Chief Kaveia’s Guidance
by Mimi George
For 16 years Chief Koloso Kaveia of Taumako (Duffs Group of SE Solomon Islands), strived to train a new generation to build canoes and make voyages using only ancient designs, methods, and materials. For several years he had in mind that he and his students would make a voyage from Taumako to Vanualava Island in the northernmost province of Vanuatu. The distance of that route is only about 300 miles. But making a north/south voyage in that Cyclone-prone area requires a lot of knowledge, skills, and discernment on the part of the voyagers.
The Taumako voyagers would have to sail before a very special wind that only comes once a year, and often lasts for only 2 to 4 consecutive days. With the right wind and an able crew, they could arrive in Vanualava in only 2 days. So they would have to recognize that it was the right wind and immediately depart from Taumako. If they sailed well then their canoe would arrive at Vanualava before the wind changed.
A voyage to Vanuatu (Holau Vanuatu) would also require meeting complex and expensive bureaucratic demands. The border between Vanuatu and Solomons had been virtually closed for over 70 years. To go from Taumako to Vanualava one needed to meet the costs of 1) a valid passport, and 2) two dangerous outboard motor canoe trips, and 10 airplane flights.
In 2008 Kaveia was about 97 years old. He was becoming weak, and his family did not want him to sail to Vanuatu for fear of losing him. But when he told them that he would die at sea, they accepted his plan to holau Vanuatu (sail to Vanuatu). Why did he want to Holau Vanuatu?
The goals were threefold: 1) to reunite family members who had been separated for over 70 years, 2) to engage young islanders, including women and children, who have no paying employment and few educational opportunities available to them, and who are passionate about renewal of voyaging partnerships and networks, and 3) to re-open the ancient seaways so that islanders could once again share marriage partners and resources that would make the lives of people on both sides more sustainable and resilient to climate change.
The last night I was with Kaveia was in October of 2008, I saw him sitting on a log by the seaside. Hour after hour he looked toward Vanuatu under a sky full of bright stars. I lit a lamp and set it in my doorway in case he wanted to come talk. Just before dawn I heard him cough at the threshold, and I beckoned him in. He said “I just made the voyage to Vanuatu and returned! I saw every sign— wind, swell, star, and TeLapa (a mysterious light from islands). I remembered my experiences of voyaging that route (back in the 1940’s and 50’s). We are ready.”
It seemed to me that Kaveia was telling me that no matter if he died before he could holau Vanuatu with his students, he had done his best to make that voyage. But he was also saying that his students could follow his guidance after he died.
Kaveia went home to sleep, and I reviewed what he had already told me about how to find the way to Vanuatu. Kaveia used a mental model with 32 ancient Polynesian wind positions to coordinate and calibrate the relationships between various phenomena useful for wayfinding. We had made diagrams representing some of what he taught his students. Wind positions are linked with calendrics (solstices and equinoxes), swell patterns, routes between islands, and the rises and sets of celestial bodies.
Later that day I brought the diagrams to Kaveia, and asked him something I already knew “Which wind position is best to sail from Duffs Islands to Vanuatu?” His answer was unequivocal… “TePalapu is the one and only wind position for that route.”
Then I asked, “When is the best time to sail with TePalapu wind?” Kaveia replied with a question, “What month is this?” “October” I replied, realizing that the 12 months of the solar (Gregorian) calendar are not the traditional units of time that he grew up with. Kaveia then said “The TePalapu blowing in November is safe.” “Is there no other time that is safe” I asked? He then said “There is no other time of year we can depend on TePalapu for sailing to Vanuatu.”
After Kaveia died his guidance was not lost in the hearts and memories of his students.
It took a few years for them to gather their courage and decide that they would try to make voyages without him. Chief Jonas Hollani led them in voyages to the Outer Reef Islands in 2012-2013. Then he turned to the matter of holau Vanuatu.
