Passing on Ancient Navigation Knowledge in Palau

The Island Times Palau recently posted a story about how the country was concerned that the ancient Pacific knowledge on seafaring was now sailing on its way to oblivion and a descendant of a Micronesian grandmaster navigator was  trying to revive the traditional wayfinding skills by passing on centuries-old navigational knowledge to the younger generation.

Master Navigator Sesario Sewralur made it clear in his speech during the launching of a traditional Palauan sports racing canoe on Saturday, May 11, in Ollei, Ngarchelong State that he wanted to continue the dream of his father to keep the knowledge on traditional navigations alive.

Being one of the children of the late grand-master navigator Pius “Mau” Piailug of Satawal, who was best known as a teacher of traditional way finding methods for open-ocean voyaging sans the aid of instrument, Sesario possessed the traditional voyaging skills and knowledge that had been passed on from generation to generation.


Traditional Palauan canoe, photo by ICAS

Although not a Palauan, Sesario, who is from Satawal, holds the knowledge of traditional voyaging which he claimed to have originated in Palau.

Ebiil Society Director Ann Singeo, in an interview with Island Times, said she was initially in disbelief upon learning from Sesario himself that the traditional navigation skills and knowledge that the latter possessed actually originated in Palau and the Marshall Islands.

Singeo recalled the conversation she had with Sesario where the latter revealed that the reason why Palauan canoe has the design of a head of the bird is to signify the beginning of Pacific navigation in Palau.

“There was even a time when Palauans were starting to speak openly in public that Palau does not have navigation, that we never navigated, that we always stayed here. But here’s a man who is doing navigation, he’s a master navigator who says it began here,” Singeo said.

It was in 2008 when Sesario began working with the Ebiil Society to teach traditional navigations to kids joining Ebiil’s summer camp.

Sesario arrived in Palau in 2007 as a master navigator when a group of Palauans established the Micronesia Voyaging Association (MVA). Sesario then taught navigations at the Palau Community College (PCC) but had also been teaching the subject to kids during summers at the request of the Ebiil Society.

Singeo said that Ebiil Society, being an organization that promotes environment conservation, has always wanted to teach children to respect the environment by incorporating traditional values. This is the same reason why the organization is introducing traditional navigations to the children during summer camps – to promote sustainable transportation.

“We teach through traditional industries because traditional industries are created by people who are really closely connected to the earth,” Singeo said.

This summer, the kids at Ebiil Camp will have the chance to learn the traditional way of sailing using the canoe that master navigator Sesario just finished making.

This past May, the Ebiil Society showcased before the guests the traditional Palauan sports racing canoe called Kaeb which will be used to teach kid campers the art of sailing without the use of instruments. The canoe was carved and built by Sesario since January this year whenever he had vacant time on a weekend.So pure was Sesario’s intention that he voluntarily made the canoe for free.

“He’s not doing this because we’re giving him money. He’s doing it out of his passion and because he wants to continue the legacy of his father who decided that if he didn’t teach others, it will be lost,” Singeo revealed.

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