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TRADITONAL PROA ‘SAINA’ LAUNCHED ON GUAM 33-foot canoe to sail to Rota

By Zita Y. Taitano

HAGATNA, Guam (Marianas Variety, Sept. 22, 2008) – With the blessing of the rain last Saturday, the Traditions About Seafaring Islands (TASI) launched a 33-foot Sakman, traditionally known to be the largest of the proas the Chamorros sailed for thousands of years.

Dr. Lawrence Cunningham, TASI historian, said the event sets an important historical precedence for Guam and is a dream come true.

"One of the most important things about the Chamorro culture is seafaring and that has been put on the backburner for several hundred years," Cunningham said. "The last canoe of this size was about 1780 as it was recorded as a large canoe and then there was not much about large canoes and mainly only about small canoes over the reef and inside the reef."

Construction for the Sakman proa began a year ago thanks to some help from the Guam Preservation Trust and various organizations.

The wood used was redwood that was brought to Guam and the canoe was built based on a drawing made by the George Anson Expedition in 1742.

The fruition of the vessel became a reality a week ago and to commemorate the completion of the vessel, a special ceremony was held at the traditional canoe house next to the Hagatna Boat Basin.

Sen. Ben Pangelinan, TASI board chairman, spoke in Chamorro and then English before a crowd of a little more than 200, as the ceremony began. During his speech, he described the history of Guam's seafaring that predates the visit of Ferdinand Magellan.

"It is with this in mind that we are proud to announce the completion of construction of a Chamorro sailing canoe, the Sakman, aptly named "Saina" meaning our ancestors," Pangelinan said.

During the course of the ceremony, Master Navigator Manny Sikau, a 7th generation navigator from Polowat of the Chuuk islands, blessed the Saina by placing young yellow coconut leaves, red clay, green coconut leaves, Palo Maria or Da'ok leaves, and Agao leaves on the vessel. Each item represented guidance and protection from a particular spirit. Sikau then threw fish and taro into the waters for the spirit of the canoe so that good things can be brought to the vessel.

"It was a blessing to ask the spirits to drive other bad spirits that would be living in the wood and any that would hurt the feelings of the spirit," Sikau explained "Also let the canoe have good luck when they go out fishing and to catch fish during the voyage and always reaching the destination."

Crew member Ron Laguana then chanted in Chamorro and blew into a shell asking Guam's ancient ancestors for protection during their journey.

The Saina's crew, after the ceremony, then sailed as far as Tanguisson beach and back as part of the ceremony.

Meanwhile, Sikau said he was surprised at the turnout, despite the rain, and is hoping that the building of the canoe will have some influence on the community, especially the island's youth.

"I just hope it inspires young people to learn the culture of canoe building so they can learn more," he said.

Pending weather conditions, Sikau and eight other men will sail their way to Rota today for the Saina's first maiden voyage beyond Guam's waters. He said "that if the wind is good and not blowing too hard, it'll take a few hours."

"But if we are going along with the wind or crossing the wind, it'll take us six to seven hours. Let's hope the weather is good," he added.

Cunningham also had some thoughts about the voyage. "To see this happen and see the young men who worked so hard on it and then make a trip to Rota. That's just the beginning. We hope to go beyond the Marianas," Cunningham said adding they will be met by the Rota mayor and other dignitaries.

The crew of the Saina that is heading to Rota is comprised of Sikau; Frank Cruz, TASI president/canoe builder/crewmember; Ron Acfalle, Tasi vice president/canoe builder/crew member; Dave Laguana, canoe builder/crewmember; Domingo Kauka, canoe builder/crewmember; Bernie Mario, canoe builder/crew member; Tony Ritter, crewmember; Paul Sablan, crew member; and Ron Laguana, crew member.

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