Kaveia teaching how to rig Te Puke 2002
Chief Jonas steering 2012
Watching, Working, and Waiting
When they actually set a time for Holau Vanautu (Voyage to Vanuatu) a couple years ago, I learned that satellite weather imagery, including week long projections were now available on the internet. I started watching it for the Solomons through Vanuatu region. Dr. Simon Salopuka then moved back home to Taumako, Duff Islands, and he and other students of Lata Voyaging School began studying TePalapu winds very closely … especially during November.
I saw that TePalapu blew as part of the seasonal transition from tradewind to cyclonic patterns. During November the TePalapu winds blew benignly. But after the transitional period that Kaveia identified as occurring in November, the Te Palapu winds can be the front end of a cyclone. Voyagers overtaken by a Cyclone would be lucky to live through it. I needed confirmation that what I saw on the computer was happening on the ground at Taumako.
In 2015 Simon and I were able to compare notes. A 15 knot TePalapu I saw on my screen during November 16-19 of 2014, actually did blow at Duff Islands…and no cyclone, or even storm, was associated with that TePalapu anywhere between SE Solomons and Vanuatu. We figured we had identified the TePalapu wind that Kaveia had recommended.
Taumako voyaging students aimed to make the Holau Vanuatu in November, 2015. But in March, Cyclone Pam destroyed both Taumako voyaging canoes, and all the gardens and fruit trees in Duff Islands. For the next 8 months Duff Islanders concentrated on finding food, rebuilding seawalls, clearing downed trees, replanting, and rebuilding. Then they set the goal to start the voyage on the first good TePalapu wind during November of 2016. Fortunately Christensen Fund and our private supporters allowed us to spend funds to help them recover, and then redoubled their support for Holau Vanuatu to happen in 2016.
Holau Vanuatu logo – Donate $50.USD and we can order it on a t-shirt for you
Duff Islands is the tiny island group in the upper right at about 10 degrees South and 167 degrees East
Passports and Clearances
We began applying for crew passports in 2014. When our applications were lost in the Cyclone, we had to get new forms. During 2015, Several people at 3 islands worked for 10 months to get 10 new passports For people from the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and many other countries, acquisition of passports is a pretty straightforward process. It usually takes a few weeks. In Solomon Islands getting a passport is usually a saga.
Challenges included lack of birth or marriage certificates, cameras, or literacy. The forms and affidavits were filled, signed, witnessed. Photos were taken and edited to fit. But all were rejected for one reason after another. We tried again. Crew members in Honiara trudged back and forth to offices, and inquired month after month for progress in processing. Papers were carried between Honiara and Duffs again and again. Ships usually go to Duff Islands every 2 to 3 months…except when they don’t. A few years ago it was 13 months between ships, and Taumako secondary school students were dropped from their boarding schools on other islands for lack of transport.
On October 24, 2016, with extra efforts and expediting by the Ministry of Immigration, 10 unsigned passports were issued. The crew signatures had to be witnessed by an Immigration official. Of course the crew was in Duff Islands, the nearest Immigration official was in Honiara, and the costs of getting 10 people to and fro was astronomical. But then a small miracle happened. For the first time in 18 years, new Immigration and Customs officers were scheduled to fly to their new posts at Lata by October 25. That was the day Meph and I arrived there. Now we just had to transport these officers to Duffs.
Priscilla of Immigration and Veronica of Customs, were willing to ride the 130 n.m. of open ocean from Lata to Duffs in a fiberglass canoe with an OBM (outboard motor). Furthermore they were authorized to give us a 30 day clearance period for our departure from Solomon Islands, and that clearance allowed us to depart from Taumako rather than Lata. After we paid 3000.USD for the transport and per diem of the officers, the crews were free to depart Taumako whenever TePalapu blew during the month of November.
