Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Yapese Canoes Land on Guam

Larry Cunningham, Guam historian and long-time supporter of The Insular Empire, sent me this recent news of a remarkable voyage using celestial navigation. He writes:

Two Traditional Navigation Society outrigger sailing canoes departed Lamotrek for Guam on Monday, April 26th. Their plan was to sail north and pass to the east of Guam, sailing between Guam and Rota to approach the Hagatna Boat Basin Channel from the North.  But because of the strong current, this plan changed and they came to the Hagatna Boat Basin Channel from the Southwest, four days late, arriving on April 30th.  The canoes had sailed over 400 miles of open ocean, braving strong winds, high seas and rainy weather.

The two large (over 30 ft. long) ocean-going canoes anchored at the TASI (Traditions About Seafaring Islands) canoe house,  Sahyan Tasi Fachemwan, where they plan to stay, according to TASI President Frank Cruz.  The key organizer in Guam is Former Federated States of Micronesia Yap State Governor Robert Ruecho, who is operating from the Office of Guam Governor Felix Camacho.

Lamotrek Master Navigator, Ali Haleyalur, is captain of the Simion Hokule’a, a canoe built on Satawal.  He has a crew of 11.  Maap (Island in Yap) Master Canoe Builder, Chief Bruno Tharngan is captain of the Mathow Maram.  He has a crew of nine. Dr. Eric Metzgar is making a documentary film of this voyage from Lamotrek to Guam and then to Yap. Metzgar was an apprentice of Halayalur’s late father, Master Navigator, Urupiy.  Metzgar has made several documentary films about Micronesia, including “Spirits of the Voyage.”

This voyage is unique because the crews are outer atoll Carolinians and high island Yapese.  Also, the return voyage will be from Guam to Yap and this direct voyage of over 500 miles is not documented in credible historical accounts.

The purpose of this Carolinian and Yapese voyage is to put into practice the skills Ali is teaching in the programs of the Traditional Navigation Society in Yap.  They aim to keep this tradition of non-instrument navigation alive.  This is also the goal of TASI in the Mariana Islands.  Chamorro, Yapese, and Carolinians have a strong tradition of voyages of discovery that predate Columbus and Magellan – not by a hundred or two-hundred years, but by over 3,000 years.  Without these ancient seafaring skills there  would not be the rich and diverse cultures found in Micronesia today. Contemporary voyages like the one undertaken by Ali and Chief Bruno honor that proud tradition and the cultural identity of all Micronesians. 

Spanish colonization of the Mariana Islands in the late 17th century put a stop to the trade between the Central Caroline Islands and the Marianas.  The Spanish-Chamorro Wars and the introduced foreign diseases made it dangerous to visit the Marianas for many years.  After nearly a century, in 1787, Chief Lewito of Lamotrek re-opened the trading route from Lamotrek to Guam. He made the voyage to obtain iron tools.  By 1804 the trading visits became annual events and in 1816 some Carolinians from Satawal and Elato settled in Saipan. The descendants of these Carolinians and subsequent migrations of Carolinians form a vibrant community in the Mairanas today. 

Long Live the Navigators!

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