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Polynesian Researches


page 160

Description of the vaa motu, or island-canoe—Methods of navigating native vessels—Danger from sharks—Affecting wreck—Accident in a single canoe—Tahitian architecture—Materials employed in building—Description of the various kinds of native houses—Dress of the Tahitians—Manufacture of native cloth—Variety of kinds—Durability and appearance—Methods of dyeing—Matting of Society and Paumotu islanders—Native pillow, seat, dishes, and other articles of household furniture.

Thevaa motu, island-canoe, is generally a large, strong, single vessel, built for sailing, and principally used in distant voyages. In addition to the ordinary edge, or gunwale, of the canoe, planks, twelve or fifteen inches wide, are fastened along their sides, after the manner of wash-boards in a European boat. The same are also added to double canoes, when employed on long voyages. A single vaa is never used without an outrigger, varying in size with the vessel; it is usually formed with a light spar of the hibiscus, or of the erythrina, which was highly prized as an ama, or outrigger, on account of its being both light and strong. This is always placed on the left side, and fastened to the canoe by two horizontal poles, from five to eight feet long; the front one is straight and firm, the other curved and elastic; it is so fixed, that the canoe, when empty, does not float upright, being rather inclined to the left; but, when sunk into the water, on being laden, it is generally erect, while the outrigger, which page 161 is firmly and ingeniously fastened to the sides by repeated bands of cinet, floats on the surface. In addition to this, the island canoes have a strong plank, twelve or fourteen feet long, fastened horizontally across the centre, in an inclined position, one end attached to the outrigger, and the other extending five or six feet over the opposite side, and perhaps elevated four or five feet above the sea. A small railing of rods is fastened along the sides of this plank, and it is designed to assist the navigators in balancing the keel, as a native takes his station on the one side or the other, to counteract the inclination which the wind or sea might give to the vessel. Sometimes they approach the shore with a native standing or sitting on the extremity of the plank, and presenting a singular appearance, which it is impossible to behold without expecting every undulation of the sea will detach him from his apparently insecure situation, and precipitate him into the water.