May 19, 2017

Meet Native Hawaiʻi: Catelin Kawahinekoa Aiwohi

To celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at the museum, we interview Catelin Kawahinekoa Aiwohi, a Native Hawaiian who works in Washington, D.C. The museum frequently invites interesting and accomplished Native individuals to share a little about their lives and work. Their responses offer insights beyond what’s in the news to the ideas and experiences of Native people today.—Dennis Zotigh

Native Hawaiian Governance 'Aha 2016
Catelin Kawahinekoa Aiwohi (first row, wearing a black blazer and long necklace) participated in the Native Hawaiian Governance ʻAha (Conference) 2016. February 2016, Oʻahu, Hawai'i. 

Please introduce yourself and, if you can, give us your Hawaiian name and its English translation.

I'm Catelin Kawahinekoa Aiwohi. The name Kawahinekoa was given to me at birth by my tūtū, or grandmother. It means “the brave, fearless woman” or “the woman warrior.”

Where did you grow up, and where in Hawaiʻi do you call home?

I was born in Wailuku on the island of Maui, and that is where I call home.

Catelin Kawahinekoa Aiwohi
Catelin Kawahinekoa Aiwohi.

What Hawaiian community are you affiliated with?

In 1920 Congress made a commitment to house the increasingly landless and homeless Hawaiian community after they had been displaced from lands they’d occupied for generations. The Hawaiian Homes Commission Act of 1920 was passed to help Native Hawaiians reconnect to the land and improve their economic situations by leasing homesteads on which they could live and farm. I grew up on the Paukukalo Hawaiian Homestead on Maui, part of the 200,000 acres of land that Congress appropriated then. 

You've also held a pageant title in Hawaiʻi.

In 2012 I won the Miss Maui Scholarship Pageant and became a goodwill ambassador for the island of Maui. During my year of service I was a spokesperson for the Children’s Miracle Network, raising funds for the Kapiʻolani Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

What is a significant point in history from your Native community that you would like to share?

Kahoʻolawe is the smallest of the eight main islands in the Hawaiian Archipelago. From 1941 to 1994, the island and its surrounding waters were under the control of the U.S. Navy. This area was used by the navy and United States’ allies as a live-fire training area. A decade-long struggle by the people of Hawai‘i succeeded in stopping the bombing of Kahoʻolawe and helped to spark the rebirth and spread of Native Hawaiian culture and values. In 1994 Congress conveyed the island back to the State of Hawaiʻi. The Hawaiʻi State Legislature had already established the Kahoʻolawe Island Reserve Commission (KIRC) in 1993. Its mandate is to manage Kahoʻolawe, its surrounding waters, and its resources, in trust for the general public and for a future Native Hawaiian sovereign entity.

What issues are the Hawaiian people facing at this point in time?

Of the nation's three major indigenous groups—American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians—we are the only one that currently lacks a government-to-government relationship with the United States. The long history of Native Hawaiians to recover our lost lands, abundant resources, and moreover our ability to self-govern, as a legal sovereign, has been blocked by both political and public policy conscription for over 120 years. The disparity in the federal treatment of Native Hawaiians has caused questions about the legitimacy of Native Hawaiian programs, services, and preferences, resulting in lawsuits threatening our assets and our ability to use them as they were intended.

Catelin Kawahinekoa Aiwohi 2
Catelin Kawahinekoa Aiwohi.

Is your language still spoken on your homelands?

The incorporation of Hawaiʻi into the United States at the turn of the 20th century included the extension of a policy against indigenous languages used as the medium of education. What had earlier been a flourishing system of education through the Hawaiian language was closed, and legal barriers to using the Hawaiian language in education were only removed 90 years later, in 1986. By that time fewer than 50 children under the age of 18 were proficient in Hawaiian, and Native Hawaiian educational achievement had plummeted.

A small group of Hawaiian educators began a plan to revitalize the language by focusing their efforts on the best chances the language had for survival: the keiki (children) of Hawaiʻi. The educators decided to create Pūnana Leo (language nest) preschools—Hawaiian-language immersion schools that would rely heavily on involvement from parents and community members to stay afloat. The first Pūnana Leo was established at Kekaha, Kauaʻi, in August 1984, with subsequent schools opening in Hilo, Hawaiʻi, and Honolulu, Oʻahu, the following year.

This started a revitalization movement that has been extremely successful, serving as a model to other indigenous communities in similar straits. According to the 2011 census, the number of fluent speakers of Hawaiian had risen to a reported 24,000, including 2,000 native speakers. The ʻAha Pūnana Leo has been one of the leading organizations in the Hawaiian language revitalization movement, and there are now a number of immersion schools and programs throughout the state. In the University of Hawaiʻi system, Hawaiian language classes are offered at all 10 campuses, and the number of second-language speakers continues to grow.

What cultural activities or events did you participate in Hawaiʻi?

