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The Maori Canoe

Canoes of the Solomon Isles

Canoes of the Solomon Isles

Canoes of the Solomon Isles seen in 1753 are described by Labillardière, of the d'Entrecasteaux Expedition in search of La Perouse: "We admired the elegant form of their canoes … they were about twenty-one feet in length, two feet in breadth, and fifteen inches in depth. The bottom consisted of a single piece cut from the trunk of a tree, and the sides were formed of a plank the whole length of the boat, supported by beams fixed at equal distances into the bottom: at both ends other planks were attached to the first. These were ornamented on the outside with figures of birds, fishes, &c., rudely carved. The greater part of the canoes were terminated in front with the head of a bird, under which was seen a large bunch of fringe, coloured with a red dye."

Of one of these vessels being put to its best speed under the paddle he says: "We were amazed to see their canoe skim the waves with such rapidity that it must have run at the rate of at least 7,500 toises an hour." This would represent a speed of about nine miles an hour. Here we have the continuous top-strake and, apparently, some form of rib.

W. Coote, in his work The Western Pacific, writes: "Perhaps the Solomon Islands are more celebrated for their canoes than for anything else, and, if so, I think, with reason…. They are made page 364 Fig. 166 Canoe of Solomon Group. Beattie, Hobart, photo of bent planks of wood held together with strong thwarts, and cemented with a kind of gum obtained from a tree. The stern is always carried up to a considerable height, like the bow of a gondola, and in large canoes both bow and stern are of the same graceful shape. They are narrow, and have no outrigger, but sit on the water literally 'like a duck.' … There is a large amount of inlaying, the designs being quaint and conventional, but certainly not without merit. I suppose these canoes are the most crank craft in the world, yet the natives can take them out in fairly rough weather, and always manage them wonderfully…. The work expended on some of the more magnificent ones surprised me very much, in some cases there being many thousands of pieces of pearl-shell, all carefully shaped and let in in accordance with an elaborate design."

Now, for the first time, we encounter elsewhere the New Zealand form of canoe, the single canoe with no outrigger. The elevated prow and stern also similate the waka maori.

In Seed's report on the Pacific-islanders occurs the following. Of Solomon-Islanders he says: "Their canoes are exceedingly graceful and light, and without the outriggers common to all others. They also possess large war-canoes carrying from thirty to sixty men, and page 365in these they traverse great distances, sometimes beyond the sight of land."

An illustration in The Savage South Seas, by Norman H. Hardy and C. Way Elkington, shows a number of war-canoes of the Solomon Islands with very high prows and sterns, decorated with feathers and inlaid shells. They carry eighteen or twenty paddlers each. A canoe-shed to shelter such vessels was found to be 72 ft in length and 30 ft. wide. The paddles depicted have a short blade and a crescent-shaped projection on the end of the handle.

A photograph of a small outrigger fishing-canoe of the Solomon Isles shows the float as long as the hull, and connected therewith by Fig. 167 Small Outriggerless Canoes of Ulawa, Solomon Group. Beattie, Hobart, photo means of four straight booms, the outer ends of which are connected with the float by means of two sticks secured in a vertical position, one on either side of the boom. This craft lacks the high prow and stern of the big canoes. If correctly assigned, then both forms of craft must be employed at the Solomon Group.