2009-12-17 Paopao Day Two


The second day of carving the canoe was quite the social event. Whenever an man brings in his rough cut canoe from the bush it is tradition for all the toeaina, elder man of the village, to gather about the canoe and offer advice on its carving. Many join in on the work showing the youngsters how to do it. One of the best canoe makers on the island was first to arrive and immediately started shaving here and there keeping a keen eye on the form and shape of the canoe belly.

As an interesting side note, during our day of carving several tamaliki’s joined in the fun. Kids are an integral part of any event in the island, whether intended or not! It makes events much more fun because they are about the only ones here who can understand my broken Tuvaluan and really enjoy talking back and forth with me. The adults just look at me like I’m crazy and starting speaking English or a very fast version of their native tongue which makes my head spin.

A brief side note: I had noticed the last several days many boys running around the beach and village in the buff. This isn’t very unusual here and there is almost always at least one tamaliki with no clothes or pants on. This seemed strange though as the flashers where only young boys and some had a sulu fashioned around their necks like their where studying to be Tibetan Monks. I asked Papa what was going on and he said they where circumcised by Tupata recently and couldn’t wear pants. It suddenly all made more sense and I felt bad. I asked why they didn’t circumcise when they were infants and he said it is tradition to do it when they are young boys. Following the healing a big feast is held the event. I suddenly became very thankful I didn’t grow up here!

The main tool used during this stage of shaping is the toki kati. It is a flat bladed iron tool much like an overgrown hoe. The handle is thick and a little longer than a hammer. The edge is very sharp and rounded at the tips to keep it from sticking in the soft vilivili wood. I purchased a tool and Papa carved a handle for me yesterday. The only problem is my toki kati was made for cane farmers and is too wide and short for canoe carving. Oh well, there were plenty of proper toki’s around and there where often two elders carving at a time.

The first stage of this process is to elevate the canoe on logs right side up. The sides are shaped first. After a good form has been achieved, the canoe is flipped over and the bottom is shaped. This takes quite a bit of skill and keen eyesight. The wood is very light and it is hard to see the slight elevation differences in the grain. The men would hack away vigorously at an area, step back, take some advise from the observers, and then proceed back to shaping. This was while another toeaina was also carving on the opposite end. It is truly a community event and no canoe is made by just one person on the island. It is said when a paopao is being formed the master craftsmen canoe builders feet take them to the spot of the work.

After the work with the toki is finished, the planer is brought out. I found an old school Stanley planer in Savusavu made in England. It is probably one of the better built pieces of hardware I’ve seen here and the price reflected it. I bit the bullet and it turned out to be a wise investment because all the elders were impressed with its ability to shape. This part of the process involves working the plane back and forth along the sides and belly of the canoe while it is still flipped over on its top. The strokes have to follow front to back, as this is the path it will travel in the water. Here is where the ultimate touch and patience is needed to make a properly balanced hull.

At first I thought canoes had a symmetrically rounded base but learned outriggers are actually a little offset. In order to balance the canoe body with the outrigger the curvature of the canoe base must be much sharper on the side with the outrigger. The opposite side is a more gradual slope.

Papa finished up the day with the bottom almost fully formed. A little work is left and then the carving on the canoes interior will begin. This work is done with a toki talie tool which similar to the toki kati but with a concaved blade. Our goal is to finish the work by Christmas but I’m not very hopeful we’ll meet this deadline. There is a two-cow wedding this weekend and about 200 people arriving over the next few days in preparation for the holiday activities. Every day more and more boatloads of visitors and returning islanders arrive carting everything from live pigs to new T.V.’s. It is quite a sight to behold and we can’t wait to see what unfolds over the next several days. It will most definitely be a holiday season like none other we’ve experienced.

One comment on “2009-12-17 Paopao Day Two

  1. Mateo, I want a blow by blow story of the two cow wedding and the Christmas feast. How will they out do the last funeral and all the other feasts??? I’m on the edge of my chair. oxoxox

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