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Te Vaka, the twin pirogue

Pascal Erhel Hatuuku, Unesco project leader, explains the symbolic value of the ancestral twin pirogue to enhance environmental communication and awareness in the Pacific.

Going back in time to consider the origins of Polynesian peoples, scientists examined archeological, ethnolinguistical, ethnobotanical and genetical evidence. Their conclusion: Polynesians arrived from Southeast Asia, probably from Taiwan.

Traditionally, Polynesians have considered the sea as their true living environment, and islands a mere stopovers. To navigate the ocean, they rely on natural indicators: stars, currents, clouds whose color reflect lagoons underneath, the presence or absence of seabirds, landmarks…

This ancestral know-how is slowly dying out under the influence of western culture. Fortunately, an expert sailor from Micronesia, Papa Mau Piailug, set out in the 1970s to revive traditional navigation skills. Young Hawaiians took up the tradition and built a pirogue replica, named Hokule'a. From 1975 onward, it crisscrossed the Pacific, raising awareness of Polynesian culture.

Several islands followed suit in using pirogues to build community spirit. Wherever "Te Vaka" stops over, populations are enthusiastic. Locals who visit the pirogues, among them many schoolchildren, learn about biodiversity conservation. Around them, seminars are organized to train islanders in conservation and facing global changes. In Fakarava, old and new generations have joined together to monitor the lagoon using traditional pirogues.

In 2014, as part of the Hawaiian project Worldwide Voyage Hukule'a, a pirogue will set out on a voyage of several years to circumnavigate the globe.

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