Ethnology of Tokelau Islands
The canoe is the most important and valuable property of an atoll islander. It is a vital necessity in procuring his food supply from the sea and from his plantations across the lagoon. All contact with other islands is dependent on the canoe. The Tokelau men were skilled navigators, visiting Samoa, Uvea, and Fiji as well as the other Tokelau atolls.
Double canoes were used for long journeys but single-outrigger canoes page 113 were used in fishing excursions from Fakaofu to Atafu, and in war fleets, raiding among the islands of the group. The double canoe has been completely abandoned since the government prohibited its use for travel between the atolls. Many lives have been lost in canoes blown off their courses. All inter-island travel must now be made on the trading schooner from Samoa.
Three classes of canoes are recognized on the island today: the small outrigger canoe (paopao) with a single-piece hull, the single-outrigger fishing canoe (vaka) (pl. 3, B) made of segments of tree trunks, and the double canoe (lualua). Paopao, the Samoan name for the smallest dugout canoe, is said to be also a native Tokelau name. However, there is only one paopao in the group, and that was made for the use of the Samoan missionary on the lagoon at Atafu. This paopao is modeled after the vaka and has two outrigger booms and the Tokelau attachment to the float. The hull is made from a single tree trunk, but the sides are built up in one or two places where the sinuous growth of the tree left depressions. The small size and the name are probably Samoan features.
The fishing canoe is usually made of three sections of tree trunks. It has five outrigger booms indirectly attached to the float and carries five men. Each canoe is equipped with a support in the stern to carry a fishing pole for trolling for bonito. Some variation in the shape was observed between the canoes of Atafu and Nukunono. The Nukunono canoes have slightly rounded hulls in cross section and the upper part of the cutwater curves outward, whereas the Atafu hull has straight sides and the cutwater is straight, though sloped.
The double canoe is composed of two hulls lashed together by cross booms. These canoes were sailed with a mat lateen sail attached to the mast and were steered with an oar at each hull.