Traditional Chuukese Sailing Canoe Reaches Guam

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Crew navigated 500 miles without using modern technology

By Phillip H. Blas

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, June 19, 2013) – After a weeklong sailing journey across the open sea, the traditional voyaging canoe called Lien Polowat arrived on Guam.

Voyagers arrived at the Hagåtña boat basin last night after 7:30 p.m. They were greeted by hundreds of residents, according to Department of Chamorro Affairs President Joseph Artero-Cameron. He said the sailors were greeted with traditional songs from Polowat Island.

Eight crewmembers aboard the canoe were led by Master Navigator Chief Theo. They had set sail from the island of Polowat in Chuuk late last week.

The canoe had been scheduled to arrive at 5 p.m., but low winds meant the sailing canoe was traveling at fewer than 5 knots, or 5.7 miles per hour.

The Lien Polowat will be housed at the Hagåtña canoe house belonging to the Traditions About Seafaring Islands (TASI) group.

"I'm really excited to finally see the Lien Polowat sail ashore on Guam," said Mark Benito, while waiting for the canoe to arrive.

Benito, 41, born and raised on the island of Polowat in Chuuk, said that it has always been a part of the Chuukese custom to learn the seafaring tradition.

"Nowadays the tradition is slowly dying off, though," he said with a concerned face. "Many of the younger generations leave the island for school to get an education, but they leave behind the traditions we have practiced for years."

He said the traditions of Chuuk and other islands can be preserved "by continuing to teach and educate the youth from all the islands in Micronesia... because we all are connected."

The crew navigated its way 500 miles across the Pacific Ocean, using the stars, clouds and colors of the sky as their guides.

"It is very admirable that they did it without the help of modern technology," said TASI member Ignacio Camacho.

Camacho said the voyagers aboard the canoe only brought food -- dried fish, bananas, coconut, breadfruit -- and a tracking device to send tracking information to members of TASI awaiting them on Guam.

TASI is a nonprofit that promotes traditional seafaring through carving and navigation.

"It is a difficult and dangerous journey," said Polowatese sailor Remikio Onopey, 51, who has been a traditional seafarer for 20 years.

"But it is something that must be done to keep our cultural roots alive ... also to help promote and revive Guam's seafaring tradition as well."

The Lien Polowat is a 28-foot voyaging canoe made of seven breadfruit trees and equipped with both a woven pandanus sail and a modern Dacron, or polyester, sail.

"It was built traditionally -- without modern rope and tools -- using local materials," Camacho confirmed.

The sailors will now rest for few weeks on Guam.

During their stay they will be taking apart the Lien Polowat for shipment to the Oceanic Culture Museum in Okinawa, Japan.

Dedicated to Sikau

The Lien Polowat is the last canoe built by Master Navigator Manny Sikau, who died of a stroke at the age of 55 in February.

The sailors used the voyage as an opportunity to pay tribute to Sikau by setting sail one last time.

Sikau was a seventh-generation Carolinian master navigator from Polowat who first came to Guam in the 1970s with his grandfather -- aboard a canoe. He dedicated his life to working with Guam communities to help revive the island's lost seafaring traditions.

Sikau, trained by his father, master canoe builder Orhailamin Sikau in 1966, co-founded the University of Guam's Traditional Seafaring Society in 1999.

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