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The Maori Canoe

Canoes of Fiji

page 347

Canoes of Fiji

Here again we note the two usual forms of canoe—the double canoe, and the single vessel provided with an outrigger.

The single outrigger canoe of Fiji, as seen in 1829-31 by the writer of The Wreck of the "Glide," is described as follows: "The single canoe is furnished with an outrigger—that is, a stick of timber about the length of the canoe and parallel with it. Into the upper part of this log small but strong sticks are placed vertically and close together, as high as the top of the canoe. Over them and the side of the canoe is a bamboo platform like that in the double canoes. The object of the outrigger is to prevent upsetting."

In speaking of a canoe seen at the Fiji Group, Wilkes, of the United States Exploring Expedition, says: "It had a magnificent appearance, with its immense sail of white mats; the pennants streaming from its yard…. It was a single canoe, one hundred feet in length, with an outrigger of large size, ornamented with a great number of the Cypraea ovula shells; its velocity was almost inconceivable, and every one was struck with the adroitness with which it was managed and landed on the beach."

Of a Fijian chief Wilkes writes: "When Tanoa launches a canoe, ten or more men are slaughtered on the deck, in order that it may be washed with human blood."

Three canoes were seen by Wilkes in course of construction at one of the Fiji Isles. One of these was 102 ft. long, 7 ft. wide, and 5 ft. deep; the other two were somewhat smaller.

The following description of Fijian canoes was written by a member of the crew of the "Glide," a vessel that visited the group in 1829, and was wrecked there in 1831: "The Fijians have two sorts of canoes, double and single. The double canoe is so called from its having two canoes, of nearly equal size, placed parallel with each other and about four feet apart, and covered with a platform of bamboo sticks. The canoe is furnished with a mast, grooved in the top to admit the halyards. The sail is triangular in form, and is made of straw mats sewed together. Some of these double canoes are nearly as long as a ship, and will carry from three to four hundred men."

The same writer is responsible for the following: "The Friendly-Islanders frequently ply their large double canoes to and from the Fijis, a distance of about three hundred miles. Taking advantage of favourable winds, and directing their course in the daytime by the sun, and in the night by the moon and stars, they rarely deviate from a straight course between the groups. I have frequently seen their page 348canoes sailing in a heavy sea at the rate of nine or ten knots an hour. The incredible swiftness of these canoes I regard as an argument in support of the supposition which refers the origin of this people to the Asiatic continent."

When this writer and some of his shipmates were pursued by Fijians in canoes they escaped by putting their boat square before the wind, when they "at last gained upon the natives, who could not follow at so great an advantage, on account of the peculiar construction of their canoes. They are extremely sharp at both ends, with the mast stepped in the middle. The sail is in a triangular form, with the leach and luff confined to yards that meet at a point and rest on the extreme end of the canoe. The halyards are made fast at the middle of the upper yard or luff of the sail, so that, in beating, the sail is shifted from one end of the canoe to the other, without putting her about. Thus the weight of the sail, with the pressure of the wind upon it, causes the canoe to run under instantly when set directly before the wind."

This writer states that, in the Fijian double canoe, the two vessels are about 4 ft. apart, and that they will carry several hundred men.

The Feejee canoes are superior to those of the other islands. They are generally built double, and those of the largest size are as much as a hundred feet in length. The two parts of which the double canoe is composed are of different sizes, and are united by beams, on which a platform is laid. The platform is about fifteen feet wide, and extends two or three feet beyond the sides. The smaller of the two canoes serves as an outrigger to the other. The bottom of each of the canoes is of a single plank; the sides are fitted to them by dovetailing, and closely united by lashings passed through flanges left on each of the pieces. The joints are closed by the gum of the breadfruit-tree, which is also used for smearing them over. They have generally a depth of hold of about seven feet, and the two ends, for a length of about twenty feet, are decked over to prevent the canoe from shipping seas. Amidships they generally have a small thatched house or cuddy, to protect the crew from the weather, above which is a staging on which there is space for several people to sit. The frames of the canoes which belong to chiefs are much ornamented with shells.

