Ethnology of Tongareva
The Tongarevan canoe has been supplanted completely by the large sailing boats used in connection with diving for pearl shell and the small outrigger canoes made of sawed planks after the modern Manihiki design. Search failed to locate an old canoe stated to be on Te Puka. The wood of some of the old canoes has been used for house piles in Omoka. Those available were examined, and a certain amount of information was derived from them. A few notes on the parts of a canoe were obtained from the old men, but without an actual canoe it has been impossible to determine how the different planks were shaped. Choris (3, p. 33) figured a canoe with five outrigger booms and states that the “piroques” were made of several pieces of wood bound together and having outriggers (fig. 48).
Figure 48. Tongarevan canoe (after Choris): 1, keel (oa); 2, stern (vero); 3, bow, (isu); 4, gunwale (huatanga); 5, gunwale braces (manu); 6, steersman's seat; 7, raised breakwater; 8, lookout's seat; 9, outrigger booms (kiato); 10, outrigger float (ama); 11, float connecting pegs (tutaki); 12, longitudinal spar (torutoru ama) and spears.
Kotzebue (14, pp. 217, 219) counted about 36 canoes which came out to his ship. Each contained 7 to 13 people. He says:
Their boats are made of several pieces of wood well jointed together with cocoabast cords. Both ends are rounded off, above and below the water, furnished with a projecting spar. They have an outrigger on which their arms are secured…. We did not wait for a boat, which approached us under full sail, from a distant island of the group.
Wilkes (31, vol. 4, pp. 277, 279) says that the canoes each contained from 7 to 16 men. They were made of dark-colored wood, with a light out- page 190 rigger, and were without sails. They were ingeniously constructed of pieces sewn together with sennit, but they leaked so badly as to necessitate constant bailing. They were the largest canoes constructed on a low island that the Wilkes expedition saw.
Lamont (15) gives more detail that will be used to eke out the scanty information obtained locally.
The wood used in making the hull and outrigger of the Tongarevan canoe was tou (Cordia subcordata). Suitable trees about 3 feet in diameter were felled with shell adzes or with large coral heads so split that the inner part furnished a handhold, and the outer, rough part with its sharp circular projections served as a blade that, when struck against the fairly soft wood, nibbled out the scarf. The felled trunk was then seasoned. I understood from my informants that the tou was seasoned by burying it in the ground, and that another timber tree called hano (Guettardia speciosa) was seasoned by soaking it in the lagoon. Lamont (15, p. 151), however, states that the tou (which he spells to) was also rolled into a shallow part of the lagoon, where it was subjected to alternate dampness and heat as the tide flowed in and out. After seasoning by this method the log could be split more readily into the planks used in canoe building. As the supply of timber was limited, the hollowing out of a log into a single dug-out was regarded as wasteful, especially as the larger canoes had to be built up because the timber was not big enough to provide canoes of the dug-out pattern. The use of plank canoes on low islands was thus largely influenced by economic environment.
The lashing material was sennit braid (kaha). Adzes of Tridacna shell were used to split and shape the planks. The edges were marked with a mixture of charcoal and water when the planks were fitted together. Shells with the apical whorls running to a sharp point were used for boring holes. A number of these, picked up near old house sites, have been identified by C. Montague Cooke, Jr., as Terebra maculata, Terebra crenulata and Mitra stictica. Lamont (15, p. 151) says that a piece of sharp stone was used in addition to shell, “assisted by a sharp pointed cocoa-nut stick.” Coconut husk was used in calking planks and plugging lashing holes. A vegetable substance (kana) growing in flat, rounded masses on the coral heads in the lagoon was dried and used like sandpaper for smoothing down the outer side of the planks.
The shape of the canoe as drawn by Choris (3, pl. 12) is shown in figure 48. The native names obtained locally are applied to it. It resembles a Pukapuka canoe in Bernice P. Bishop Museum, and the hull is not unlike the Nanumea type of Ellice Islands canoe figured by Kennedy (13, fig. 59). It is characterized by a long upward slope of the keel toward the bow and stern, each of which terminates in a solid short upward projection.