I have danced hula since the age of 6. My kumu (teachers) were very influential in my upbringing and early development. They instilled in me a set of beliefs based upon our familial and cultural experiences, ultimately solidifying my identity as a Native Hawaiian woman. This identity has motivated me to travel through life confident in the key elements of what it means to be a wahine (woman) as part of a vibrant and flourishing culture. There could have been many other outlets and ways for a six-year-old's energy, emotions, and dreams, to take concrete form, but it was hula that allowed my creative dreaming to happen and those ceremonies and rituals that helped center my thoughts and behaviors.

It was also hula that taught me the history of our female gods, including Haumea, goddess of childbirth, war, and politics. I truly believe that this early understanding—an understanding that came from these powerful female ancestors—largely contributed to my spiritual and mental health and overall well-being.

What are some ways you stay in contact with your culture while living in Washington, D.C.?

I strive to cultivate and embody the values of the Hawaiian community in my everyday life:

Kuleana, to view your responsibilities as a privilege and honor, to accept responsibility as a duty, not in pursuit of reward, but because it is the right thing to do.

Haʻahaʻa, to be unpretentious and to exude a sense of humility. The word can also be used to describe a degrading and lowly state, but this is not an expression of the value. As a value, ha‘aha‘a is a sign of strength through humility.

Hoʻomau, to having perseverance and endurance. To be unceasing and committed to achieving a goal or completing a difficult task.

What message would you like to share with the Hawaiian youth who may be interested in coming to Washington to live?

Our aliʻi (monarchy) and appointed representatives conducted numerous diplomatic missions to Washington. Princess Kaʻiulani (1873–99) was only 17 years old when she left school in England to travel here to meet with federal officials to prevent the passage of the Annexation Treaty. Prior to her departure, the princess outlined her purpose: to plead for my throne, my nation, and my flag. After meeting with Kaʻiulani, President Grover Cleveland removed the treaty from consideration, although it was ultimately adopted by his successor.

Much has changed since then, but the importance of our presence here remains. As laws are being crafted and implemented every day, we cannot assume that our leaders, even those in the highest positions of authority, have had the opportunity to learn and understand the unique history of Native Hawaiians. It is important that we are here to ensure that the contributions of Native Hawaiians, as well as our unique challenges, are kept at the forefront.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Photos courtesy of Catelin Kawahinekoa Aiwohi.

To read interviews in the museum's series about Native elected leaders, click on the banner below. Meet-native-america
From left to right: Representative Ponka-We Victors (Tohono O’odham/Southern Ponca) taking the oath of office in the Kansas House of Representatives; photo courtesy of Kansas Rep. Scott Schwab. Bird Runningwater (Cheyenne/Mescalero Apache) at the Sundance Film Festival; photo courtesy of WireImage. Sergeant Debra Mooney (Choctaw) at the powwow in Al Taqaddum Air Force Base, Iraq, 2004; photo courtesy of Sgt. Debra Mooney. Councilman Jonathan Perry (Wampanoag) in traditional clothing; photo courtesy of Jonathan Perry. Suzan Shown Harjo (Cheyenne/Hodulgee Muscogee) at Blackhorse et al. v. Pro Football, Inc., press conference, U.S. Patent and Trade Office, February 7, 2013; photo courtesy of Mary Phillips. All photos used with permission.

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April 21, 2017

The voyage of building an outrigger canoe: Let's go sailing!

1. Introduction and author bio
2. Harvesting a canoe log . . . or plywood

3. Roughing out the hull
4. Making tools without metal, and, on some islands, without rock
5. Stitch and glue
6. Sanding and gluing
7. Outrigger and booms

8. Cordage
9. Lashing the booms to the hull 
10. Lashing the booms to the float 
11. Sailmaking
12. Rigging the canoe

Mid Atlantic Small Craft Festival
Heading out from St. Michael's, Maryland.


It’s taken a long time to reach this point in my story, but the canoe was actually finished by the fall of 2013—about four months after I started. That August, I took the canoe and my son (then almost 4) up to visit my cousin Allison and her husband, Steve, in New Hampshire, and they took us up to his family’s place on Little Sunapee Lake. This was my first opportunity to actually launch the canoe.

My first notion was to try it just as a paddling canoe. The Wharram's Melanesia design can be built either as a paddling canoe or as a sailing and paddling canoe, which is what I did. So beside the lake I put it together without rigging the sail.

I mounted the ‘iako (booms) and the ama (float), as well as the bamboo set-outs. I am including the first photo below to show that my cousin and I were easily able to lift and carry the canoe to the water. Two people can move this canoe even when the boat is loaded, though it helps to have a sandy beach where you can drag or shove it yourself if you are going alone.

Left: Launching the canoe on Little Sunapee Lake in New Hampshire. Right: My son rejoices as I return from the maiden voyage of paddling out. Note how the curve of the outrigger keeps its nose out of the water. Photos by Steve Pope

Out I went, and the very first thing I noticed was how incredibly stable the canoe is! There is no comparison to your ordinary tippy lake canoe. The outrigger turns this canoe into something more like a catamaran in terms of balance. The width of the platform created between the outrigger and the hull makes it a very stable craft. I paddled out, then came back and picked up my son. Now you can see, once both of us are in the craft, that the stern of the canoe is pretty close to the waterline (my son being much lighter than I am). This had been my concern as soon as I looked at the plans and images on the Wharram website, and will lead me to ultimately modify the canoe. But that’s another day.