The sails are so large as to appear out of all proportion to the vessel, and are made of tough yet pliable mats. The mast is about half the length of the canoe, and the yard and boom are usually twice as long as the mast. The mast is stepped on deck in a chock. The halyards are passed over a crescent on the head of the mast. These are bent on nearly the length of the mast, from the tack of the yards.

The natives are very expert in managing these vessels, and it requires no small skill in beating against the wind to do so. In sailing the canoe it is always necessary that the outrigger should be towards the weather side: this is easily effected by proper care. The mode of tacking becomes therefore curious, and is performed by putting the helm up instead of page 349down. When the wind is thus brought aft, the tack of the sail is carried to the other end of the canoe, which now becomes the bow, and the course on the other tack is then pursued. If the outrigger gets to leeward while the canoe is under sail some accident always happens, for no kind of vessel is so easily overturned; and yet, when they are properly managed, they will carry sail when it blows heavily, and still preserve almost an upright position: this is effected by the natives going out on the outrigger, and thus counterbalancing the force of the wind by their weight. The canoes are made of logs hollowed out and built upon, and show a great deal of ingenuity: they are capable of making long voyages….

It is the custom for the chief always to hold the end of the sheet; thus it is his task to prevent the danger of upsetting. They steer with an oar having a large blade. In smooth water these canoes sail with great swiftness, but from the weight and force of the sail they are much strained, leaking at times very badly, requiring always one and sometimes two men to be constantly bailing out the water.

The planks are brought into and kept in shape by small ribs, almost exactly as in our mode of boat-building.

The following are the dimensions of a double canoe of the most common size: Length of the larger canoe, 70 ft.; length of the smaller canoe, 55 ft.; distance of the canoes apart, 7 ft.; length of the platform, 30 ft.; breadth of the platform, 15 ft.; cuddy, 15 ft. by 6 ft.; height above water, 10 ft.; draught of water, 2 ft. to 3 ft.; length of yards, 15 ft., 35 ft., and 60 ft.; length of mast, 35 ft.

From Cruise of the "Alert," 1878-82, by Dr. R. W. Coppinger: "In a few years hence the old Fijian double canoe (consisting of two canoes placed side by side, and connected by a bridge) will be seen no more; but we were lucky in having an opportunity of seeing one good specimen at Bau. It was hauled up on a slip beneath a large thatched shed; and, although by no means one of the largest of its kind, yet it greatly exceeded my expectations. The depth of hold was about five feet, so that, standing on the bottom of either canoe, my neck was just on a level with the edge of the hatch, and the total length of each canoe was seventy-two feet; but what most surprised me was the enormous size of the mast, which lay alongside the vessel. It was about the size of the 'Alert's' spanker-boom. This canoe was intended to carry two hundred and fifty men, and I have no doubt it would hold that number."

In the Transactions of the Fijian Society, 1915, appeared a paper on Fijian canoes written by a native, and translated by Mr. G. A. Beauclerc. In this paper the following types of canoe are described:—

1. The takia. A small dugout canoe with outrigger, propelled by paddlers only, used for river and longshore work.

2. Wanga vakatau. A dugout vessel with top-strakes attached; these are termed bava. The ends are covered in with pieces called tau. With this canoe two forms of sail are used—the vakasave, page 350which is hauled up the mast, and the dumu, which is apparently attached to the mast and the whole lifted together.

3. Thamakau. A large sailing-canoe provided with an outrigger. It is sometimes made in two pieces, in which case it is described as a veikoso.

4. Wanga drua, or double canoe. A built-up vessel. The keel-piece, termed takele [cf. Maori takere] is in two parts, which, like the haumi of a Maori canoe, are kept rigid by the side planks lashed to them. Series of planks are attached on each side, each series having a distinctive name, the uppermost ones being the baya. In this vessel the log outrigger is replaced by a plank-built canoe, Fig. 162 Outrigger Canoe of Fiji, with Lateen Sail. (See also fig. 3, p. 35.) From D'Urville's Voyage. Sketch by Miss E. Richardson hence this type may be termed a double canoe. The lashings of the various planks are not visible on the outside, and joins are remarkably close and neat. The two vessels are connected by cross-beams, and a house or cabin is built on the deck. It requires many men to manipulate the sails of these large vessels—from forty to a hundred. The steer-oar is very heavy, and needs powerful men to control it in a fresh wind. At such times bailers are busy in both hulls.

