Ethnology of Tokelau Islands
Construction of the Hull
In felling a tree the roots are often cleared and a fire built around them to burn through the base, but usually the tree is chopped with shell axes to avoid the chance of fire destroying the heart of the tree. The top and branches of the tree are cut or burned from the felled trunk, and the log is taken to the beach and floated to the workshop. Here the log is divided into three sections hollowed out by fire. The fire is controlled by cutting back the burning wood with adzes and soaking it with water kept at hand in wooden bowls. One section for the middle of the canoe is hollowed out completely; the other two sections for bow and stern are hollowed through one end, to be fitted to the middle section.
The sections are set end to end across a row of short lengths of coconut logs which are cut out on their upper surfaces to fit them. The joining ends of the sections are squared off and the centers dubbed out with an ualoa adz, a Tridacna shell blade hafted to an angular handle with long head which will reach deep into the hull but allow the worker's hands to remain above the sides. The finished surface is worked with a smaller and lighter adz. The shell of each section is left thick enough so that the outside may be shaped. The utmost care is taken to avoid cutting the inside too deep or driving an adz through the bottom. The carpenters periodically snap their fingernails against the sides to judge the thickness from the resonance of the sound and place a stick perpendicularly in the section to estimate the thickness of the bottom from the ground.
Holes are bored with a shell awl along both ends of the middle section and the inner ends of the bow and stern sections. The holes of one section are exactly opposite those of the joining section and often in sets of three pairs. A temporary lashing is made to hold the three sections together. The hull is turned over, and bow and stern are shaped. The bow section is tapered to the cutwater, which stands at slightly more than a right angle from the fore foot. The stern is tapered and cut down on top and bottom into the shape of a fishtail. The keel curves up to the cutwater and tail of the stern. A smooth surface is made over the entire underbody by light chipping with small adzes. At this time the master carpenter sets the sections in line. The canoe is turned over again in upright position and unlashed. The squared ends are trimmed to as even a surface as possible. Then one face of each joining is coated with a black mixture prepared from water and charcoal of coconut fibers, and the ends are laid together. The paint marks the high spots where further trimming is necessary.
A press of four stakes with a binding rope is set up to hold two sections of the canoe together while the permanent lashing is made. Two stakes are driven into the ground behind one end of the middle section and one stake on each side of the middle section in line with this pair. The end of the middle section is braced against the middle pair of stakes and the end section is held against the middle section by the binding rope carried around the outside stakes and the end section. Temporary lashings hold the sections together at the gunwales. Sennit braid is run through the top pair of holes on one side and drawn tight. A peg is driven into each hole to hold this end of the sennit while the entire joint is securely lashed. The sennit is carried through the small holes by a needle made from the midrib of a coconut leaflet.
The sides and edges of the sections are cut away in those places where, due to natural twists, the trunk does not provide ample breadth. Irregular edges and sides are not straightened. All that can be used of the solid piece is retained for strength and a saving of the precious wood. The sides are built up with pieces of planking trimmed to fit the uneven edges of the hull sections. These seams, with their lashings, have a zigzag pattern which gives an appearance of patching and crude construction.
The planking is hewn from the smaller pieces of the tree, which are first split by being burned through with fire. The edge of the plank is shaped to fit the edge of the section on which the plank is to be attached. The plank is then secured by sennit braid run through the holes of the section, around the planking, and pulled taut through the page 116 next hole. The plank is cut down and thinned in place. By smearing a charcoal mixture on the section edge irregularities can be detected on the plank edge and trimmed down. Holes are then bored in the lower edge of the plank opposite those of the section, and the plank is lashed to the hull. After the wallstrake sections are built up, they are joined.
Flaws or knots on the edges of the sections are cut out in triangular notches in which small pieces of planking are inserted and lashed with sennit braid.