Paddling with my son on Lake Little Sunapee. You can see why I wondered about the freeboard, or distance from the water to the deck, toward the stern.

Then we put the sail up. Oh my goodness! The craft is light, the wind was moderate but sure, and away we went, smooth as silk. I had some difficulty figuring how to simultaneously hold the sheet and steer the canoe (hence my eventual addition of the cam cleat) but it was miraculous to be sailing in a boat I had built myself. And, just a reminder, I had no previous boat-building experience, not even that much carpentry. 

Sunapee diptych
Left: Paddling out to catch the wind on Little Sunapee. Right: The classic profile of an outrigger canoe under sail. Photos by Steve Pope

With practice I got my system down and could put the canoe together efficiently in 30 or 40 minutes. Taking it apart is even faster. As I mentioned earlier, the entire craft—dismantled—fits on top of my VW Golf. I can go from my home in Baltimore to Rocky Point on Chesapeake Bay, assemble the canoe, sail for several hours, dismantle and load the canoe, and be back home, all in one afternoon.

Lashing the float and booms
Left: I've set the pieces in place and am preparing to lash the ‘iako to the hull. Right: After the iako are lashed,  I begin assembling the ama. Note the Xs and the Ys in the foreground, lashed in advance. I also carry a spare length of bamboo in case the mast or spar breaks. 

This has changed my perception of living near a large body of water. I grew up in Washington, D.C., not that far from the Chesapeake, but I had no sense of its presence at all. Now it is virtually my backyard.

Scouting the horizon  launching the canoe
Left: The canoe is assembled and rigged. My son, Holden, scouts the horizon as we prepare to leave. Across the water is Hart-Miller Island, about mile away. Right: Shoving off!
I  sealed off the area under the stern for flotation, with a valve to release water as necessary.

Here I want to point out one more minor modification I made to the design. Wharram’s instructions leave the bow and stern compartments open. You are advised to maybe get a bunch of empty plastic bottles (with their lids on) and tuck them in there for flotation. Wharram also advises you try swamping the canoe in shallow water, just to know how it will behave. Well, I never did that, but I did worry about flotation. So I painstakingly sealed the spaces under the bow and stern decks, leaving a valve to let out any water that might get in. It was really difficult figuring the shapes of the pieces to cover these areas—lots of angles and curves—but I managed. This left me feeling much safer.

Then in October 2014, my girlfriend (now my wife) and I took the canoe to the Mid Atlantic Small Craft Festival (MASCF) in St. Michael’s, Maryland. I had attended this festival the previous year, when I was invited as keynote speaker on traditional Oceanic navigation. The festival includes an optional overnight sail 9.5 miles up the Wye River to a charming campsite, and I had done that the previous year as well. I wanted to share the experience with this lovely girl.

Unfortunately, the wind was dead against us going up, and we ended up getting a tow from the safety boat (which had already transported our camping gear to the site). The previous year I paddled the entire way, as there was no wind at all, but that was too much to ask of a new partner. We spent a lovely night with the small group of others who made the trip (all of whom had larger boats, and motors).

Slow progress up the Wye River
On our way up the Wye river—way behind everyone else. 
Camping on the Wye River
The canoe moored at the campground.

The next day sailing back, the wind had shifted almost 180 degrees, and we were again at a disadvantage. The crab-claw sail just does not like to sail into the wind, but is awesome in crosswinds or downwind. Anyway, it was a lovely, sunny day and we tacked a lot, making reasonable time but gradually falling behind everyone else.

Then we reached the one spot to make the turn into the inlet where St. Michaels sits. Here we were open to the bay itself, and the 10-to-12-knot winds had again shifted to—yes, once again—directly in front of us. The sky had darkened, and the water was getting rough. My instincts told me this was serious and that I had to really pay attention. What we did not know was that a flood tide was now mixing with these strong and adverse winds.

So we tacked back and forth, endlessly, each time losing so much ground to leeway drift that we were making very slow progress going forward. But we were getting closer. The safety boat came back and told us he was going in for the evening. He asked us whether we wanted a tow. It was now about 6 p.m., in October. We said no—we were so close! On one tack, we almost arrived at St. Michaels. I decided on the next tack to go waaaaaay out, almost to the other side of the inlet, so that for sure we would reach our goal.

“Prepare to tack,” I announced, and my girl bent over to avoid the swinging spar. I started to sweep with the steering paddle to turn the canoe, then glanced down. There was six inches of water in the boat! “BAIL!!!” I yelled frantically, and she scrambled for the bailer she had been using to manage the little bit of water we had been shipping all along. Then I turned and saw water wash over the stern of the canoe. “We’re going down!” I announced, as the water came up and the canoe sank beneath us. I felt it go down past my feet, and worried that it was truly sinking, but it gradually came back up, leaving a floating bathtub.

