(Charleston, South Carolina) An exotic paddling canoe from the remote Pacific Islands of Yap has arrived at Point of Pines, a 17th century plantation on Edisto Island, South Carolina. The native mahogany outrigger will be the first of its kind to enter South Carolina’s coastal waters in over 400 years of recorded nautical history.
A symbol of the longstanding friendship between the United States and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the canoe represents months of painstaking craftsmanship, and centuries of traditional technique. This custom craft was hand built by the master carvers and apprentices with “Waa'gey,” a cultural preservation and mentorship program operating throughout Yap. The westernmost state in Micronesia, the tiny islands and atolls of Yap are scattered across 500 miles of ocean, just south of the US Territory of Guam. An American protectorate following its liberation in World War Two, Micronesia is now a sovereign nation in a special “Compact” with the US.
The gift of this one-of-a-kind craft was prompted by generous support from private citizens across the United States –and in particular South Carolina– following Super Typhoon Maysak, a record-setting storm that ravaged Yap and Chuuk States in the spring of 2015. Delivery of the donated canoe is being organized by Habele, a South Carolina headquartered charity serving students throughout Yap and across Micronesia. Habele solicited, coordinated and delivered relief supplies to pupils and educators in the wake of the storm.
Matt Coleman, a South Carolina resident who spent a month in Yap coordinating Habele’s efforts, emphasized the significance of the canoe’s arrival. “Americans who may never see the Islands of Yap showed overwhelming generosity in the wake of the storm. These donors aren’t on island to see the transformative impact of their kindness, but they can see this canoe, and know that friendship isn’t something built on proximity.”
For centuries, Micronesians have hand-fashioned canoe keels from mahogany logs. Planks are fitted and tied in with rope made from coconut fibers to complete the watertight sides. These graceful crafts appear symmetrical, with sternposts and stems protruding up from the keel in forks that Islanders liken to lizard tongues. An outrigger steadies the canoe. The contemporary design remains identical to that detailed by Spanish missionaries in the early 1700s, who called the Micronesian canoes “flying proas.”
The canoe’s point of origin and its new berth share historical ties with the Spanish Empire. In 1686, the Islands of Yap were sighted and first claimed as Spanish colony. That same year -over 7,000 miles away- Point of Pines Plantation was burned by Spanish raiders from Florida hoping to expel English colonists from present day South Carolina.
“This canoe is authentic enough for museum display, and functional enough to take shrimping in South Carolina’s tidal creeks,” explained Larry Raigetal of Waa’gey. “It’s made from local materials, with traditional tools, and we are excited about our friends in South Carolina putting it to good use.”
Raigetal’s group was one of many Yap-based organizations who partnered with Habele and other US public and private donors to orchestrate and deliver relief supplies, a process which is still ongoing. Others include Pacific Missionary Airlines (PMA), the Fais Ulithi Ngulu Sorol Organization (FUNSO), as well as Yap State’s own Office of the Governor, Department of Education (DOE) and Sea Transportation Department.
“The partnerships created to support communities’ recovery from the Super Typhoon reflect the foundation of the US-Micronesian relationship: person-to-person connections,” continued Raigetal. “I hope this canoe, perhaps the most powerful symbol of Micronesian culture and tradition, will highlight how much individual Micronesians value those friendships."
Formal dedication and commissioning of the canoe is planned for the spring on Edisto Island