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The sails of these vessels are made from leaves of the pandanus. The yards of the lateen-like sail are hoisted by means of halyards passed through a hole at the top of the mast, or over a crotch.

The mingling of Polynesians with the Melanesian folk of Fiji in former times seems to be reflected in the language. Thus in Fijian we note Maori terms in canoe nomenclature, as in wanga, or wanka, a canoe (Maori waka); drua, a double canoe (Maori rua = two); thama, outrigger of a canoe (Maori ama); maulailai, small end of a canoe, &c. Also, wanka bears in Fijian the same double meaning (1, canoe; 2, the shrine of a god) that waka does in Maori.

Farther west, north of the New Hebrides, we find the lone isle of Tikopia occupied by a Polynesian people, a Maori folk speaking a Maori tongue. The island was probably settled by Tongans. Isolated from their Polynesian kindred, surrounded by Melanesians, these folk have preserved their racial speech. Hence in their vocabulary we find vaka, a canoe; kiato, booms; ama, outrigger; foe, paddle; puke, deck at each end of a canoe, covered-in ends; hono, top-strake.

D'Urville gives us an illustration of an outrigger canoe of Fiji showing five booms connected with the float by means of short pieces, as at Tongatapu. (See fig. 162.) Another plate shows two booms only, but these are strengthened by two diagonal side braces. The mast inclines forward, while the triangular sail is practically vertical, apex downwards as usual; a man at the stern wields a big steer-oar. About six stays support the mast.

Extract from Williams's Fiji and the Fijians, volume 1:—

Four classes of canoes are found in Fiji: the velovelo, the camakau, the tabilai, and the drua. All these have various modifications of the outrigger (cama) [the c in Fijian equals th], and are distinguished by peculiarities in the hulk [hull?]. The velovelo (or, more properly, the takia) is open throughout its length like a boat, and the spars to which the cama is secured rest on the gunwale. The camakau, as its name imports, has a solid spar for its cama: the hull has a deck over the middle third of its length, twice its own width, and raised on a deep plank built edgeways on each gunwale. Between the edge of this deck and the outrigger all is open. The projecting ends of. the canoe, which are lower than the main deck or platform, as much as the depth of the plank on which it is raised, are each covered with one solid triangular piece of wood, hollowed underneath, and thickest at the broad end next the centre deck, to which it thus forms a gradual ascent. The two ridges formed by the hollowing underneath on the sides of the triangle are united to the edge of the hull, so as to completely box it up. The rig of the camakau is the same as that of the double canoe to be described presently; and from the small resistance this build offers to the water it is the "clipper" of Fiji, and the vessel described under the name of pirogue in the Imperial Dictionary.

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The tahilai is a link between the camakau and dma, and is made with the outrigger of either. It is often of great length, several feet at each end being solid wood, cut away something like the hull of a ship sternward, the stern-post of the ship representing the cut-water of the canoe, which, instead of being sharp, presents a square perpendicular edge to the water. This is the same at both ends, and is distinctive of the class.

The drua, or double canoe, differs from the rest in having another smaller canoe for its outrigger, and the deck is laid across both.

When not more than thirty or forty feet long, canoes are often cut out of a single tree, and require comparatively little skill in their construction. When, however, a first-class canoe is to be built the case is far otherwise, and its creditable completion is a cause of great triumph.

