The Canoe Is the People
Indigenous Navigation in the Pacific
Taumako, is the largest island in the Duffs Group, which has nine high islands. Duff Isles are part of the S.E. Solomon Islands, which are located in the remote Western South Pacific. About 450 Polynesian language speaking people live on Taumako. They grow yams, kumara, bananas, breadfruit, taro, coconuts and eat fish and other ocean animals.
For at least two centuries, Taumakans built and sailed a type of vaka known as TePuke. They still use only ancient designs, materials, methods and tools, including their traditional Polynesian wayfinding system, Te Nohoanga Te Matangi – “the wind positioning system” – which organizes knowledge about winds, wave and swell patterns, the rises and sets of stars, and natural signs such as a light that flashes from land far into the deep sea.
Te Puke and other traditional Vaka are able to sail when the seasonal winds are right. So that meant staying at another island for months until the wind was right to make the return voyage. Today the people of Taumako need transport year round for children to go to school, for adults to go to big islands to get paying jobs, or sell their products to earn money. The must pay for school fees, clothing, and store goods, to find marriage partners on other islands, and for emergencies and disaster relief. Doing this all depends on inter-island transport. So many people in the region miss having Te Puke to meet their transport needs.