Traditional Micronesian Canoes Arrive In Guam

Navigators to take part in Festival of Pacific Arts

By Jerick Sablan

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, May 17, 2016) – Traditional navigators sailing to Guam in canoes were warmly greeted Monday when they arrived by sea from islands in the Federated States of Micronesia.

The navigators are delegates taking part in the upcoming Festival of Pacific Arts, a major cultural festival being held in Guam from Sunday to June 4.

A total of five canoes arrived in Guam on Monday morning and afternoon. The canoes spent several days on the water. The boats were docked at Paseo de Susana in Hagåtña, the main location of FestPac.

More than 20 people came on three canoes — two from Poluwat (about 500 miles southeast of Guam) and one from Houk (about 570 miles southeast of Guam). The three canoes came in the morning.

Another two canoes, from Lamotrek (about 420 miles southeast of Guam) brought more than 10 people in the afternoon.

Members of the FSM community staying in Guam greeted the navigators with chants, dances and treats thrown to the navigators.

Chamorro chanters from I Fanalai’an greeted the seafarers with chants as well.

The largest canoe from Lamotrek in Yap, called the Queen Veronica, did not arrive in Guam Monday.

Navigator Larry Raigetal, who came in on the canoe Lucky Star, said they lost track of the Queen Veronica two days before they arrived in Guam and said he’s hopeful the sailors are doing fine.

He said the navigator on that ship might be teaching an important lesson on the journey, but if the canoe isn’t seen in a certain time frame, there would be reason to worry.

The trip to Guam from Lamotrek took five days, he said. Most of the trip went well, but at one point they had to make temporary repairs on the canoes.

The trip would have been shorter, but the currents south of Guam were very strong, he said.

Raigetal is with the nonprofit group Waa’gey, which promotes traditional navigation and works with the community to empower young people to learn and practice the skills.

It was his first time taking the journey up to Guam, and for many of the crew it would be their first time ever being in Guam.

"It’s good to be on land," he said.

He said young people of the Pacific Islands need to learn and be proud of their navigational history.

"These islands weren’t just settled by mistake. These are islands that belong to great navigators in the past, including Guam and the whole entire Pacific. We are voyagers," he said.

Taking such a long journey has always been a dream, especially since these kinds of journeys to Guam ceased in the 1700s, Raigetal said. In those days, canoes from the islands in the FSM would trade with Guam, but stopped because of outside influence.

"For us to do this, we feel great honor and pride," he said.

In Raigetal’s area of the world, traditional navigation is still used because the people living there are isolated. Still, it’s important that the rest of the Pacific appreciates and uses it, he said.

Mario Benito, who came on a canoe from Poluwat, said the journey was rough at times.

The journey was about four days, On some of the days, the sea and rain made it rough, he said.

"I’m feeling happy because we’re here safe," he said.

The welcoming from the community in Guam was great, Benito said, and the seafarers felt genuinely welcomed.

Seafaring is dying out, he said, but in showing that it’s possible to make these long journeys, he hopes they can inspire others to do the same.

The seafarers had to wait awhile in the water to be cleared by local and federal customs officials before they were able to come to land.

Eager residents also waited to be able to get in the water. As part of tradition, relatives of the seafarers get into the water and are filled with so much excitement and happiness they jump on the seafarers and also throw them food from the water, Benito said.

They also sing traditional chants and dance at their arrival, he said.

It’s a dream come true to see all the canoes coming to Guam, said Ignacio "Nash" Camacho, from the FestPac Committee on Seafaring and a member of the local Traditions About Seafaring Islands group, or TASI, which promotes traditional navigation in Guam.

It’s been hundreds of years since a sight like this has been seen in Guam, Camacho said.

Seeing the resurgence of navigation happening throughout the Pacific is great, he said, and being able to share it at FestPac is exciting.

In traditional seafaring, it’s important for the crew to stay near their canoes. Thus, the approximately 70 seafarers from the islands will be living in huts at Paseo, he said.

Volunteers are still needed to help build the huts, and donations are also being accepted to help feed the navigators before FestPac begins.

Water has been brought in for the seafarers to shower, Camacho said, and restroom facilities are available at Paseo so sanitation is taken care of.

Several canoes are expected in the coming days from other islands in the FSM, and some who have landed on Saipan are on their way down to Guam, he said.

Pacific Daily News 
Copyright © 2016 Guam Pacific Daily News. All Rights Reserved

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