Plain sail­ing

Tra­di­tional Mas­sim ca­noes drawn and doc­u­mented

Paradise - - Contents -

We wanted to doc­u­ment the size and scale of the re­main­ing tra­di­tional ca­noes …

“Our ob­jec­tive was sim­ple enough,” says David Payne, cu­ra­tor of his­toric ves­sels at the Aus­tralian Na­tional Mar­itime Mu­seum in Syd­ney.

“We wanted to doc­u­ment the size and scale of the re­main­ing tra­di­tional ca­noes used by the Mas­sim peo­ple of the Louisi­ade Ar­chi­pel­ago, Tro­briand Is­lands and ad­ja­cent re­gions in Milne Bay prov­ince,” he tells Par­adise.

Payne em­barked on the project with Dr Harry Beran, 82, a world au­thor­ity on Mas­sim art and cul­ture, and his Ade­laide-based col­league, John Green­shields, a Mas­sim art en­thu­si­ast who had spent many years work­ing in Pa­pua New Guinea as an ar­chi­tect.

“Five other friends came as well to help pay the char­ter cost of our mo­tor boat, the MV

Cur­ringa,” Payne says.

“I wanted to mea­sure and record the de­tails of the dif­fer­ent outrig­ger ca­noes we en­coun­tered and then draw them ac­cu­rately, as they are a ma­jor part of the Mas­sim art and cul­ture,” Payne, him­self a yacht de­signer, says.

The out­come of Payne’s work is 22 large plans show­ing the shape and con­struc­tion for 10 large ca­noes and eight of the smaller ones, a ca­noe hut, a de­tailed re­search re­port, along with many pen­cil sketches of the scenery.

These Mas­sim ca­noes have never been recorded and drawn to this level of de­tail, al­though a cel­e­brated English artist, Oswald Bri­erly, sketched and painted some of the ca­noes dur­ing a sur­vey of the area 170 years ago aboard HMS Rat­tlesnake.

“Bri­erly was prob­a­bly the first per­son to record these ca­noes, but his stay was short. He pos­si­bly had to fill in sketches from mem­ory, at times by can­dle­light, hav­ing ear­lier in the day drawn a quick out­line and made notes.”

Payne and the team went in search of the ma­jor types of tra­di­tional trad­ing ca­noes in­clud­ing the big nagega, the sailau (a con­tem­po­rary de­vel­op­ment of the tra­di­tional ca­noes), the gebo (war ca­noes now used in festivals) and a typ­i­cal fish­ing ca­noe.

The group vis­ited 30 is­lands over 27 days and struck it lucky just as they ar­rived by plane at Alotau on the first day.

“We headed out to a vil­lage where we had per­mis­sion to in­spect and mea­sure up a gebo.

It is a 20-me­tre long dugout with stun­ning dec­o­ra­tion and carv­ings at the bow and stern.

“We were off to a good start and, as it turned out, we never looked back.

“The carv­ings are a key part of the doc­u­men­ta­tion. The prin­ci­pal area dec­o­rated is at the two iden­ti­cal ends of these dou­ble-ended hulls. The wash­boards and prows carry in­tri­cately carved sym­bols and shapes on their flat pan­els,” Payne says.

“Each boat is dif­fer­ent and each carver has his own sym­bols. John and Harry fo­cused their at­ten­tion on these, cap­tur­ing the mean­ings and lo­cal terms used, in­clud­ing the words for the parts of the ca­noes.”

By hand, Payne doc­u­mented 10 outrig­ger ca­noes and nu­mer­ous vil­lage ca­noes, all in enough de­tail to do large-scale line and con­struc­tion draw­ings back in Syd­ney, adding colour and shad­ing to bring them to life.

One of his pri­mary aims was to doc­u­ment a

nagega, the big­gest of the trad­ing ca­noes. Early on they found an older one at Ole Is­land in the Louisi­ade Ar­chi­pel­ago and, al­though it was in poor con­di­tion, it was worth record­ing.

They soon dis­cov­ered there were oth­ers around and still work­ing. At Kwa­iawata Is­land, just hours be­fore their ar­rival, the is­land’s ca­noes had left on a kula ex­change pas­sage to Wood­lark Is­land. (The tra­di­tional kula ex­change in­volves trad­ing valu­able arm­bands and neck­laces be­tween the is­land com­mu­ni­ties.)

Their dis­ap­point­ment was short-lived. That evening, at nearby Gawa Is­land, they found one in per­fect con­di­tion.

“Just ripe for doc­u­ment­ing,” says Payne. “Both the owner and builder were happy for me to come ashore the next day to mea­sure it up.”

He says their best ex­pe­ri­ence was find­ing one spe­cific ca­noe, an epoi from Fer­gus­son Is­land, the largest of the D’En­tre­casteaux Is­lands.

“This par­tic­u­lar ca­noe was a per­sonal mis­sion for John. He had met the owner with this new

epoi a cou­ple of years ear­lier in Alotau, and knew roughly where it might be.”

By search­ing one af­ter­noon in Cur­ringa’s skiff, he tracked it down at Waluma East vil­lage – not far away, but with its dif­fi­cult rocky shore­line, the surf land­ing was dif­fi­cult.

“So it was an­other dawn visit. It was a

beau­ti­ful craft, in its own shed, and the pride of the owner, the carver and the vil­lage.”

Payne em­pha­sises the suc­cess of the ven­ture lay in seek­ing per­mis­sion from the vil­lage head­man and ex­plain­ing the project.

“Our crew were lo­cals; they knew the widely spo­ken Misima lan­guage and of­ten knew peo­ple on the var­i­ous is­lands where we had stopped. We al­ways fol­lowed a prac­tice of let­ting our skip­per, Obedi, first seek out the head of the vil­lage, ex­plain the pur­pose of our visit and re­quest per­mis­sion to come ashore.

“There was never a prob­lem. They were just as keen to come out to Cur­ringa to meet us and in­spect our boat.”

Fine lines ... some of the draw­ings from David Payne’s re­cent ex­pe­di­tion, which vis­ited 30 PNG is­lands (op­po­site page); a sin­gle-outrig­ger ca­noe moves smoothly through the wa­ter near Ki­tava Is­land (above).

In the is­lands ... tra­di­tional ca­noes lined up on the beach.

David Payne ... doc­u­mented outrig­ger ca­noes and nu­mer­ous vil­lage ca­noes in the is­lands of PNG and then went back to the city to do large-scale line and con­struc­tion draw­ings.

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