A keel is laid in two or three pieces carefully scarfed together. From this the sides are built up, without ribs, in a number of pieces varying in length from three to twenty feet. The end of each piece has on the inside a flange; as the large pieces are worked in, openings of very irregular form are left, to be filled in as suitable pieces may be found. When it is recollected that the edges of the planks are by no means straight, it will be seen that considerable skill is required in securing neat joints; yet the native carpenters effect this with surprising success. After the edges are fitted together, holes of about three-eigths of an inch in diameter are bored a hand-breadth apart in them, having an oblique direction inwards, so as to have their outlet in the flange; the holes in the edge of the opposite board are made to answer these exactly. A white pitch from the breadfruit-tree, prepared with an extract from the poconut-kernel, is spread uniformly on both edges, and over this a strip of fine masi is laid, which is burnt through with a small firestick where it covers the holes. The piece of vono is now ready for fixing, which is done by what is commonly but wrongly called "sewing": the native word better describes the process, and means "to bind." The vono being lifted to its place, well-plaited but not large sinnet is passed through the hole in the top flange, so as to come out through the lower one; the end is then inserted in the sinnet farther on, and the sinnet run rapidly through the hole, until eight or twelve loose turns are taken; the inserted end is then sought and laid on the round projection formed by the united flanges, and fastened there by drawing one turn of the sinnet tightly over it; the other turns are then tightened, the last one being made a tie to the last. The spare sinnet is now cut off close, and the operation repeated at the next hole. The bindings, already very strong, have their power increased by fine wedges of hard wood, to the number of six or seven, being driven in opposite directions under the sinnet, whereby the greatest possible pressure is obtained. The ribs seen in canoes are not used to bring the planks into shape, but are the last things inserted, and are for securing the deep side boards described below, and uniting the deck more firmly with the body of the canoe. The outside of the vono is now carefully adzed into form, and the carpenter has often to look closely to find the joint. When the body of the canoe is cleaned off and rubbed down with pumicestone the surface is beautifully smooth. Of course, no signs of the fastenings are seen outside. This process is not used in fixing the deep planks which support the main deck, or the triangular coverings of the two ends already described. These, as shown in the section, being on top of the gunwale and above the water-mark, the page 353sinnet is seen at regular intervals passing like a band over a flat bead which runs the whole length of the canoe, covering the joint and making a neat finish. Into the upper edge of planks, two or three feet deep, fixed along the top of the sides perpendicularly, the cross-beams which join on the outrigger are let and lashed down, and over these a deck of light wood is laid. The scuttle-holes for bailing are left at each corner. The deck also has six holes forward and six aft, through which to work the sculling-oars, used in light winds to help the sail, or when dead calm or foul wind makes the sail useless. A small house or cuddy is built amidships, in which boxes or bales are stowed, and on a platform over it persons can lie or sit; a rack behind it receives guns and spears, and clubs or baskets are hung upon it. The projecting ends of the canoe are beautifully finished at the expense of great labour, and are sometimes thickly covered with white shells (Ovula oviformis). Any aperture inside not filled with the sinnet is tightly caulked with coconut-husk, and such as are next the water are flushed up with the white pitch or resin.

The lines of the two canoes forming the drua differ considerably. A long bow, slackly strung, would represent the longitudinal section of the outrigger, both ends of which finish in a circle less than the palm of the hand. The keel of the main canoe has not so much curve, and the ends differ. The small end is heart-shaped or circular, and several inches across; the large end is like a great wedge, presenting its sharp perpendicular edge to cut the water.

Such canoes seldom exceed 100 ft. in length. The following are the dimensions of the largest canoe I know; its name was "Rusa i vanua" ("Perished Inland"), signifying that it would be impossible to launch it: Extreme length, 118 ft.; length of deck, 50 ft.; width of deck, 24 ft.; length of mast, 68 ft.; length of yards, 90 ft.

The measurements of another drua, the "Lobi ki Tonga," are as follows: Length, 99 ft. 3 in.; length of deck, 46 ft. 4 in.; width of deck, 20 ft. 3 in.; height from keel to house-top, 14 ft.; draught of water, 2 ft. 6 in.; length of mast, 62 ft. 3 in.; length of yards, 83 ft.

