Revisiting the traditional outrigger canoe in Fakarava

‘Tis a beautiful tale, however originating from a misinterpretation. Julien Girardot, photographer and lover of French Polynesia, heard of the famous sailing outrigger canoes of the Tuamotu Archipelago. Those by which, in the early peopling of Polynesia, reportedly how the early travelers arrived in. Satisfying his curiosity and interest in the great marine epics of their time, he decided to discover for himself on site and have a closer look at these ancient boats.

crédit Julien Girardot / Source :

Arriving in Fakarava, the disenchantment is abrupt. The people of Fakarava share the same conclusion: it has been over half a century that sailing canoes have deserted the lagoon … From this misinterpretation, the “Va’a Motu” adventure was born. After three years of research and fund raising – some 30 local and French metropolitan partners joined the cause – the association set up by Julien Girardot and his friend Ato Lissant shall give birth to “Te Maru O Havaiki”, a beautiful 30 foot canoe (just over 9 meters) in the month of August. The somewhat crazy gamble of “reintroducing” the Tuamotu sailing canoe is about to see the light!

Protecting a unique natural and cultural heritage

Since construction began in April 2015, schools and the entire population of Fakarava have followed with interest and curiosity, the progress of the boat’s building. In the makeshift hangar of the Va’a Motu association, in the heart of the village of Rotoava, a part of the Puamotu identity takes shape day after day. Every week, visits from school classes and their questions surround the hulls of the boat under construction. The stories of elders are as precious to adhere closer to tradition.

crédit Julien Girardot / Source :

Indeed, the project is in line with all of the qualifications of Fakarava as a recognized Biosphere Reserve, which aims to reconcile the conservation of nature and human development in this idyllic atoll. Incidentally, O Te Maru Havaiki, means “shadow of Havaiki”, the mythical island where the people all Polynesians originated…

A project focused on the future

To carry out their project, the two founders of the association placed orders for a few sizes for naval construction and seamanship. Finding the roots of Polynesian navigation, yes, but by marrying it with the most advanced shipbuilding technology. In the workshop of Va’a Motu, fiberglass, epoxy and plywood planks alongside coconut and kaori find harmony.

The day after the launching of the canoe Te Maru O Havaiki, an international team of scientists will arrive in Fakarava to conduct a study of the lagoon on board. Among other things, the idea is to create a 3D map of the atoll, a first, and perform an inventory of the fauna of the atoll.

This boat should also be the support of a new ecotourism activity in Fakarava, which soon will propose an authentic and eco tour of the beautiful lagoon of the atoll …

In the wake of this successful experience, other canoes could well be built here and there in other Tuamotu atolls. Indeed a worthy point of interest on your roadmap for your next trip to the Fenua!

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