Figure 15.—Outrigger canoe: a, view of starboard side; b, cross section of canoe and middle outrigger boom attachment; c, bow or stern outrigger attachment; d, top view of canoe. 1, canoe (vaka); 2, underbody (tua vaka); 3, inside of canoe (liu); 4, keel (takele); 5, lower strakes (tuta); 6, upper strakes (tafai); 7, bow section (saumi mua); 8, stern section (saumi muli); 9, middle section (potopoto, fukaloto); 10, bow (puoso mua); 11, stern (puoso muli); 12, bow and stern cover (puke); 13, guard or breakwater on bow cover (talingalu or fatupuke); 14, fishpole rest or block on stern cover (futia); 15, tail piece of stern (fakaika); 16, hole for fishpole to rest in (pu kofe); 17, stern seat of canoe (nofoa muli); 18, carrying grip at stern boom (fua-tanga); 19, shelf platform between booms for tuluma (papanaki); 20, outrigger boom, bow, stern (kiato mua, muli); 21, outrigger boom stringers (tolutoluama); 22, connecting sticks to outrigger float (tutuki); 23, outrigger float (ama); 24, lifting grip athwart bow of canoe (manu); 25, piece inserted to fill flaw in sides of planking (kaufono).
The planks are lashed in the same manner, but the lashings are not so closely spaced. At angles in the seams a triangular binding is made between one hole on the upper side and the two which are directly opposite on the section below. Eight-ply sennit braid (kaha vaka) is used for all these lashings.
A calking made from coral lime is sometimes used to plug the holes over the lashings. Calking is not used between the seams or sections of the underbody unless leaks develop. Then the lashing is loosened, strips of coconut-leaf midrib inserted, and the lashing pulled tight.
A cover, measuring six hand spans, is placed over the bow of the hull. The gunwale of the bow section is slightly stepped so that the cover, which extends to the point, will lie with its stern end almost flush with the uncovered gunwales aft. The point of the cover projects upward continuing the line of the cutwater. Behind the line of this projecion are several knobs or pyramidal projections, broader but not as high. White cowrie shells (Ovula) were formerly tied on these projections but they have become rare in the lagoons and were seen on only two canoes at Fakaofu. In modern canoes these ornamental projections have a connecting bar across the top.
The outer side of the bow cover is cut at an angle of 75 degrees to the deck and stands obliquely forward, keeping the water from spilling into the hull. In some canoes this guard is triangular; in others, convex on the fore side and straight across the aft side.
The stern section slopes from the angle behind the stern seat to the beginning of the tail piece and is inset to receive a stern cover. The tapering of the sides and the decline of the stern deck give a pleasing line to the hull as well as eliminating interference from the canoe in trolling or snaring with a noose. The stern cover is slightly shorter than the bow and also has pyramidal projections to which white cowries were formerly fastened. A grooved block to hold a fishpole for trolling stands on the forward end. The fore face of this block is oblique and flush with the end of the cover and has a deep slot to brace the fishpole which rests in a hole or against a raised brace in the stern seat. On each side is a wing or brace extending from the middle of the block to the edge of the cover. Although the block is cut out at different heights and in varying forms, it is either on a horizontal plane or tilted down, parallel with the decline of the cover. No leaf-shaped blocks tilted up at the rear, as seen in the Ellice Islands and Samoa, were observed on the stern covers of the Tokelau canoes.
The outrigger, which balances the long, narrow hull in the water, is composed of a set of booms, connecting pegs, a float, longitudinal stay poles, complementary lashings, and a platform. The usual number of booms is five, the foremost and aft booms extending beyond the float, and the three middle booms reaching just short of the float and connected to it by oblique pegs (fig. 15, d). The first four booms are evenly spaced between the ends of the bow and stern covers. The stern boom is close to the fourth, and between these two is hung a single plank as platform. The booms are lashed to the gunwales with sennit which is run through holes below the gunwale. The lashing is made through two holes under the bow and stern booms and through a single hole under the intermediate booms.
There are two techniques in lashing the booms. In the first, the braid is brought alternately from a hole on the inside of the gunwale, diagonally across the boom, to a hole on the outside. The next crossing is at a right angle to the first, and the lashing page 118 is continued in this manner. In the second technique, the sennit is looped on the boom and secured by a loop from the other side. The braid is brought from the hole to the center of the boom and caught with the thumb while being carried to the other hole on the same side of the gunwale. It is again brought up to the center point of the boom from the other side and caught over the last turn. The second loop, curved over the first, holds it in position effectively, as the rough surface of the sennit will not slip over itself.
