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Topic: Pacific canoes

Is part of topic Voyagers: Discovering the Pacific

To explore the Pacific, early voyagers needed canoes that were strong and seaworthy. Today these are called vaka, va‘a, waka, or wa‘a – depending on where in Polynesia you are.

The first Europeans who ventured into the Pacific marvelled at the skill with which these canoes were made.

The range of designs and building methods was vast. In double-hulled canoes, the two hulls were joined together by booms and a decking. Outriggers had just one hull and a float attached to it by two or more booms. Some canoes had hulls built from planks, while others had ‘dugout’ hulls made from hollowed-out tree trunks.

The earliest Polynesian canoes were ‘tacking canoes’. Like modern yachts, they had a specific bow (front) and stern (back). But later, probably influenced by Micronesian boat builders, some Polynesians made ‘shunting canoes’, where either end could be the bow.

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