Traditional Canoes in CNMI

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) forms a chain of 14 volcanic islands: Agrihan, Alamagan, Anatahan, Asuncion, Farallon De Medinilla, Farallon De Pajaros (Uracas), Guguan, Maug (three islands), Pagan, Rota, Saipan, Sarigan and Tinian stretching over 375 miles north to south, with a land area of 181 square miles. There are three major inhabited islands, but most people live on Saipan.

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Where is the CNMI?

Recently Radio New Zealand reported that CNMI’s Department of Community and Cultural Affairs has launched its own traditional canoe program but says it’s not competing with a private sector-driven program to build 500 traditional canoes by 2030.

The Department Secretary, Robert Hunter, said the Seafaring Traditions Program wants to perpetuate the Chamorro and Carolinian traditional skills of open-ocean seafaring, canoe building, and celestial navigation. He added that the new program aims to work in unison with the 500 Sails organization to make sure this important aspect of the CNMI’s culture continues.

The Seafaring Traditions Program is focused on ensuring traditional skills are not lost. These include canoe building and canoe house making and all of the skills that this entails, from rope-making to weaving to carving to tool-building, and the traditional methods of celestial navigation.

The program initially is building a canoe house that is capable of housing two 40-foot sakmans or traditional canoes. Once built, they will move on to constructing the canoes themselves, which they plan to sail to the 2020 Festival of the Pacific Arts in Hawaii.

The 500 Sails organization aims to reclaim the maritime tradition in the Marianas by getting 500 traditional Chamorro and Carolinians proas on the water in the Marianas again. By matching the number of proas seen on the water in 1565, 500 Sails believes it will have restored the Marianas’ maritime traditions.

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Traditioanl Canoe House in Saipan, photo by http://www.saipantribune.com

This past August The Northern Marianas Seafaring Traditions Program has completed its first canoe house, ensuring the islands’ renewed interest in building traditional canoes continues.

The canoe house took five months to build and is modeled on traditional architecture of ancient Chamorro huts and made of the same materials. The governor Ralph Torres said the cultural significance of the canoe house and the traditional canoes that would be built there will help promote the CNMI to tourists. He said it is always important to continue to promote Chamorro and Refaluwasch or Carolinian culture.

The Seafaring Traditions Program is focused on ensuring traditional skills are not lost. These include canoe building and canoe house making and all of the skills that this entails, rope-making, weaving, carving, tool-building and traditional methods of celestial navigation.

The Seafaring Traditions Program will now focus on building canoes to sail to the 2020 Festival of Pacific Arts in Hawaii.

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