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Polynesian canoes, an ancestral art

pirogue polynésienne

To start a cruise in Tahiti without cruising the waters on Polynesian canoes would be missing out on an essential part of the local culture: for these people who colonize many islands in the Pacific, navigation is set up as art – in particular via its “going” a ”with a characteristic profile and intended for different uses (travel, fishing or sport)…

Polynesian outrigger canoes

The Polynesian canoe, the “va’a” or “outrigger canoe” is characterized by a pendulum connected to the hull by two wooden arms, attached by rubber straps. The men then moved the boat forward with a wooden paddle, with a blade tilted slightly forward. As outstanding navigators, they understood that double canoes were faster due to their shallow draft than Western monohulls.

An essential object of the Polynesians, the outrigger canoe allowed them to travel from island to island (daily means of transport) and to practice fishing in the open sea. Each member of the crew had a very specific role – like those in charge of scooping the water, day and night, to maintain the tightness of the hulls or those in charge of the maintenance of the braiding of pandanus mats and their ties (a meticulous task dedicated to women).

An ancestral construction, which has become a sport

The construction of the Polynesian canoe was carried out with materials of plant origin (ropes of coconut husk, wood, shell, bone …), with a hull designed from very straight trees, very large, with properties adapted. The mainsail was made from pandanus leaves. Each construction was attended by the high priests, responsible for invoking the gods to bless and protect it.

Today, this traditional and sacred canoe is subject to strict regulations as to the materials to be used to retain its original appearance. To resuscitate the past, the Faafaite (“rebirth”) boat appears during major Polynesian cultural events, allowing them to reconnect with the mana (“sacred force”) of the ocean and to reappropriate navigation techniques. of yesteryear.

But Va’a has also become a sport, which revolves around 2 types of races: sailing enthusiasts do either speed races in the lagoon over 500 to 1,500 m or offshore races over 30 to 150 km. Among the emblematic competitions of this discipline are Tahiti Nui Va’a, Molokai Hoe, and Hawaiki Nui Va’a.

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