I have been meaning to share an interesting story that broke out in Guam a couple of months ago but just got sidetracked with other stories and events. The story of interest came from the Guam Daily Post who reported that the Guam Museum is now home to a scale-model of a sakman, the largest of several indigenous water vessels that first sailed the Marianas more than 3,000 years ago. The canoe, named “Tåsi,” was built in about nine months using only organic, native materials, according to its craftsman, Ignacio Camacho. “The only thing not organic is the paint. Other than that, it’s held together by glue made from sap and rope made from coconut fibers,” Camacho said. “You have to know what you’re looking for; if someone leaves you on a desert island, ideally you’d know enough to eventually build a canoe and sail out of there.”
A blessing ceremony was held to commemorate Tåsi in the foyer of the museum. Camacho blew a kulo’ in its honor, at the place where it will be housed “indefinitely.” The museum administrator Monica Guzman said, “Thanks to the generosity of Lotte Duty Free Guam, which initially contracted TASI (Traditions About Seafaring Islands) for its construction, we have this beautiful canoe to greet museum visitors at our doors.”
Although much smaller than an actual sakman, Camacho said the craft is still seaworthy, so long as its navigator weighs less than 200 pounds. In any case, the sakman is more than just a cultural symbol or museum display item, and its significance cannot be understated.
“This canoe is the reason why Chamorros exist in the Marianas today. This was the first vessel to enter into the Marianas from Southeast Asia, and it’s because of its magnificence that we can call these islands home,” Camacho said.
“It took nine months to build this thing – so I sort of consider it my baby,” Camacho joked. “I’m glad that it’s now out here for thousands to see and appreciate.” By European accounts, the sakman was an impressive vessel and was used for long-range fishing and trade voyages. During the Spanish colonial era, the sakman and other out-of-reef vessels were destroyed by colonizers to stifle Chamorro movement to more easily establish power.
TASI is one of two Guam-based seafaring organizations practicing and passing on indigenous seafaring knowledge.