We were further blessed that the S.I. Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources, Climate Change, and Disaster Management budgeted 7,000.USD to pay for the per diem of 6 Taumako crew members during a 2 week period. That is the length of time we anticipated it would take to sail to Vanuatu, reunite with family and communities there, build a shelter for our canoe and show people there how to care for it until the tradewinds return in June, 2017, and then travel from North to South Vanuatu and fly to Honiara, then Lata, and then go by OBM canoe from Lata to Outer Reefs and finally back to Taumako.
Additionally the Ministry of Culture and Tourism promised to write a letter of support and try to find other ways to give support, and Solomon Airlines offered us a 7 percent discount on flights for the crew. The Ministry of Police, Marine Division hoped to send a patrol boat to be our escort vessel as a part of their annual SOLVAN program in Vanuatu. Furthermore the Minister of Lands in Vanuatu promised to provide transport for the crew from Vanualava to Port Vila, and a tent to shelter the TePuke until June 2017. That is when a crew would have to fly back to Vanuatu and sail the canoe back to Duffs. We were informed that other Ministers and government officials planned to charter a plane to Vanualava to welcome us there…and pigs were being bought for a feast. We began to hope that at least one official from Solomons would go be a part of that welcome committee.
Our private donors had already given generously to cover costs of EPIRBs, satphone airtime, and other safety gear. I had my credit card ready to make up the difference. We thought we had all that we needed from the outside. Now it was just a matter of loading a canoe and sailing for Vanuatu as soon as TePalapu began to blow.
Archbishop of Solomon Islands blessing the new Te Puke
Two New Te Puke
The first step was to building two new voyaging canoes. The elderly supervisors and students worked at a furious pace all year. The first TePuke was launched in June. The new Archbishop of Solomon Islands led the blessing (see above image).
The first TePuke was named of “Vaka Causey” in honor of a generous supporter of voyaging education from Hawaii. Vaka Causey was ready to sail, the safety gear was at hand, and the crew was keeping daily contact with Ambrose Miki. When TePalapu wind came, at any time of day or night, they would rush to Vaka Causey, and set sail for Taumako.
The main hull of a second TePuke was completed and already well dried when I arrived at Taumako on October 28. Roughcut timbers for all the big parts were stacked and drying. Lengths of seasoned Hau bark hung drying— ready to be twisted into cordage. Piles of Betel trees were ready to be split for lengths of decking. A fat Pulopulo trunk, for the ama, was flanked by breadfruit trunks for the side floats, and several flexible Hau saplings for the booms.
The wind-wise Chiefs, Jonas and Fox, said it would be at least 2-3 weeks before TePalapu came. They had about 80 workers enthusiastically working from early morning to dark every day…intent upon completing the second TePuke before TePalapu came. They figured that if they could complete it before the wind came, then two canoes could sail together for Vanuatu. If there were not enough clearances or funding for two full crews then one of the TePuke could stop at Vanikoro Island, which is located about half way from Taumako to Vanualava Island in North Vanuatu.
The old man in the photo to the left is known as “Tagua” at Duff Islands, where he was born and raised. His official name has been Jimmy Jones since he went away to attend a boarding school in Vanuatu. He never was able to return to Duff Islands. Jimmy’s wife is at the right of the photo. Jimmy’s grandson, Luke Vaikawi, is standing between the two of them.
Luke is a Commander in the Royal Solomons Police and has had a long career as a Captain of the Maritime Police patrol boats. This photo was taken in 2015 when Luke was in Vanuatu as part of the planning committee to open the border. He took the chance to fly to Vanualava to try to find Jimmy Jones. They only had a couple of hours together.
At Taumako during November, I was able to show this photo to many of the family, including Jimmy’s brother John Smith. Jimmy’s mother died at Taumako long ago, and his father died recently in Australia. Jimmy looks a lot like Wilson Longopuni, who passed a way a few years ago. Wilson crewed on a scow for many years with Kaveia, and the two of them made many trips to Vanuatu.
