Monday, June 2, 2003

Kauai crew launches
hand-built koa canoe

Builders used ancient Polynesian
practices to construct the craft

LIHUE >> From a log came a dream.

A handmade koa canoe, believed to be the first constructed on Kauai in nearly two centuries, has set sail after a fervent four months of labor by a group of native Hawaiians and some expert canoe builders from Ifilik, an atoll in Micronesia.

The idea came from Santos Wichimai of Anahola, an expert canoe builder who missed his home island of Ifilik and wanted to share its culture with Kauaians.

Three men from the Micronesian atoll came to Kauai to work on the project, and once a full group was assembled, they passed up power tools, constructing handmade adzes to remove the bark and gouge away at the wood. Following ancient Polynesian practice, they used their fingers, hands, arms, feet and legs for measurement. String made from coconut husks helped hold the craft together.

And after months of six-days-a-week work, the job was done, and the 16-foot-long outrigger canoe was launched May 24 at Hanalei Bay.

It could be the first handmade koa canoe built here since the death of King Kaumualii in 1824.

"This is awesome," said Robert Pa, of Hanalei, who helped in the canoe's construction. "Hand-built is better, because you are putting your mana, your sweat and your time into making one piece of art."

The craft includes two prows that can be lined up with the stars for navigation. And it boasts a V-shaped keel that allows it to tack well into the wind.

The men strictly observed ancient taboos in their building, including daily blessings of the canoe and the avoidance of women.

"They consider the ocean a woman, and she is very jealous if she smells another woman on board," Wichimai said. "The ocean will be rough because the ocean is jealous."

With the project done, the Micronesians will return home, eager to enjoy the upcoming aku fishing season. But they plan to return to Kauai someday to begin work on another canoe.

That came as good news for Pa's daughter, Rachel, who hoped to participate next time around, despite the traditional ban of women.

"I want to help with that one," she said. "I think it is something I will remember all my life."


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