Okeanos Foundation’s newest vaka motu model, the Okeanos Marianas, has only traversed the waters of Saipan for nearly two weeks, yet the soon-to-be commercially operational sailing canoe is already making headlines and galvanizing indigenous communities in the Marianas capital and outer islands, Tinian and Rota.
On October 29th 2017, the native people of Saipan laid in wait with their eyes at the horizon for the canoe that had been journeying across the Pacific waters for 40 days. At, around 8 AM, Okeanos Marianas finally reached its destination of Saipan, and the people welcomed their new vessel with community warmth and lots of color.
Now having travelled over 4,000 miles from Auckland, New Zealand the people of Saipan rejoiced as the Okeanos Marianas sailed closer to the shore where the crew were greeted by a Chamorro and Carolinian arrival celebration in true island fashion, an outstanding outdoor party! “I think people’s faces must have hurt from all the smiling,” said Saipan native and 500 Sails organizer Emma Perez – also the new General Manager of Okeanos Marianas limited business.
During the festivities, Nene, the first a traditionally designed Chamorro canoe built in centuries, sailed to Okeanos Marianas and escorted Captain Peia Patai to the beach. Celebrants of the arrival picked up Capt. Patai by the legs to bring him to dry land. “It’s a part of our tradition,” said Perez. “The navigator’s feet never touch the water.”
Colorful floral leis embellished the bodies of the captain and crew that bravely brought this highly anticipated canoe to an island that had very little means of vast sailing transportation.
The stakes were high and the need was great as tradition and culture were the overarching reason this new canoe was much appreciated by the Northern Mariana Islands.
It was centuries ago that the Chamorros lost their maritime tradition. “The fact that there are canoes in the Marianas – We have our canoes back, ” said Perez. “Every child that is born now will have canoes.”
Relatives of Master Navigator Mau Piailug, responsible for saving the traditional art of wayfinding after sailing the maiden voyage of Polynesian canoe Hokulea in 1976, were also in attendance to greet Captain Peia and the Okeanos Marianas crew. Peia learned traditional navigation from the Satawal native and was honored to return a piece of that tradition back to Micronesia in the form of the single-masted vaka motu.
Along with developing cultural collaboration, the arrival of Okeanos Marianas also carves an economic path for transportation in CNMI. Saipan is the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands and traveling to other islands like Pagan, Sarigan, and Rota – places that host historical and cultural value for the Mariana people – is exceedingly expensive. “It can cost anywhere between $30,000 to $70,000 dollars to travel between these islands,” said Perez. “Now we have an economic benefit of transportation.”
“We’ve needed some regular form of transportation to the Northern Islands for a long, long time but this is especially special, said Culture Affairs Secretary Robert Hunter. “We’re seeing this need met by traditional Pacific Island canoe through Pacific Island technology.”
It was just one year ago that the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea and 500 Sails started laying out the blueprints to bring this canoe into fruition. Today, Saipan has already started putting their new vessel to use by sailing to the neighboring outer islands, most recently Rota, followed by a visit to Guam. The captain of the Saipan-Rota-Guam voyage is Cecilio Raikiulipiy, a nephew of Mau Piailug. Like his wayfinding uncle, Ceclilio will be navigating without modern instruments, using only the stars, waves, sun, moon and other patterns of nature. The crew includes the Saipan residents from the New Zealand-Saipan voyage, as well as crew from Tahiti and Fiji who will be remaining in Saipan for the next six months to train additional crew.
The future plans are to grow the knowledge of sailing so that the people can be more knowledgeable of the waters. “I think Mau would be very happy,” said Captain Peia Patai.