Te Hano Noho
On November 1st Duff Islanders welcomed the second visit of the first cruise ship to ever visit them. Nathan, the Heritage Expeditions leader, kindly brought Simon, Meph, and a lot of voyage rations, on the ship from Lata, Santa Cruz Island, to Duffs. He also agreed to take Meph to Vanualava, where she would coordinate for our arrival in the TePuke. While the ship steamed to Duffs, Simon and Meph screened the roughcut of Part 1 of our documentary film We the Voyagers. The expeditioners proved a very apt and enthusiastic audience.
When they visited the TePuke worksite a large crew was hard at work cutting the edges of the biggest outrigger structures to fit each other. But they stopped to answer many questions about the design and the performance capabilities. One man also asked “Where does one toilet?” “We are scraping the viscous film off the breadfruit trunk floats that are attached to the central ama…so when you walk out on it to toilet you will not slip” came the answer from an English speaker. Duff Islanders quickly made friends the visitors from many countries, and most communication was done with enthusiastic gesturing and lots of laughter. Chief Jonas gave a superb model TePuke to Nathan so that expeditioners could study it further on the ship.
Simons children had been waiting months for him to come home and did not want him to re-board the cruise ship to go to Vanuatu. So he handed his satphone to Meph as she jumped In a launch with the expeditioners. She carried on to Vanualava, because we thought it would be important to text or call during coming days or weeks. We wanted to tell the Vanualava community when the TePuke was departing Duff Islands…and then to tell the Taumako community when the voyagers had safely arrived. Also, if there were an emergency we would be able to call Meph. What actually happened was very different.
Day and night Taumako rang with the clacking and tocking sounds of working adzes. First the edges of the big parts were cut to fit together in the riser box and crossbeam assembly of the outrigger. This assembly is called Te Hano Noho, which might be translated as “the founding structure.” The main hull was huge…a bigger canoe than anyone could remember since the 1950s. The crossbeams were monstrously long, and the four sides of Te Hana Noho were expansive and heavy.
Jonas (right middle) with Nathan (left middle) holding model TePuke
Fitting parts of the Hano Noho
Mesi (right) and Dixon (left) lash leaf panels to frame of shelter
The workers were intensely focused. Their aim was to make this TePuke ready for sea in the shortest time ever known in the oral history of building TePuke! That is to say, ever since the Taumako born, pan-Polyesian culture hero, Lata, made the first TePuke, the length of time it took to make one was at least a year and a half. This gang was looking to make two in one year!
The workers included many more women and children then men. Every day they went to gardens, prepared meals, wove the sail, held pieces steady for carpenters cutting them with adzes, and cared for the infirm elderly and the babies.
The men worked methodically to fit the riser box sides to the gunnels of the main hull, and the crossbeams to the upper edges of the riser box. Young men lifted the huge timbers up into place on the canoe, and then lowered them back down again for more trimming. Children delivered frequent cups of hot, sweet, lemon tea, and huge meals of fish, crabs, slippery cabbage greens, sweet potatoes, yams, wild taro, and ripe breadfruit. Then children washed the plates and pots.
Auntie helps girls learn to weave sail
fitting riser box parts to gunnels
shaping Te Hano Noho
The assembly of Te Hano Noho was accomplished in a week. The next week they made 12 sets outside and the 6 windlasses inside the Te Hano Noho. Then they started lashing the rest of the big deck and outrigger structures to the outside. 1200 meters of coconut cordage over 100 meters of rattan vines were used. Upon completion a pig and wild taro was baked in the earth ovens and served to all the workers and community.
Then the shelter, a leeward deck, and dozens of connectors between the crossbeams and the outrigger floats were crafted and lashed. Cover-boards were fitted into the top edges of the main hull, and secured with lashings and toggles. The seams were caulked with dried, pounded, coconut husks, then sealed over with glue from scrapings of bark mixed with breadfruit tree sap. Carved images of the bird who helped their culture hero Lata build the first TePuke, were lashed onto each end of the mighty vaka. The divot in the back of these carvings is the step for the windward boom of the sail. Then it was time to starting calling for TePalapu.