A good canoe in good condition makes very little water, and such as have been just described would safely convey a hundred persons, and several tons of goods, over a thousand miles of ocean.

A queer thing, called ulatoka—a raised platform on two logs—and a catamaran made of bamboos, are used in the bays and rivers.

The well-built and excellently-designed canoes of the Fijians were for a long time superior to those of any other islanders in the Pacific. Their neighbours, the Friendly-Islanders, are more finished carpenters and bolder sailors, and used to build large canoes, but not equal to those of Fiji. Though considering the Fijians as their inferiors, yet the Tongans have adopted their canoes and imitate them even in the make of their sails. This change was in progress when Captain Cook first visited Tonga in 1772. The Fijians whom he saw there were probably the companions of Tui Hala Fatai, who had returned, a short time before, from Fiji in a canoe built by the people there, leaving in its place his own clumsy and hardly manageable togiaki. A glance at the new canoe convinced the shrewd chiefs of Tonga that their own naval architecture was sadly at fault. Their togiaki, with its square, upright mast, the spars for stays, projecting like monster horns, the bevelled deck, the loose house, and its page 354broad, flat ends, contrasted with the smart Fijian craft much as a coal-barge with a clipper yacht. The togiaki was forthwith doomed to disuse, and is now seen no more among the fair isles of Tonga. Not the slightest change has been made in the model thus adopted, and which has now been used for more than a century by the best seamen in these regions; but the Tongans have the praise of executing the several parts with superior care and finish.

The following remarks are extracts from a paper on "Native Navigation in the Pacific," by Coleman Wall, read before the Fijian Society, 10th October, 1909:—

The writer states that the double canoe is still in use in southern Japan, and speaks of a Melanesian element at Penrhyn Island (Tongareva). He remarks that the surface currents of the Pacific vary considerably with the wind, generally setting to the eastward just before westerly winds, and often north of the Equator the main current seems to recoil to the east. The Pacific currents have, as a rule, but little force. Wilkes could find none between Tahiti and Samoa, and speaking generally they could never much affect canoe navigation. Nor would the winds have much effect on canoes built so as to sail closer to the wind than any other craft designed by man. Though the general trend of the winds within the tropics is easterly, yet they can never be depended on. North and south winds are not uncommon at times, and the strong west and south-west winds from below the tropics sometimes blow home to the Equator. North-west monsoon winds from the Indian Ocean blow always to New Guinea, often as far as Rotuma, and have been felt as far east as the Marquesas. Probably the highest development of Oceanica is the proaof the Ke-Islanders, near Timor. They are built of planks which, unlike those of the canoe, are fastened together by wooden pegs, but the whole planking is then fastened to the frame by rattans. Vessels of 10 tons burden are thus built, making voyages of over two thousand miles to Singapore with perfect safety. Their smaller boats, which have high ornamental ends, are elegantly shaped, and swift under oars or sail. The famous "flying proa" of the Mariana Islands was built like the former, but with the lee outside flat to act as a centreboard (leeboard), and supplied with an outrigger, thus connecting the proa with the canoe proper.

