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Event celebrates traditional canoe culture, navigation

By Arlynne Chugen POHNPEI, Federated States of Micronesia (Kaselehlie Press, Dec. 5, 2011) – Yap held its Third Annual Canoe Festival on the 11th, 12th, 13rd of November at Colonia. The three-day event consisted of demonstrations and activities both in and out of the water. People from all age groups participated in these activities, which were enjoyed by spectators from on and off-island. Though it poured rain for one entire day and sprinkled almost during the entire three-day event, the weather did not seem to faze the spirit of the festival, especially the activities held in the bay.

According to Tim Bigelow, the chairman of the canoe festival committee, the committee had met for months to plan the festival. Though there were many challenges during the event, Bigelow also said that the races in the water were exciting and had a lot of spectators cheering.

"Personally, after all the headaches, troubles and issues we had to deal with, on Sunday night watching all the kids dancing to the Island Brothers and watching them really enjoying themselves, I knew it was all worth it," said Bigelow in an email interview.

The festival started with youth events -trials and youth swimming contests - and warmed up to the opening ceremony which began with speeches. The Honorable Sebastian Anefal, Yap State governor, in his speech formally acknowledged the presence of honored guests. Governor Anefal also thanked the dignitaries for attending the third annual canoe festival.

There were various demonstrations throughout the whole event. They included rope making, sail weaving, voyage chant, voyage food preparation, navigation, and canoe capsizing.

Additionally, the festival for the first time had a Learning Center which was a tent site where one could visit to see first hand how local crafts and activities were made; this included kite fishing and cooking local food.

The canoe festival, initiated by the Yap Traditional Navigation Society (YTNS), has been inviting guests from off-island to attend this momentous event. This year’s event was no exception.

[PIR editor’s note: Held in 2009, 2010 and this year, the canoe festival is a celebration of traditional ship-building and navigation emphasizing the importance of traditional knowledge and offering alternatives as fuel prices have risen, along with sea levels. During the first festival in 2009, a number of dignitaries from around Micronesia, the U.S., Japan and the United Kingdom were in attendance to see the activities planned out for the three-day gathering. Dances and canoe-related exercises, such as a demonstration on how best to right a capsized canoe, were features of the first-annual festival.]

According to Scarlet Single, who works at YTNS and who was very much involved with the planning of the festival, many people from outside had been invited to attend the festival. Honored guests who attended the festival include Paramount Chief Ibedul, Yutaka M. Gibbons, Chief Rekisiuang, Adolf Ngiraikelau, Chief Ngirmeriil, Dale Pasqual, and staff member Darius Ellis - all from the Republic of Palau.

In attendance from the state of Pohnpei was Mr. Hideo Takahashi, a Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) senior volunteer, the FSM Tourism Advisor for the FSM Department of Resource and Development in the Tourism Unit in Pohnpei.

Frank Cruz, the president of the Traditions About Seafaring Island Organization (TASI) in Guam, also attended the canoe festival. According to Single, Cruz has friendly ties with YTNS and Yap itself.

According to Single, there were initially five events planned for the festival – traditional paddling, international paddling, wrestling, swimming, and youth events. While wrestling did not take place, the other four events took place with very enthusiastic participants.

Abel Tamagpong from Tomil Municipality and a participant in the international canoe paddling said he was glad to have been a part of his team. He said the international canoe paddling was very tiresome but the feeling of accomplishment in the end was very worth it.

One of the biggest highlights of the event was the magic show which garnered a huge audience. According to Bigelow, the magician had flown in to Yap to scuba dive but was generous enough to hold a magic show as part of the festival. The huge crowd was simply in awe at all the tricks the magician could do.

"I think this year’s canoe festival was better than in the last two years," says Tresita P. Falan, a high school student who enjoyed attending the festival. When asked why she thought this year was better, Falan responded that there were more activities including the Japanese dance and the magic show.

The youth events - swimming contests, bamboo raft race, kayak race, and totang race - were also an important part of the whole event. It gave a chance for the youth to participate and win prizes.

According to Paul Lane, one of the founders of YTNS, one reason YTNS first started the annual canoe festival was to get the youth involved with canoe traditions. Indeed, one of the goals is to "re-instill pride and Yapese culture and heritage in youth". Though not all youths participate, Lane hopes to increase the involvement of youth in canoe traditions, including participation in the canoe festival itself.

The next canoe festival is set for next year; the exact date is yet to be determined.

The Kaselehlie Press

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