There is an old Polynesian saying ‘When there are voyaging canoes, the wind comes.’ But it is also good to pray for helpful interventions from ones ancestors. On November 14 Ambrose fired up his OBM and went to the northernmost island of the Duffs Group. There he cleaned the grave of Old Man Lala—his in-law great grandparent. Ambrose told Lala that we wanted to Holau Vanuatu, and asked him to call the TePalapu wind to come in good time.
If the wind is to blow normally and helpfully, it is also necessary that there be healthy community relationships. On the 12thth of November Ambrose’ father, Chief Jonas, and I started talking with Chief Fox Boda about a broken relationship between him and his sister, Vaka Taumako. Their father was the late Chief Kaveia. But Fox and Vaka Taumako were tragically estranged for over three years. They disagreed about what land she had a right to after her father died, and how many pigs had been contributed to the memorial. Gardens were destroyed on the disputed land. Both had cursed the other and then not paid the full fines. The raging animosity had affected everyone in Duff Islands.
The spirit of Kaveia was certain to be distressed about this, which could easily result in unfavorable winds. A reconciliation was urgently needed. At first neither of the aggrieved parties would accept any conditions set by the other. The negotiations continued for weeks. Finally, on November 15th there was a breakthrough. The land issue was solved, and then a step by step process of compensation payments, was worked out. On November 17 both parties agreed and began to reconcile. With that crew felt free to go ‘talk with Kaveia’ at his grave… to tell him about our plan to Holau Vanuatu, and our need for TePalapu wind.
That same day, eight woven mat panels were laid out in the distinctive and elegantly aerodynamic shape of Lata with his arms over his head, and then sewn together. Then the booms were lashed together and, just before dark, the sail and rig was raised and tested.
lofting the outer sail panels to shape
weighting down the panels
sewing the panels
folding and sewing the outer panel over a bolt rope
softening coconut husks for caulking
spreading sap and bark glue over caulked seams
baking the daily feast foods for workers
lashing on coverboards
weaving sail ties
Community joins in launching the new Te Puke
Test Sail Or Departure?
November 18th workers and families pushed the new TePuke into the sea. That night a weak TePalapu arrived, but it was not strong enough for sailing. It did strengthen a tad when the evening tide came in, but was still weak. So, the next morning crew members poled the TePuke across the lagoon to the edge of the passage. The idea was to test her at sea, and if the wind strengthened more on the evening tide, and if the TePuke needed no adjustments, then the crew would sail for Vanuatu. With the provisional farewelling of dozens of family, the sail was raised and the TePuke sailed through the breaking waves into the open sea.
The wind was no more than Force 2 on the Beaufort Scale …not a cresting wavetop in sight (4-6 knots). Once the TePuke was sailing the crew was sorely tempted to go for it. But there was a serious problem. The crew was having trouble steering. Fox took charge of the large steering blade and identified the problem, “The pole (Kaufoe) on this is too short.” Jonas and Ambrose replied “We have a spare pole that is longer.” Fox jumped overboard and they lashed the longer Kaufoe onto the blade.
Ambrose struggled with the big steering blade (Foe Vaka), while Dixon worked with the small one (Foe Ama). “This old Foe Vaka is too light! I cannot keep it down below the hull even with constantly pushing as hard as I can.” Reported Ambrose. Ambrose is a big strong man, and experienced steersman, so no one doubted that the Foe was too light. The crew struggled for the next 2 hours. But even 3 steering blades could not turn the TePuke downwind enough to head directly for Vanuatu. Another factor was that the ama and floats were still wet and heavy. They dragged too much and caused the vessel to turn to windward. Eventually we turned back, satisfied that we knew what adjustments to make.
Ambrose pulls halyard to secure windward boom to mast.