The water was warm, thank goodness, and we had been wearing life jackets all along, but I had to scramble for our belongings that were floating away (the safety boat had transported all our camping gear, thank goodness). We tried the trick I had been taught in Micronesia: We stood on the ama in an attempt to angle the hull out of the water to empty it. But the hull did not have enough flotation for this to work, so we had to flag down a nearby catamaran. There were almost no boats on the water, as it was getting dark.

Map showing our outgoing route (red dots) and where we had to start massively tacking on the return route (black line). X marks the spot where we sank.

A surly young man with his partner and elderly parents begrudgingly rescued us with his high-end catamaran. Once we had piled our belongings on his deck, I said, “Now if the three of us just lift the canoe by the booms, we can dump the water out."

“Hey man,” he replied sternly, “I’m not here to save your boat." So I left the sail up to make it easier to spot, and watched it recede into the distance as we motored away. The man got on the radio to the Coast Guard to let them know he had rescued us, and when the Coast Guard asked about our boat, he replied “It’s just a pile of sticks.”

This is a man who has not built his own boat.

We were unceremoniously dropped off a quarter mile from where we needed to be (but where he needed to be), carrying our wet gear and wet selves through the dark and wind and back to the festival. There some friends we had met immediately swung into action to commandeer a speedboat, and we went out to get the canoe.

These are people who have built their own boats.

It was almost dark, but even with the canoe's dark sail, we were able to spot it. It had drifted almost a mile back towards the bay. Then we did as I had suggested earlier: We lifted the boat by the booms and dumped the water out, strapped it alongside, and took it back.


Flooded St. Michaels
The morning after we swamped the canoe, streets in St. Michaels still showed the effect of the flood tide.

The next day, as I was giving a demonstration on traditional canoe-building, a bunch of grey-bearded boat builders stood around my canoe, which was parked on the ground nearby. “I’d put a floor in it,” said one, “and extend those flotation tanks as far as possible." Yes, I thought. And raise the gunwales! I had always worried about how close they were to the waterline, but the Wharram folks had discouraged me from tampering with the design.

Doug sailing
Doug Herman, sailing the Nāmaka‘iwa (eyes of the frigate bird).

Now I am in the process of instigating these design changes, which I hope will make the craft safer and more seaworthy. Someday I will update this blog about that. But for now, I am signing off. This has been the voyage of building an outrigger canoe. It was something I always wanted to do, but I didn't think I had what it took. I learned—and I hope you did, too—that with just a little knowledge, a great deal of perseverance, and help from articles like this and from YouTube videos, anyone can do it. I encourage you to give it a try.

There is nothing quite like setting sail in a craft you built yourself.

Aloha nui,

—Douglas Herman, NMAI

Doug Herman, senior geographer at the National Museum of the American Indian, is a specialist on the cultural knowledge of Hawai‘i and the Pacific Islands. On April 22, as part of the Smithsonian's Earth Optimism Summit, he will give an illustrated lecture at the museum in Washington, D.C., on traditional leadership and resource management practices in old Hawai‘i. Doug curated the exhibition E Mau Ke Ea: The Sovereign Hawaiian Nation, on view January 2016 to January 2017. He also blogs for the Smithsonian and is the institution's liaison with the round-the-world voyage of the Hōkūleʻa.

All photos by RDK Herman, Pacific Worlds, unless otherwise credited.

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April 02, 2017

The voyage of building an outrigger canoe: Rigging the canoe

1. Introduction and author bio
2. Harvesting a canoe log . . . or plywood

3. Roughing out the hull
4. Making tools without metal, and, on some islands, without rock
5. Stitch and glue
6. Sanding and gluing
7. Outrigger and booms

8. Cordage
9. Lashing the booms to the hull 
10. Lashing the booms to the float 
11. Sailmaking


The whole canoe
The whole canoe, rigged for sailing, in my backyard.

The rigging for the Melanesia canoe has a few options, including a windsurfer mast and sail, which I’m sure would work really well. But I’m going for traditional here, even with my sail of blue-tarp, so I opted for the crab claw, as discussed in the previous post. This required a mast and spar. (It’s not really a boom. That’s for the more common Marconi rig). These could have been made of light, strong woods, but I used large-diameter bamboo.

Bamboo is very light and pretty strong for its weight. Moreover, it works really well for how the mast and spar are mounted. Wharram’s instructions tell you to make to Y-shaped pieces from tree branches, and then splice them onto your mast and spar. Since I am using bamboo, which is hollow, it is easy for me to simply insert these Ys into the ends of the poles. I used oak for my Ys, so that they would be as strong as possible, and epoxied them for good measure.

Ys & mast
Left: My oak Ys. Right: Inserting the Y into the bamboo mast, the bottom of which I have fiberglassed to strengthen against splitting.

As you can see below, the Y at the bottom of the mast sits atop the foremost ‘iako (boom). Gravity and the sail’s stays keep it there, but it can slide from side to side. That can be good or bad, but mostly it's hard to control, so sometimes I lash it in place. The Y at the end of the spar hooks onto the bottom of the mast. Very simple and easy.

