Stalking Big Game

Matafaa, Samoa, 3-24-12

what you can't see in this picture is that it is pounding rain!

Finding a big tree to turn into a canoe is like stalking big game in Africa: You never know where you’ll encounter your prey. Here we are with one we bagged high up on the hillside in the jungle.

Here’s another we took down in the mangrove swamp.

the muck around the tree is so thick, it sucked the booties off my feet

Luckily, unlike South Asia where there are lovely creepy crawlies like poisonous giant centipedes, monitor lizards, and blood sucking leeches, here, there is nothing dangerous… in the swamp and jungle, at least—out in the ocean there are deadly cone shells and stonefish. Ah, the yin and yang of nature.

The guys have been furiously working making canoes. I help mostly by staying out of their way. I have a hard enough time not losing my balance on the steep muddy hillside of the jungle, let alone trying to handle sharp tools at the same time.

pile o' rough canoes

We’ve turned the village into one big canoe-making machine. It’s like Detroit in the South Seas. There are canoes everywhere you look. You can’t take a picture without a canoe in the foreground or background.

Normally, the village might make a canoe a year; we are making 14 in a few weeks. The process is pretty straightforward: find a suitably big tree, chop it down, do the basic carving in situ (they’re too heavy to move without carving it out first)

each canoe log weighs around 800 lbs.

rough carving

digging out the dugout

bring it to the central location (sometimes that means dragging it out of the jungle, or in the case of the ones from the mangrove swamp, floating them out)

wrapping up the worksite - heading down the mountain

and then do the finish work in a central location.

Pati, master carver

We’re on schedule and on budget—even after paying a bit of a premium to the owner of one tree when it took out his entire banana garden when it came down. This is a village-wide community project and everyone is pitching in—Rev. Fepai sees to that.

And wherever we’re working, the closest family provides lunch for the crew—but no one should have to sacrifice his bananas to the cause!

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