"In general, all through Micronesia, the canoes were made of coconut boards neatly sewn together, and fastened to well-finished frames. The Papuan, when unmixed with other races, does not seem to have ever been much in favour of sails, but in the Solomons their pulling [? paddling] canoes, often capable of containing a hundred men, are models of symmetry and workmanship. When in the page 355'John Hunt,' running about seven knots an hour, I have seen a canoe paddle abreast of us for some miles without effort, and seemingly in no way inconvenienced by a nasty cross-sea…. In the New Hebrides, except at Aoba, perhaps canoe-construction is at the lowest ebb, but they use outriggers and sometimes a sail of calico. We now come to Fiji; and from Fiji to Easter Island, from Hawaii to Auckland, the favourite vessel was the great double canoe or drua of the Fijians, built of planks and sewn together, and capable of making rapid passages in anything less than a hurricane. Though similar in many respects, there were some differences due to local causes. In Fiji and Tonga the lower part of the hull was mostly carved from a single tree, but in islands less favoured with timber the keel-piece was formed of damanu planks 12 in. to 16 in. broad and about 2 in. thick, rounded on the outside, and lashed together when the requisite length was formed. The upper works were in all cases of planks so beautifully fitted as hardly to need the caulking of a thin strip of fibre. In Tonga and Fiji only one mast was used, while in the Low Archipelago they used two masts, one in each canoe. These canoes could sail up to twelve miles an hour, and beat about four miles an hour to windward. They were steered with two and sometimes three paddles, the great steer-oar serving as a centreboard, and by its aid also they were hove-to in heavy weather, and were fairly dry and easy. I only saw a sail reefed once, when crossing from Kandavu in the tail of a hurricane. It was done by casting the tack of the sail adrift and hoisting it as a bag to run under. I doubt if they ever reef a sail to lie close to the wind. How did they navigate? Partly, no doubt, by the sun, partly by the stars, but partly also by that sixth sense which renders it impossible for the blackfellow to get lost in the Australian bush, or the Arab in the desert—a sense rarely possessed by civilized man unless he lives in close touch with nature."

The writer mentions a Tongan fleet of thirty canoes that sailed to Fiji in 1855, where it joined Thakombau's fleet of 113 canoes at Bau. The whole force then attacked and took Kaba, raided up the Rewa River, and then went to Kandavu, after which the Tongan fleet returned home. "But it was the last spectacle of its kind that was ever to cross the Pacific. Kamehameha's great canoe was already rotting on the beach at Hawaii; the French were lords of Tahiti, the Marquesas, and Paumotus; within twenty years the English flag was hoisted in Fiji. The days of the Vikings of the Pacific were numbered, and, quickly as they are vanishing, their wonderful vessels, and the skill to build and sail them, have vanished even more rapidly. While page 356the Solomon canoe and Malay proa may still last for a time, I doubt if there is a double canoe afloat in the Pacific."

Early writers tell us that the Fijians constructed large double canoes capable of making prolonged sea voyages, but that the Fijians were no deep-sea sailors, and always endeavoured to secure the services of some Tongans when making the comparatively short voyage of about three hundred miles to the Tongan Group. The following passage from Erskine's Journal of a Cruise among the Islands of the Western Pacific tends to show that the building of large double canoes was not an ancient profession at Fiji: "The Tongans … from whom also they learned the art of building the large double canoes."

The Tongans adopted the Fijian type of canoe, and are said to have been neater builders in this line than the Fijians. Williams, in his Fiji and the Fijians, wrote: "I never heard of but one Fijian chief who had attempted to steer his canoe to Tonga." He also remarks that Fijians do not make bold sailors.

Of Fijian canoes as seen in 1849 Captain Erskine, of H.M.S. "Havannah," has given us the following notes: "The canoe was a small one of the ordinary construction, with an outrigger, &c, and was put about by shifting the tack of the sail to the opposite extremity, as described among the Tongans. One of the principal employments, which has now been entirely transferred from Tonga to Fiji, on account of the exhaustion of the building-materials in the one place and the profusion in the other, is the construction of large double canoes…. The Tongans are considered better sailors than the Fijians, but the latter are said to be fast improving, the art of beating to windward, and of reefing or reducing the sails to suit the force of the wind, being now understood, which was not formerly the case. They have no fast paddling-canoes like the Tahitians and Samoans, their mode of propulsion being slow and awkward, performed as it is by one or two large sculls pushed by men in a standing posture, the steering being effected by a large paddle over the quarter of the vessel."

This writer quotes a remark made by Lieutenant Pollard, of H.M.S. "Bramble," concerning some Fijian canoes seen by him in 1850: "These canoes are double, and about eighty feet long, carrying about one hundred and fifty men each." Another large double canoe is mentioned that was "at least one hundred feet long, and sufficiently large to carry three hundred men. Formerly they used, in performing their voyages to any distance, such as Hapai or Tonga, to dowse everything at the approach of a strong head breeze, and scud before the wind back again to whence they came."

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