marshall Islands, are just amazing. imo,
Near the end of the above video you may have noticed children sailing small canoe models. They are called - Riwuit. Several years ago Tim Anderson posted instructions how to build a riwuit. I actually started making one, but due to other life demands the project fell by the wayside, the materials finally lost. Maybe I ought to try again.
Riwuit - making a sailing outrigger model:
The early European explorers were quite impressed by the design & speed of the canoes of the Pacific islanders, and their skills sailing them displayed during first contact. In the below link, Chamorro Islands, are the northern Mariana islands. Think, Guam, Saipan, Rota, etc. The Chamorros the indigenous people of Guam. Who called their canoes, Sakman. Later called Flying Proas, by the Europeans.
About the only thing I find annoying studying the history of canoe migrations across the Pacific are comments by people blaming the Europeans for ending their great long distance voyages. But actually, voyages between Hawaii and the Society Islands (Tahiti) ended about 1300. Long before the Europeans found the Pacific. And Captain Cook did not Hawaii until 1778. And that by accident. He had been sent to the Society Islands to observe the transit of Venus, to establish the size of the earth. And was on his way to Alaska, via a route not normally sailed. An accidental discovery.
The critics do have a point about the invaders crushing their culture. Often destroying their canoes, to control them, and suppressing their culture in many ways. But ending the long trans-Pacific voyages of the Polynesians wasn’t one of them. Thankfully, the canoe culture was somewhat preserved by the people who lived on islands that remained fairly isolated, islands of little economic value to the outsiders. There their boat building, sailing and navigational skills survived for voyages of a few hundred miles length. At least among a few people, the most notable being Pius “Mau” Piailug, in the Caroline Islands.
Sadly, diseases brought by the Europeans caused the deaths of up to 80% of native people. On many of the island groups. Islands that were densely populated at first contact with the European explorers, were often nearly depopulated when they returned years later. Many of the remaining died from brutal oppression. Or as happened many other places in the world. One tribe or group formed alliances with the Europeans, and with their help, nearly whipped out their historic enemies.
[the same disease process happened in Central and South America. The Europeans brought diseases, to which the native people had no immunity, to the Caribbean islands. The Caribbean people traded and interacted with the people of central and south America. By the time the Europeans actually went ashore in central and south America, the majority of the people, at least 80%, had already died from disease. Their cities overgrown by and hidden by the jungle. Becoming myths, that people thought never really existed. Only in recent years have the lost cities been found, using LIDAR mapping. Finding cities that archeological evidence suggest they were larger and more densely populated than London or Madrid or Paris at the time of first contact. ]
Due to objections of excavating human bones from old burials on Pacific islands as a method to track migrations via DNA testing - one of the newer strategies is to track the DNA in the bones of the Pacific Rat. They are native to the Pacific, and do not interbreed with rats species brought to the islands on European ships. No one objects to rat bones being dug up. And the rat DNA can reveal if there had been multiple voyages to different island groups over hundreds of years, not just one voyage and colonization / occupation of the island group.
The importance? One migration could be due to an accident, perhaps blown off course by a storm. Multiple migrations prove established trade routes and navigational skills.
Sweet potatoes also have DNA. One of the great mysteries is why did the Europeans find so many island groups where sweet potatoes were an established food crop.
Apparently sweet potatoes had been grown as an established food crop long before first contact. But sweet potatoes come from South America. And Thor Heyerdahl’s , Kon-Tiki theory was never considered credible, and long disproved. Though it is a great adventure story.
Tracking the sweet potato DNA to discover something about the how and when of migration, is complicated by the fact that later European explorers did bring new varieties of sweet potatoes to the Pacific islands from their base in S. American, thereby confusing and complicating DNA testing. Here is one theory:
Anyway, the historic canoe culture of the Pacific people is fascinating, theories of their origins and migrations intriguing. And contested. Maybe you will find it something fun to read about also. I recently read a new book, Sea People, by Christina Thompson. Interesting book, a great overview summary about what happened, how, why and when. While I knew the whaling industry was a big business in the 18th and 19th century. I really had no idea that in the 1840s there were about 700 whaling ships in the Pacific at any one time. A massive culture change, at least on the islands with safe harbors and close to the whales. After the 1850s the whaling trade declined because the whalers had nearly whipped the whales out.
One more informative Marshall Island Canoe culture link. From Gary Dierking’s blog, (Gary is an American who has lived in New Zealand for many years). The link has a one hour video. A wind powered boat is attractive where gas is $10/gallon, Yikes.