Waka Siu

The waka siu was the most sacred canoe of Kapingamarangi. The carving and use of a waka siu was strictly under the control of the ariki, the religious leader, and the sacred cult house. The importance of canoes to the Kapingamarangi cannot be overstated. Where even the smallest of canoes during their building required numerous celebrations, only the construction or repair of the cult house brought any type of ceremony to land-based projects. Carving the waka sui, historically, was extremely important. (See Appendix I)

The ariki had a canoe shed on the south side of the lagoonward marae at Touhou. In this were kept two sacred canoes called waka siu (literally, "wet canoes," that is, sea-going canoes). They also bore the name Ti-pupu-I-hanga, which seems to have been the name of Utamatua's canoe. Should anyone brush against these canoes, he must immediately go to dip his head in salt water. In the time of Keweti and Rimari, there were only two waka siu, but in earlier times there were more. These were used for bonito fishing, and to initiate young men into this fishing so that they would become muri waka (at the rear of the canoe), and be eligible for entering the services at Hereu. The canoes were of breadfruit wood and undecorated, and each held seven to eight people. A three-pronged stool of wood, like the prop (ranga) of a canoe, was lashed within the stern to hold the legs of the man handling the fishing pole. This prop was called ti rongorongo (see Fig. 41). While fishing, these canoes were paddled, never sailed, hence the man handling the pole would always be in the stern. These canoes were furnished also with a frame on the platform of the outrigger, to hold the coconut offerings. While paddling at sea the occupants chanted constantly uru or tauaroho chants, such as Ko ti waka Mongohenua. (Page #212, Emory, Kenneth P. Bishop Museum Bulletin 228, 1965)

These canoes were of the general construction mentioned earlier with slight modifications. The hull of the waka siu had a sleeker length to beam ratio. The coconut-offering frame that was usually placed on the front of the platform was instead located on the stern end of the platform. There was also the addition of a brace toward the stern of the canoe which helped to stabilize the man fishing.

 Figure 41.-Model of the sacred bonito canoe of the cult house, made by Tomoki, in 1951. Such a canoe was called a waka siu (wet canoe). They were never sailed, but were paddled. The three-legged stool (ti rongorongo) was to hold the legs of the fisherman with the bonito pole (nia manu) thwarts. The pearl-shell points or knives were called ti mata niga pa (pearl-shell tooth). Their function was to serve as offerings should the sea monster Ti Kiga appear. They were the offering (ti mata o), the price (ti hui). The crate on the outrigger platform is the koromanga, the place for the offerings of coconuts presented to the gods. (Emory, 1965. P-216)

 Nothing could contrast more with a triggerfish expedition than di waga diu "the dipped canoe", the ultimate in sport fishing on this island. Done once or twice a year by a priest or a tomono fortunate enough to own a bonito canoe, it was the most prestigious and economically the least important of all fishing methods. It was the pinnacle of a man's career. The canoe was specially equipped with a seat and a frame for holding the fisherman's legs steady. Few men had the clout or the resources to pay for having one built. The closest most men ever got to bonito fishing was being taken along to paddle while someone else fished.

Bonito are plentiful toward the end of tuna season, and the fisherman went out when the tide was high enough to allow the canoe to get over the reef. Fishing was done with a six foot pole and the traditional pearl shell shank and turtle shell hook, lashed with breadfruit bast and left with one shredded bast end for a lure (see Buck 1950:238-239). The fisherman stood facing the stern of the canoe to fish, trailing the hook in the water between the wakes left by the hull and the outrigger float. Bonito fishing took great strength, as the fisherman not only had to keep a steady pressure on the line but also to hold the fish steady at the side of the canoe while a partner clubbed it before pulling it into the canoe.(Michael D. Lieber, "More Than a Living" 1994. Page 80-81)