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Ethnology of Tokelau Islands



Few varieties of trees grow on the atolls and most of these are unsuitable for canoe building. The kanava (Cordia subcordata) tree in Tokelau grows sufficiently thick to make canoe hulls. It is durable, resistant to water, but heavy and hard, making construction and handling difficult. The kanava is a stumpy tree with twisted trunk which quickly tapers from its broad base. Only the lower section of the tree can be used in the hull which must therefore be built of three or four sections lashed together at the ends. Kanava trees have never been plentiful, and their use has been rigidly controlled in order to preserve the supply (p. 58). The trees are larger and more numerous on Atafu and have always been demanded as gifts by the people of the southern atolls.

The one paopao seen was made from the wood of the puka tree (Hernandia ovigera) which is straight-grained and light but not as durable as kanava. The outrigger floats of both the large and small canoes are also made of puka.

Terms Associated with Canoes and Canoe-Building

  • fakanafala: posts used in bracing sections while joining them

  • foe: paddle

  • saumani: stern paddle of tautai

  • paopao: small lagoon canoe dugout

  • palelafa: split of coconut midrib lashed against seams

  • felakaaka: name of lashing design (interlaced)

  • fakasumusumu: name of lashing design (triangular)

  • tata: bailer

  • kofe: fishpole

  • tautai: fishing captain, steersman

  • mua: fore

  • muli: aft

  • pou kofe: rest for fishpole on outrigger

  • lango: cradle for hull, logs on which hull rests in building, skids

  • falelo: awl of coral

  • la: sail

  • velo: shell ornaments on cover pegs