Joslyn comforts her daughter before departure. Her daughter wanted to go too
Fox shows that the Kaufoe is short
crew lashes on a longer Kaufoe
Dixon bails water from main hull
The next day crews went out to cut more floats for the ama and a spare Kaufoe for the steering blade. It was a good thing that we did not sail on for Vanuatu the day before, because early that morning the very light TePalapu changed position. By that afternoon the wind took position at TeHakahiu and blew very strongly straight from Vanuatu! Jonas studied the clouds and said “when it comes strongly from there It will be at least a week before the wind position can move around that way (counterclockwise) back to TePalapu. “Don’t worry,” Jonas said “It will come round and it will blow well enough to sail for Vanuatu.” I noted that it was December 20th and the Immigration clearances were good for 10 more days.
During the weeks of work completing the TePuke I tried to call Meph daily on the satphone. Only once did we manage to exchange a few words before being cut off. Meph said she was going to Santo because there was no ATM or way to use credit cards in Sola. After that call my satphone notified me that there was no more airtime for me to call or send texts.
But on December 20th I did receive a bad-news text from Honiara. The per diem funds for crew were not released by Solomon Islands Ministry of Treasury for unknown reasons, and both patrol boats were out of the water for lengthy repairs. There would be no escort.
On November 24th a text from Vanuatu, stated that Meph was back at Vanualava but would take the next flight to Port Vila to go home, and that the Customs officer was going to leave Vanualava on the next flight. If we arrived at Vanualava after he left then we would have to fly him back to clear in.
So the costs were rising. I could not use a credit card there, and Meph would not be there to help us. Ambrose, Simon and I agreed that I should go to Lata and try to get some cash to carry on the TePuke. If successful I would try to get the dates on the clearances extended into early December. That same day, December 24th, Jonas predicted that TePalapu would blow in 6-7 days.
November 30 And December 1 Decisions
It was crazy for Ambrose and me to depart Duffs for Sta Cruz 6 days before we believed TePalapu would come. It takes one or two days each way, and changing conditions often make for delays. But what choice did we have? If there was more support to be had then Ambrose could possibly get back to Duffs in time for the next TePalapu…which we hoped would come before November 30th.
Ambrose’ 40 hp OBM and the last 30 gallons of petrol on Taumako brought me to Lata on the 25th. There I learned that the clearances could not be extended without action from Honiara and new signatures of all crew. Neither was the ATM working in Lata, and the bank had no money. So I took a loan from Honorable Stanley Tehiahua and flew to Honiara on the 26th.
In Honiara, the ATMs were down too. But I found a bank with only a 2 hour line, and got enough money to buy a drum of fuel and put it on the next ship to Lata, and 500 units of airtime for the satphone I left with Simon at Taumako. I then learned that my credit cards would lock up if I did not move money and pay them off by November 30! I caught the next flight to Port Vila where Meph offered me the extra bed in her hotel room. The next morning our flights from Port Vila to Nadi were very late, but, crossing the dateline, we arrived in Honolulu (by way of LA) that same day—the night of November 27th. The next morning we flew home to Kaua’i.
On November 29th , I got a late night text from Simon. It was November 30th there. An ideal 15 – 20 knot TePalapu winds had just arrived. They could depart when the tide came up early the next morning. But, as we all knew, the clearances would expire at midnight.
Simon asked “Will the crew be accommodated if they sailed to Vanuatu?” I had to say “I do not know,” because there were no longer clearance officials in Vanualava, and arrangements for accommodation had been made for November, not December. Also Treasury had never released the per diem funds from the Ministry. “What about transport home?” Simon asked. I had to say “Without Minister Ralph of I cannot now confirm that transport to Port Vila will still be provided, and I do not have enough credit left on my credit cards to pay those airfares.”
Ambrose and the crew were daunted by the risks. Under current laws the crew members could be jailed, the canoe confiscated, and who knows how many weeks or months it might take for the crews to get home? With no money what would they eat? With no communication how would their families know if they were alive? Also, if they made the voyage without clearances it could confuse politically complicated government plans to not require passports of visas for citizens of Solo