By Lacee A.C. Martinez

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 7) РUnderneath a thatched-roof hut beside the Hag̴ṯa Boat Basin, Manny Sikau, with a chisel in hand, took the first swing into the center of a solid redwood log.

The seventh-generation Carolinian master navigator from Puluwat, Chuuk was given the honor on Saturday to start carving away at the center of a Chamorro canoe, known as a sakman, during the Traditions About Seafaring Islands' keel ceremony.

The keel is the bottom center portion of the canoe, explained TASI President Frank Cruz. "The shape and design of the keel is a crucial part of how it holds the form and that's why we have this ceremony," he said.

The group, with Sikau's guidance, expects to complete the sakman and revive an ancient Chamorro way of life snuffed from the island more than 300 years ago.

"The Spanish didn't want the Chamorros going back and forth, they wanted to keep them here to convert them into Christianity and establish rule," Cruz said. "Part of that effort resulted in the loss of the Chamorro canoes. A lot of canoes were destroyed and people were discouraged from building them because that was their way of escaping the Spanish."

During the ceremony, Cruz anointed the log with freshly scooped salt water from the basin as the aqua waves rippled from modern day vessels motoring out to sea.

Traditionally, a breadfruit tree or da'ok would have been used for the canoe. This time, the group is using a California redwood log, which Cruz said has its own history linked to the sea. The group inherited the log in 2003, when a Russian man trying to set a world record for sailing across the Pacific Ocean in a raft left it here.

The ceremony highlighted the need to bring back and preserve parts of the Chamorro culture lost to hundreds of years of colonization and westernization, said Jeremy Cepeda.

The 23-year-old Cepeda came with his Chamorro chant group, I Fanlalai'an, to offer chants during the ceremony.

"We as Chamorros are kind of hungry for our own cultural identity," he said. "For myself, I've been looking for things like this, something authentic."

Like the art of canoe building and navigation, much of the Chamorro language has been lost, Cepeda said.

"We're also trying to revitalize the language and focus on the authenticity of the language. We need to hold on to what we have left and build on that because we don't want that part especially to be lost. We need to take it, bring it forward and carry it with us," he said.

In addition to providing guidance and lessons in navigation, Sikau is teaching "all the values and other things that are associated with these canoes and with the flying proas in particular, and we're very honored to have Manny perform the first cuts into the heart of this canoe," Cruz said.

He noted the sakman would be finished this year in light of Gov. Felix Camacho's proclamation, marking 2008 as Silibrasion Proa, which recognizes efforts by Chamorros in Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and San Diego to reconstruct the ancient flying proa.


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