Nov 10, 2020

Traditional navigation program sets sail at College of Micronesia

in category Pohnpei, Uncategorized, Yap

The tight travel restrictions that isolated Micronesia from international travelers over the preceding months has not stopped twelve Micronesian men and women from learning to voyage like their ancestors.

In the summer of 2020, College of Micronesia-FSM launched its year-long traditional navigation program in collaboration with philanthropic non-profit Okeanos Foundation for the Sea.

The highly practical program is running over the course of one year, consisting of two parts: “Traditional Navigation” delivered by Yapese Grand Master Navigator Ali Haleyalur and “Applied Seamanship” initially intended to be taught by Okeanos Fleet Commander and Grand Master Navigator Peia Patai.

Traditional navigation students at the College of Micronesia FSM-FMI campus in Yap. Photo by Constantine Yowblaw

Ali Haleyalur, relative of Pwo Master Navigator Mau Piailug who famously sparked the voyaging renaissance in Hawaii in the 1970s, has long preserved the knowledge of traditional navigation amongst Micronesian sailors. Haleyalur aims to provide participants with the knowledge and skills in the traditional way of Micronesian navigation. It is hoped that its offering will rekindle interests in the preservation of this indigenous knowledge and to examine its relationship with modern science, e.g. oceanography, meteorology, and other related fields.

Grand Master Navigator Ali Haleyalur studies the clouds at dawn to predict the weather for the following days. Students of the Traditional Navigation program will learn this ethnoscience that has been preserved by Yapese navigators for centuries. Photo by Dena Seidel

Ali Haleyalur navigates aboard Pacific-inspired Vaka Motu Okeanos Ambassador, which now operated by local crew in Yap to service outer island communities with sustainable sea transportation. Photo by Dan Lin

Okeanos-built Vaka Motus, or “boat for the islands,” were designed specifically to serve vulnerable island communities. It is operated by wind and solar power, allowing islanders to transport up to 3 tons of cargo and 12 passengers without relying on expensive fossil fuel. Photo credit by Chewy Lin.The 12 participating students, comprised of men and women from Yap and Pohnpei, will be assessed in identifying the navigational stars, sea creatures, birds or flocks of birds, groups of fish, and insects. Like their seafaring ancestors, the students will have to demonstrate proficiency and knowledge in determining the general directions of ocean waves, which in turn determine navigational directions and the bearings of other islands, while also naming the ancient sea lanes between Palau to the Marshalls to the Marianas.

Due to the Covid travel ban that has prevented Captain Peia Patai from traveling from the Cook Islands to teach the second half of the program, acting College of Micronesia-FSM Dean Tioti Bauro Teburea voluntarily assists with the course offering in the area of seamanship (basic chart-work) and COLREGS “International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea.” The College of Micronesia campus also provides safe transportation and dinner to all students.

Aside from teaching, Haleyalur continues to collaborate with Okeanos Foundation to support traditional sailing and sustainable sea transportation in Yap and beyond Micronesian borders.  In 2019, Haleyalur sailed the sustainable and traditionally inspired canoe Okeanos Ambassador from Saipan to Yap, where it works in tangent with its sister canoe Okeanos Waaqab to service Yap’s outer islands.

Press Release published at Marianas Variety, 9 November 2020