The float is made in various shapes but usually with pointed ends, the bow being more tapering than the aft end (fig. 15, d). Some floats are made from wood with a sharp S-crook at the forward end, thus raising the point above the water line. The bow end of the float projects at some length beyond the bow connecting pegs, but the end behind the stern connecting pegs is extremely short. The float is toed in so that the bow point is closer to the hull than the stern point. This somewhat offsets the drag to port which the outrigger gives to the canoe. Unlike the Ellice Islands canoes, no compensation for the outrigger drag is made in the shape of the hull.
The float is attached to the booms by connecting pegs and a supplementary lashing from the bow and stern booms (pl. 3, B). The bow and stern booms have four connectives, two on each side of the boom, which stand obliquely diverging from the float (fig. 15, c). The tops of the connectives are flush with the top of the boom. The inner pair are lashed to the boom inside the outer stringer. The ends are tapered and set into the top of the float, one pair opposing the other. No wedges are used to secure the connectives in the float. A single connective attaches each intermediary boom with the float (fig. 15, b). It is lashed to the side of the boom outside the outer stringer. It stands obliquely from the boom and sets in the float along the same line with the inner pairs of connectives of the end booms. The pegs hold the float rigidly from the booms but do not keep the float and booms strongly connected. A suspensory lashing is made around the end booms and is the true binding between the two. The lashing is commenced at the end of the boom, where it is carried around both peg ends and then over and around the float on the inside. It is then brought up to the boom at the point where the inner pegs meet. The lashing is carried back again around the float, twice more to the end of the boom, the last time binding the crossing of the lashing together above the float and knotting the end under the boom.
The second longitudinal stringer is laid parallel to the first about a third of the distance in to the hull and is lashed to each boom. The plank platform is hung underneath the two after booms and extends from the inner stringer to the side of the hull. All canoes in the Atafu fleet today have this thin piece of planking which is said to be a modern feature for carrying fishing boxes and equipment. A piece of netting strung between two booms inside the hull is also used for carrying small articles. This is most common today in Nukunono canoes.
Two short, forked uprights to carry the fishpole when not in use are lashed to the bow and stern booms of some canoes. The stern rest is lashed to the center of the stern boom, and the bow rest is lashed near the hull on the bow boom. This keeps the pole away from the port paddlers and yet within ready reach of the fishing captain in the stern.
Lifting Pieces and Seats
A lifting-grip is set at the juncture of the stern boom and the port gunwale. This is a short, flat piece of wood, broader at the boom end and cut out in the center. The broad end is trimmed down so that it does not stand up from the boom and is lashed through a single hole. The other end is lashed to the gunwale. In lifting the canoe, the right hand grips this handle and the left grips the stern boom. At the bow, just behind the end of the cover, is a convex cross piece lashed over each gunwale. This is the bow lifting-grip grasped by two men on either side of the canoe.
A seat is placed before each boom except the stern boom. These seats vary in form from mere cross planks to carved, concave seats with flanges across the ends on the under side. The stern seat, in which the canoe captain sits, is placed against the end of the stern cover.
The bailer (tata) of the Tokelau canoe is made of puka. It is similar to one type of Samoan bailer described by Hiroa (28) as “the typical Polynesian sugar scoop form”. The handle is a raised piece extending from the back edge to the center of the hollow and perforated to allow the hand to slip through and take a firm grip. It is carried in the bottom of the canoe and the man seated before the fishing captain does most of the bailing.
The canoes are kept on the lagoon side of the village; in Atafu and Fakaofu they are kept on beaches or slips between stone jetties. Each canoe is carried well above the high water line on slides of coconut leaf butts. These broad butts, when turned with the concave back uppermost, make excellent rests for the canoe and prevent the braid of the lashings on the bottom of the canoe from being worn down by rubbing against the sand and coral of the shore. Each canoe is covered with palm leaves, often roughly woven together or tied with the midribs of several leaflets.
The canoe is in constant use and requires much attention to keep it in good repair. Some members of a crew are always at work on the beach renewing rotted and worn braid or relashing the booms or seams. When the lashing between two sections is to be replaced, the carpenter sets up two braces to support the canoe. He drives a short stake into the ground to the height of the side of the canoe, beside the joint to be unlashed. He lays another stick across the end of the section and lashes it to the two gunwales and to the stake. This framework prevents the section from spreading when it is unlashed from the adjoining section and holds it in an upright position.