Mast & spar
The mast and lower Y resting on the foremost boom. 

Now rigging this sail requires more rope, and here I have decided on two types. The first is good old manila rope, which has that natural, traditional look. This I have used for the stays (the ropes that stabilize the mast) and the sheet (the rope that controls the sail). I originally also used manila rope for the forestay that attaches to the bow. 

After some trial and error (OK, mostly error), I decided to make some changes. First of all, with the forestay tied to the handle on the front of the canoe I had no way of raising and lowering the sail while under way. I realized, as I careened into shore with a strong tailwind one day, that I’d better be able to do that. Moreover, you have to raise the mast before you even push off from the beach. So first I tied a pulley to the bow, and then I mounted a cleat where I could reach it. Then I purchased some commercial Dacron marine rope. Now, from my seat in the rear of the canoe, I can raise or lower the sail fairly easily.

Pulley & cleat
Left: Pulley attached to the bow. Right: The rope runs from the mast, through the pulley and over to where I can reach it and fasten it to a cleat.

Similarly with the sheet: The instructions show it simply going around the rear ‘iako. Well, I found myself holding the sheet and the steering paddle at the same time, and it got pretty stressful. I could never let go of the sheet. Now I’d sailed on regular sailboats and knew there was way to fix this problem. It’s called a cam cleat, and it has two little spring-loaded cams with teeth on them. You pull the rope through them, and the cams keep it from sliding back out. To change the position, you pull the rope up out of the cams, adjust, then pull it back down into them. Now I can adjust the sail and let go of the sheet, the cam cleat will hold it there. 

Cam cleat & stern rig
Left: The cam cleat. Normally the sheet would just go around the ‘iako on which it is mounted. Right: The sheet goes from the spar, through a rear pulley, and through the cam cleat. I can manage it easily from the stern seat that you can see.

The stays are tied directly to the foremost ‘iako, but this also turned out to make life more difficult than necessary, because they stretch a little and can need some adjusting when you’re out on the water. So I mounted two large screw eyes through which I loop and tie them with slip knots so I can easily undo and redo them. 

Stays & set-outs
Left: The stays (ropes on either side of the mast) are run through screw eyes on the forward ‘iako. Right: View of the bamboo set-outs.

I also—and I think this was suggested by the building instructions—made a pair of set-outs for each side of the canoe. I used more lengths of large-diameter bamboo and lashed them together in two bunches. These I tie lightly to the second and third ‘iako—lightly so that I can flip or slide them out of the way if I need to be paddling instead of sailing. These set-outs are useful under sail with good wind: when the canoe starts to heel over, I sit out on the opposite side to bring it back down. This is especially important if the ama (float) is on the lee side (away from the wind), in which case it is being pushed down into the water and causing more drag.

Then there is the matter of steering this canoe. I had, in my youth, tried sailing a regular sail canoe—a normal canoe rigged with a sail and leeboards that you steer with a paddle. So at first that’s how I tried to steer this one, and that worked fine if the wind was light. But if the wind was strong, the regular-sized paddle didn’t do the job, so I broke down and carved a proper steering paddle according to Wharram’s instructions. 

Steering paddle
Three stages of making the steering paddle. Left to right: The three pieces of wood glued together; the shape cut out and handle rounded; the blade honed down. 

This is a fairly simple operation. You glue two pieces of two-by-four on either side of a two-by-two. Next you cut out the paddle shape. And then you work with a plane to shave it down into a blade. This took a while, and the two-by-fours were pine with some knots in them, which made it a little more work, but in the end, I had a large steering paddle. 

Starting a paddle
Wharram provides detailed measurements for making the steering paddle. Left: Cutting out the shape of the blade. Note that the handle has already been rounded. Right: I have marked the thicknesses along the edge of the blade and have started planing it down.

I enjoyed carving this paddle so much that I figured I could do more. I wanted a paddle for my son, who was then about six. So I bought a poplar board from the hardware store, used an existing paddle to trace the shape, then cut it out and shaped it into a paddle. Just for fun, I carved and painted (as best I could) a humuhumunukunukuapua‘a on it—the Hawaiian state fish. 

Two paddles
Three paddles, two homemade. Left: The steering paddle next to an ordinary canoe paddle, to show how much larger the steering paddles is. Right: The paddle I carved for my son—large enough that he can grow into it. 
My try at a humuhumunukunukuapua‘a, the Hawaiian state fish, carved and painted on my son's paddle blade.

Unlike the sail canoe of my youth, the Melanesia does not have leeboards, much less a centerboard, so “leeway” is a problem under sail. That is, when you are sailing at an angle to the wind, the canoe is pushed sideways in addition to being pushed forward. This giant steering paddle is supposed to be used like a moveable leeboard: You stick it straight up and down, moving it forward or aft as necessary to steer the canoe. You are not supposed to use it like a rudder, which is my inclination. I am still getting used to this. 

Now it's time to put this all together and go for a sail! 

