The Tahiti Traveler

Va’a Motu

The Revival of the Traditional Polynesian sailing vessel

“Va’a Motu” is a cultural association formed more than two years ago. It is a result of an encounter between Ato Lissant, a Polynesian guide from Fakarava and Julien Girardot, a freelance photographer passionate about the sea. Both men had noticed that over time, the disappearance of traditional sailing canoes in Polynesian lagoons. Over the years, these traditional boats were replaced by modern motorized vessels. Ato and Julien were really dismayed by this gradual disappearance of the “Tahitian style sailing canoe”. As a result, they joined forces to create the Va’a Motu association in the aim to revive and promote the traditional Tahitian sailing vessel. A Herculean task, since these vessels had not been in use for more than 50 years.

The aim of their project is the following: to build a new 39ft long traditional Tahitian outrigger sailing canoe. To achieve that, they count on the wisdom and knowledge of the Fakarava atoll elders, especially that of Manuel Varas, the oldest person of the atoll; Axel Tokoragi, a former navigator; Teraupoo Richmond, one of the last manufacturers of traditional sailing canoe in French Polynesia. Once built, the Va’a motu association’s canoe should serve the interests of the atoll of Fakarava. This atoll is a beautiful Biosphere reserve recognized since 1977 by UNESCO. The objective is to for the project to be completed by February 2014.

Indeed, the main appeal of this project is that the traditional vessel would serve several purposes. From an environmental standpoint, the outrigger canoe could be used to survey the protected areas and used as a means of referencing all the flora and fauna in that specific eco zone. From a scientific standpoint, it will be used during the cross-referencing the 3D map of the lagoon of Fakarava, a large scientific project. Moreover, it would also serve as eco-awareness to visitors as an important part of Polynesian heritage.  The Va’a motu association will conduct numerous eco-safaris as well as introductions to the art of traditional sailing.

This translates to more concrete plans in the establishment of a large educational program composed of:

fun workshops in schools on the atoll

• opening of the first school of traditional sailing in Fakarava.

Various sponsors such as Air Tahiti Nui, the Tahiti Tourism Board or the « Watever » association are already on-board with the project. As proof of its progress, the association revealed the architectural plans of its Tahitian canoe last December. This outrigger sailing canoe named « Te Maru o Havaiki » (« the shadow of Havaiki », Havaiki is the old name of Fakarava) will be made of marine treated plywood. It will respect a Prao style : two sails, one main hull and one outrigger. Needless to say, excitement and anticipation mounts to see this beautiful boat sailing on the turquoise lagoons. In the years to come, we have yet to see more traditional canoes made of biomaterials follow in the path of this first ship.

© Photos – Julien Girardot