2010-01-10: Paopao Ka Oti


After a delay of several days due to holiday celebrations Papa and I, well really just Papa and whoever walked by while we were working on it, finished the canoe yesterday! I admit there was a part of me that thought it would never happen. But alas, I now have my very own paopao. I whole new world of possibilities now open. I can now learn how to fish, cruise to parts of the reef inaccessible by foot, and enjoy the beautiful sunrises hidden from our nook inside the bay.

The canoe hull was fully carved with the help of several elders. Papa finished up a few areas and then we lightly sanded the interior and exterior in preparation for the primer. As this was done a large log was smoldering over a lovo pit nearby. The wood was very moist and must be dried out before planing to shape. The wood is called mokosoi. After the priming was complete Papa shaped the outrigger supports from a red hardwood called lakokanakoula. Finding these two pieces of wood is very difficult as they both must have a branch bending at the same angle, be the same thickness, and length. After these were shaped the canoe carrying sticks were formed. I use the term stick as they are much smaller in diameter and serve no other purpose other than transportation to and from the water. The wood used here is the lakoumanogikana. It is also a hard wood but has a strong odor and is white.

When the primer dried Papa sent his son around the village looking for a drill and drill bit. This was needed to drill the holes we marked to tie down the outrigger supports and carrying sticks. To mark the hole locations Papa used a fishing line the length of the boat and sectioned it off in fourths. Then he proceeded to balance the poles in place, step back, eye their location from several angles, adjust their position, and then set, he was done! There wasn’t much scientific about it other than years of hand-eye engineering.

Papa’s son came back with a hand drill Moses must have used on the arc. The only problem was there was no bit. So he sent him off again to another section of the village seeking the proper sized bit. Kids are the messengers and couriers for everything in the village. They do so with amazing efficiency as well. There is no back talk or arguing. They receive instruction and dart off like a predator drone seeking its target. I remember doing this as a kid as well, but definitely not without making a few sidetracks along the way or whining a bit hoping to get out of it.

The drill bit was successfully retrieved but unfortunately it was still too big. This was no problem for Papa however as he pondered the situation a few moments and then quickly headed inside his house, rummaged around, and popped out with a thick piece of wire from hurricane screening. He grabbed the trusty file and began chiseling a point. He then inserted the make shift bit into the drill and off he went making the holes. There are no trips to Home Depot on a small island in the South Pacific so improvisation is the key to any successful venture.

After the holes were complete Papa began tying the supports with fishing line. We used 100lbs test line and two full roles where used when it was all said and done. This process is very simple but somewhat tedious. After the first two supports were tied Papa’s father Lemuelu, otherwise known and Papa’s Papa, helped out. The last step was attaching the now shaped outrigger to the supports. To do this, six 5” long wooden spikes from the same hard wood used for the carrying poles were carved. Then a large hole was drilled at the end of the outrigger pole and fishing line was used to tie the outrigger to the support by wrapping the line through the hole and around the bottom of the outrigger. Next three spikes where hammered into the outrigger forming a tight triangle around the support holding it firmly down to the large outrigger. Fishing line was then used to attach the spikes to the support. The excess parts of the spikes where then sawed off flush with the pole.

By the time the paopao was finished quite a crowd had gathered. Vovo had been instrumental in the outrigger attachment and several youths walking by joined in mainly for comic relief and assisting the elders. When the last tie was made Vovo’s son quickly grabbed the paopao and sprinted to the beach. Evidently ceremony for launching a paopao isn’t a bid deal as they were not going to waste any time getting her wet. I thought for sure there wold at least be a speech involved. As the paopao was hoisted ot the sea at a brisk clip another youth grabbed an oar tossed it to Vovo’s son and off he went paddling the Kioan Rokete, my paopao’s name, speedily through the bay. I tried to capture the momentous occasion but it was too dark to get good pictures. Alas, the small, but very fast, paopao was complete. Now the task before me is to learn the difficult skill of navigating the craft so I can dive and fish from it.

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