—Douglas Herman, NMAI

Doug Herman, senior geographer at the National Museum of the American Indian, is a specialist on the cultural knowledge of Hawai‘i and the Pacific Islands. On April 22, as part of the Smithsonian's Earth Optimism Summit, he will give an illustrated lecture at the museum in Washington, D.C., on traditional leadership and resource management practices in old Hawai‘i. Doug curated the exhibition E Mau Ke Ea: The Sovereign Hawaiian Nation, on view January 2016 to January 2017. He also blogs for the Smithsonian and is the institution's liaison with the round-the-world voyage of the Hōkūleʻa.

All photos by RDK Herman, Pacific Worlds, unless otherwise credited.

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March 17, 2017

The voyage of building an outrigger canoe: Sailmaking

1. Introduction and author bio
2. Harvesting a canoe log . . . or plywood

3. Roughing out the hull
4. Making tools without metal, and, on some islands, without rock
5. Stitch and glue
6. Sanding and gluing
7. Outrigger and booms

8. Cordage
9. Lashing the booms to the hull 
10. Lashing the booms to the float 


Pandanus plant
Pandanus growing in the village of Inarahan, Guam. The fruits of some species are edible.

Pacific Islanders didn’t have cloth as we know it—woven with threads of fabric. Sure, there was barkcloth (known as tapa or kapa in Hawai‘i), but this is closer to paper than to cloth. In fact, it’s made from the paper mulberry tree (wauke, in Hawaiian) by much the same method as traditional papermaking. It is felted rather than woven, and not strong enough for a sail. On top of that, on these remote islands there were no large mammals to provide hides. Besides, animal hide does not do well in water, and sails do get wet.

Things woven by Tan Floren
A small sample of the work of master pandanus weaver Tan Floren Meno Paulina. I am reliably told that making hats, far left, is the most difficult art of pandanus weaving.

The answer was truly ingenious: leaves. That is, leaves of the pandanus tree (hala), which are several feet long and very fibrous. Pandanus, sometimes called screwpine because of its corkscrew growing pattern, is one of the “canoe plants” that Pacific Islanders took with them on the canoes as they migrated across the ocean. Woven pandanus products are still used widely in the region, from small baskets and containers to large mats. And sails.

Tan Floren Meno Paulino (Tan is an honorific for female elders), a master pandanus weaver on Guam, explained to me the processing of pandanus. The hala leaves (lauhala) are picked and dried in the sun. Once a leaf is dry, a simple tool is used to strip off the thread of thorns that runs along each side. The leaf is then rolled into a coil, which sits for a while. When it is unrolled, you have a nice flattened strip of fiber. The leaf can then be pulled through a very simple gizmo that slices it into even widths for weaving. These can be very fine, for small or detailed projects, or wide for mats and sails.

Lourdes Yidwechog drying pandanus
Lourdes Yidwechog on Ulithi Atoll lays out pandanus leaves to dry.
Floren prepares fiber strips
Clockwise from upper left: Tan Floren uses a very simple knife to strip the thorny edge off the dried leaves. Then she rolls each dried leaf into a coil; when she unrolls it, she has a nice flattened strip of fiber. The leaf is pulled over a simple device that allows the user to space several blades evenly to cut lauhala into strips.
Tan Floren
Tan Floren, weaving.
Twill weave BPBM
Twill weaving on a sail in the collections of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu.

Now pandanus mats are still pretty common throughout the Pacific. They are cheap and easy to make, last a long time, and are infinitely useful. But the standard over-and-under box weaving that is used to make mats is not the same as that used for sails. Samples in the Bishop Museum in Honolulu show that sail-weaving uses a twill pattern—over two and under two. This is said to provide more strength for flexing in heavy winds. One doesn’t see this much anymore.

Sails were apparently made from a series of mats stitched together. Here is a WWII-era photo from Ulithi Atoll taken by Marshall Paul Wees, a U.S. Navy doctor stationed there during the war. You can see that the men have staked out the sail pattern on the ground with pegs and string, and are then stitching together a series of strip-shaped mats into a sail.

Men stitching mats Ulithi Atoll
Men stitching mats together to make a sail. Ulithi Atoll, ca. 1944. Their pattern is outlined in stakes and string. Photo by Dr. Marshall Paul Wees.
Needles  Bishop Museum
Bone needles in the collection of the Bishop Museum, Honolulu.

Back in the old days, stitching would have been done with needles made from bone, usually bones of large sea birds. Here is an old image of bone needles from the Bishop Museum.

These days the process is more prosaic, since the fabrics and tools are available ready-made. Wharram’s Melanesia design uses what’s commonly called a crab claw sail, after its shape. This shape was common throughout much of the Pacific, though the sailor and scholar David Lewis speculated that it was replaced in central Polynesia by Micronesian-style sails like the one shown on the Carolinian-style canoe below.

Ulithian canoe under sail
A Carolinian-style canoe with a lovely pandanus sail, ca. 1944. Off Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands. Photo by Dr. Marshall Paul Wees.
Cut-out tarp
Blue tarp from the hardware store, with the sail shape cut out of it.

