A dream taking shape over the past two years in the mind of Manuai Matawai, a 43-year-old resident of Pere Village in Papua New Guinea, was realized this week when a 48-foot outrigger canoe set sail from the shores of Manus Island.
Manuai and nine other crew members have embarked on the first legs of a two-month journey with an important mission. The vision of Manuai, Captain and lead builder of the Climate Challenger vessel, is to honor the traditional sailing knowledge and culture of his ancestors by launching a voyage to raise awareness of how his island, world and life are changing with the climate.
Many Pacific Island communities are coping with rising sea levels and other impacts of climate change. In addition to sharing climate change adaptation practices and exploring the link between culture, faith and nature, Manui says he wants to “document the suffering and pain faced by the vulnerable Pacific island communities and reach out and advocate on what can be done about it.”
Following months of preparations, a test sail in late August and village celebrations, the crew departed from Pere yesterday (Sept. 6), sailed 40 kilometers to check in at Baluan Island, and then set off on southwest winds for Kavieng, New Ireland, a distance of 360 kilometers.
Manuai will be documenting the journey with a video camera. When internet access allows, the crew will periodically update their location and share stories from their journey on The Climate Challenger Voyage blog site.
The crew’s goal is to sail more than 10,000 kilometers over two months from Melanesia to Micronesia, stopping at many Pacific islands along the way – among them Bougainville, the Solomon Islands, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Ponape, Yap, Palau, the Hermit Islands – and then return to Manus.
Manuai and the crew built the hull, a traditional dugout canoe, from pencil cedar, which according to their web site, is a tree whose timber is “strong, light, hydrodynamic and resistant to marine organisms.” A modified version of the traditional Pere outrigger design with two sails, the canoe’s red cedar planking “is fastened together using dowel from the mangrove tree, nails, screws and fiberglass, and sealed with a traditional putty made from tree sap.”
The 10 members of the crew have various reasons for participating, from 23-year-old Joseph Ambou of Baluan, a sailor and cultural dancer who wants to experience a long Pacific voyage, to 50-year-old Pokakes Pondraken of Pere, a navigator, fisherman and cultural advisor, who wants to explore other islands and share climate change adaptation with other Pacific islanders.
The crewmen are members of the Titan tribe of about 20,000 people, seafarers who make up about a third of the population of Manus, Papua New Guinea. All share pride in their common cultural heritage, a way of life intimately connected to nature.
“Our ancestors were long voyage canoe builders, sailors and traditional navigators, so the ocean is our way of life and very important to us,” according to the Climate Challenger Web site. “The voyage demonstrates how we are connected to ocean and the spirits.”
“We will carry four sails with us (including two spares) which are just plastic tarpaulins,” according to the site. “For navigation, a combination of modern GPS and traditional methods will be used. The sun, moon and stars, wind, waves, current and presence of birds and dolphins will guide us.”
For added safety on the long voyage, the vessel will also be outfitted with satellite phone, navigation lights and a 2-way radio.
Lisa Hayden is a blogger and writer for The Nature Conservancy
Featured photo by: Seiorse Carthy (The 48-foot traditional outrigger canoe Climate Challenger underway. The crew set off on their two-month voyage on Sept. 6).
Top photo by: Poyep Matawai (Canoe builder and captain Manuai Matawai of Pere village).
Inset photo by: Manuai Matawai (The crew working on the canoe built from wood of cedar trees.)
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