A group of five Duff Islanders of Temotu Province have recreated history by successfully linking their canoe making and sailing traditional knowledge, technology and skills with Fara’ngaw Tribal Nations of Amis ethnic group in Taitung County of Taiwan.
Led by Dr Simon Salopuka and Hon Stanley Tehiahua, Member of Provincial Assembly for Ward 13 in Temotu Province, the group includes Ambrose Miki, Captain of Tepuke the traditional sail canoe of Duff Islands, Joselyn Tatara Laua a weaving specialists, and Harry Vanosi a young Vaka Canoe designer/builder and sailor.
The sailing cultural project is part of studies undertaken by Professor Jesse Chiunghsi Liu, CEO of Foundation of Ocean Taiwan, about the Austronesian cultural group migration and peopling of Pacific Islands by tribesmen.
Studies have shown many archeological, linguistic, anthropological evidences, and DNA patterns of human, animals and plants suggest Taiwan was the original source from which the Austronesian peoples set off to settle the vast Pacific Ocean west of Taiwan, and the Indian Ocean south-east of Taiwan.
How did they voyage to settle in islands of Pacific and Indian Ocean, successfully navigating the vast oceans and also reached northern Philippine, Boneo, Malaysia, and Vietnam carrying with them the famous Taiwan jade jewelry, about 4,000 years ago?
Professor Liu believes the bamboo sailing boat was the common navigating vessel at that time, because this type of boat constructed with bamboo and powered by the quadrilateral sail were popular in Taiwan, Vietnam and Philippine islands before War World II.
Indigenous Taiwanese tribes lost the bamboo sailing boat culture several hundred years ago. It was their strong desire to restore the culture and sail again, that the Foundation of Ocean Taiwan invited the Taumako Vaka Valo culture group of Duff Islands in Temotu Province, Solomon Islands to Taiwan in August this year.
With the assistance of Raranges Hoki Na Tungaw, the Administrative Chief of Fara`ngaw nation the Taumako group joined forces with master bamboo canoe builder of the Fara’ngaw tribe nation to reconstruct the traditional sailing vessel. The work started on August 19 and was successfully completed before the group departed Taiwan on September 8.
The materials for the sail was brought in from Duff Islands, while the sail design was that typically used by the Fara`ngaw builders themselves.
The two groups then worked together to stitch the sail over hours of thoughtful calculation, meditation and discussion.
A ceremonial launching of the vessel and sail was held on August 31 presided over by elders of the Fara’ngaw tribe, and witnessed by officials from the Taitung County Administration officials, officials and student representatives from the National Taitung University Community College for Austronesian Culture, and members of the public.
Solomon Islands Ambassador to ROC Taiwan His Excellency Joseph Waleanisia represented the Solomon Islands government.
A crew which included two members each from Taumako and Fara’ngaw tribes then took the vessel on several trial sailing sessions in an artificial lake in Taitung.
Following the trial sessions in the lake, and under the testimony of Mrs. Lichai Lin, President of Foundation of Ocean Taiwan, the group successfully sailed the bamboo along Mamula beach during the noon time of September 5.
Two more trips were made the following day, before the group agreed that the sail worked brilliantly in powering the bamboo vessel in the open sea.
This was the first successful voyage since Taitung Austronesian Community College restored the Fara’ngaw sailing boat in 2014.
Earlier the Fangarau tribe had built a similar vessel in 2007 and invited traditional sail designer and canoe builder from South Africa.
The latter tribesmen traditionally built and used similar sails in the past and the expectation was the African would help restore the traditional sail piece to sail the bamboo vessel in the open sea.
The sail designed and built by the South African however failed the initial test to sail the vessel. The vessel capsized when they tried to sail the vessel in the artificial lake in Taitung County, and so the project was immediately abandoned.
This project is truly a historic achievement, according to Dr Salopuka and Professor Liu. It symbolize the successful blending together of traditional canoe building skills, knowledge and technology of Solomon Islands Taumako cultural nation, and Fara’ngaw tribal nation.
It was not only a marvelous outcome but one that is truly historical and goes to prove how people-to-people diplomacy conducted in the form of cultural interchange of cultural knowledge and skills promotes a peoples; identity and integrity and therefore bring countries and people closer together in the common pursuit of mutual respect, peace, unity and prosperity.
By Dr Simon Salopuka,
Leader of the Taumako Vaka tribal group