Because my canoe is a cheap do-it-yourself project, my sail is made from common blue tarpaulin from the hardware store. It doesn’t look fancy, and it won’t last a terribly long time since the plastic breaks down in sunlight, but it certainly is inexpensive!

I must admit, I thought making the sail for this boat would be the most boring part. A lot of stitching, stitching, and stitching. After hewing logs into outrigger and booms, the idea of such minute work had little appeal. I was so wrong!

Working on the sail on the floor
One edge done, almost. Note the rolled pandanus mat, right, and the giant clam shell, upper left.

Step one is to cut the sail shape out of the tarp. The instructions weren’t as clear on how to do this as I would have liked, but I managed. Here is the tarp after I had cut out the pattern.

Next you lay a rope along the two sides that attach to the mast and the spar (the luff and the foot, if you must), but not the curve (or leech). The edge of the tarp is then folded over, and you use a very simple large stitch to attach this rope inside the tarp. I used polyester thread intended for exterior usage.

So, on a hot summer day in Baltimore, with the giant windows in my lofty apartment open, I sat on the floor in my lavalava stitching this sail, listening to a CD of Micronesian songs and chants. It was easy to feel that I was in a canoe house somewhere in the Pacific, doing what men have done for millennia: making a sail. It was wonderful.

The next step is to lay a second rope alongside the outside of the edge you have just stitched, and to stitch it on heavily every six inches. Basically, you are attaching loops of rope on the outside of the sail to the rope stitched inside the edge of the sail. These loops are what will be used to attach the sail to the mast and boom. A whole lot of stitching. The top edge (or leech) of the sail is simply stitched for reinforcement, since it is not attached to anything.

Stitching the ropes to the sail
Half-inch stitches secure a rope into folds along the edges that attach to the mast and boom (left). A second rope stitched to the outside creates loops used for lashing (right).

Now you can see the edge of the sail where it is attached to the mast. Clearly visible are both the rope inside the material, and the rope stitched to the outside every six inches, creating loops. Another rope passes through these loops and around the mast and boom. It’s so easy my five-year-old son could help.

My son lashing the sail
My son helping to lash the sail.

And voilà! A sail! I painted a frigate bird on it, because I named this canoe Namaka‘iwa, “eyes of the frigate bird.”

Full sail with frigate bird
The finished sail lashed to mast and boom.

Now to the last step: rigging the canoe and getting ready to sail it. 

—Douglas Herman, NMAI

Doug Herman, senior geographer at the National Museum of the American Indian, is a specialist on the cultural knowledge of Hawai‘i and the Pacific Islands. On April 22, as part of the Smithsonian's Earth Optimism Summit, he will give an illustrated lecture at the museum in Washington, D.C., on traditional leadership and resource management practices in old Hawai‘i. Doug curated the exhibition E Mau Ke Ea: The Sovereign Hawaiian Nation, on view January 2016 to January 2017. He also blogs for the Smithsonian and is the institution's liaison with the round-the-world voyage of the Hōkūleʻa.

All photos by RDK Herman, Pacific Worlds, unless otherwise credited.

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March 02, 2017

The voyage of building an outrigger canoe: Lashing the booms to the float

Part 1: Introduction and author bio
Part 2: Harvesting a canoe log . . . or plywood
Part 3: Roughing out the hull
Part 4: Making tools without metal, and, on some islands, without rock
Part 5: Stitch and glue
Part 6: Sanding and gluing
Part 7: Outrigger and booms
Part 8: Cordage

Part 9: Lashing the booms to the hull


1LashedcanoeThe hull, booms, and outrigger lashed together. I have added bamboo platforms on either side, for sitting out. At this stage, I was using commercial nylon rope for all the lashing.

Lashing the outrigger (ama or float) to the booms (‘iako) has a great deal of variations depending on the style of canoe. So much so, in fact, that when the authors of Canoes of Oceania began their study, the goal was to understanding just this facet of outrigger canoe design.

2 Hawaiian canoe at the museum
The nice, curved ‘iako of a Hawaiian canoe are typically made from hao. This canoe was built for the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in 2004.

For the Hawaiian canoe, the booms are curved downward to meet the ama near the water level. A peg is driven through each boom into the float, and then lashed. As you can see below, it’s pretty simple, using figure-eight lashing over and around the peg, then choking it and tying it off.

Carolinian-style canoes, on the other hand, have a complicated lashing system using Y-shaped sticks stuck into the float. The ama is much shorter, and the system of booms more complex, allowing the canoe to hold a platform for transporting goods. 

Lashing types
Lashing the 'iako to the ama. Upper left: A peg fixed into the ama allows for tight, secure lashing that won't slip. Upper right: Lashing on a Carolinian canoe, with the complex of pieces and holes through the ama itself. Lower: A Palauan canoe at the Etpison Museum in Koror shows a similar, elegant method for attaching the outrigger.

The canoe I am building, Wharram’s Melanesia design, uses a third method found around the Pacific, including in . . . Melanesia. It involves four sticks for each boom, bored into the outrigger at different angles and lashed to the ends of the booms. That the sticks are at different angles is supposed to provide the tension that keeps them from popping out. Variations on this method can be found all over the Pacific.

4 Fijian canoe at the Bishop
A Fijian canoe at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, showing a method similar to Wharram's.

I started out using commercial nylon rope, as seen in these photos, but then decided I wanted my canoe to look as traditional as possible. At the same time, I want it to be safe and functional. And I don’t have access to a lot of coconut sennit. So I used manila rope from the hardware store, which is the next best choice. Compared to the synthetic ropes used on today’s sailboats, manila rope is rough, less durable, and far less strong, but like sennit, it tends to swell up a bit when wet. I used it for lashing the booms to the outrigger, but not for lashing the booms to the hull. For that last part, I used a thinner synthetic rope that is strong, light, and easy to tie and untie. Wharram’s plans for this canoe didn’t include holes big enough for a larger, natural-fiber rope, so I needed something smaller, yet strong. 

Now the outrigger is a different story. The end of each boom sits in the top of two pairs of Xs formed by the crossed sticks. Then you lash over the top of each X and it holds the boom down. As I mentioned, the tension caused by the different angles of the four sticks is supposed to make them all stay put. Well, there I was out on the Chesapeake Bay in high winds when I noticed some of them had come out! If the entire outrigger fell off, I was done for. The hull will not stay upright without it. So I headed quickly back to shore, and reconsidered.

5 Xs
Left: I keep these Xs lashed together, even when they are not on the canoe. Saves one step in the whole lashing process. Right: The Xs, showing how they are at different angles. Here they are loosely lashed for demonstration purposes.

I thought about those Carolinian canoes in Micronesia, where the much smaller outrigger was attached by “sticks” (Y-shaped), but there were also holes that went through the outrigger itself to tie it securely to the booms. Not around and under the outrigger, because that would add drag. So I drilled holes through my own outrigger and lashed through those in addition to the lashing on the sticks. Now that I have ropes going through the outrigger and up and around each of the three booms, I feel oh-so-much more confident! That ama is on snug and tight. It has never since shown any sign of coming loose. A bit more work, but I think it looks pretty neat too!

6 Xs lashed through the outrigger
Note the rope going through the outrigger float itself, then up over the top of the boom. These pull the two tight together, so that even if the sticks of the Xs come loose, they will not come out.

Now you see lots and lots of lashing at the tops of the Xs (above right). This is because I had a handful of spare sections of manila rope left over from my first attempt at rigging this boat, and decided to use them for the lashing. They were significantly longer than needed, but I hate to cut ropes (or can’t be bothered to re-whip them) so I decided to make these decorative in their lashing. A bit over-the-top, but what the heck? Perhaps next summer I will reconsider. In another post, I will tell a story of how sturdy my new system proved to be.

Whipping rope? You’ve probably experienced the problem with any twisted rope—or even string—that when you cut it, the ends start to unravel. To stop this, you can “whip” the rope.

7 How to whip rope
Cut rope wants to untwist. “Whipping” the end with waxed thread stops this from happening.

This is an easy technique that I learned by chance on YouTube one day. Using two to three feet of waxed thread (you can buy waxed “whipping thread” at boating supply stores), you make a half loop and lay it against the end of the rope, the top of the loop away from the cut rope end and the tail of the loop extended a few inches beyond the cut end of the rope.

8 Whipping a cord
I have laid a loop of thread about an inch and a half along the rope. I will wrap for about an inch, leaving a nice big loop to stick the end of the thread through. I'm wrapping as tightly as possible and trying to keep it even. I’ve finished wrapping, and am about to stick the end of the thread through the loop. With one end of the thread through the loop, I pull the other end, bringing the loop (and the end of the thread) down tight behind all the wraps. Cut off the excess and you’re done!

Then, starting at the cut end of the rope (some people say the loop should be towards the cut end instead, but whatever), you wrap this thread tightly around, working your way towards the loop. When you have maybe a good inch wrapped like this, you put the thread through the loop and pull it tight. Then you grab the tail of the loop and pull the loop (and with it, the other end of the thread) through, under the coils you just wrapped. Voila! Cut off the excess threads, and your rope is whipped! For this project, I had to whip a lot of ends of ropes and got pretty efficient at it. It really doesn’t take long at all.

Next installment? Making and rigging the sail. 

Douglas Herman, NMAI

Doug Herman, senior geographer at the National Museum of the American Indian, is a specialist on the cultural knowledge of Hawai‘i and the Pacific Islands. On April 22, as part of the Smithsonian's Earth Optimism Summit, he will give an illustrated lecture at the museum in Washington, D.C., on traditional leadership and resource management practices in old Hawai‘i. Doug curated the exhibition E Mau Ke Ea: The Sovereign Hawaiian Nation, on view January 2016 to January 2017. He also blogs for the Smithsonian and is the institution's liaison with the round-the-world voyage of the Hōkūleʻa.

All photos by RDK Herman, Pacific Worlds, unless otherwise credited.

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