Micronesian canoe reassembly highlights interwoven FSM-US ties

Reprinted with permission from the Kaselehlie Press

Micronesian citizens living in Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, gathered in South Carolina in mid-May to reassemble a traditional paddling canoe. The boat was crafted in Yap and serves as a symbol of the interwoven history of the American and Micronesian Peoples.

Gift of this one-of-a-kind craft was prompted by support from private citizens across the United States –and in particular South Carolina– following Super Typhoon Maysak, a record-setting storm that ravaged the Micronesian States of Yap and Chuuk in 2015.

Canoe delivery was organized by “Habele,” a South Carolina headquartered charity serving students across Micronesia. Habele had solicited, coordinated, and delivered relief supplies to pupils and educators in the wake of the storm. “Waa’gey,” a Yap-based community preservation organization, crafted the canoe, also working with Habele to identify Micronesians in the United States who could reassemble the craft once it reached Edisto Island, south of Charleston.

"The canoe is the central object of Pacific Island cultures, and preserving the knowledge of its construction and use is essential to cultural preservation in the region,” explained Douglas Herman, Senior Geographer, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. “It is exciting to see this knowledge being shared and perpetuated.“

The westernmost state in Micronesia, the tiny islands of Yap are scattered across 500 miles of ocean, just south of the US Territory of Guam. An American protectorate following liberation in World War Two, Micronesia is now a sovereign nation in a special “Compact” with the US.  Through that status, many Micronesians come to study, work, and live, in the United States. Reassembly of the canoe offered some of these Islanders a chance to reconnect, and preserve their distinctive cultural skills.

“The practice of building and sailing canoes is an essential component of Micronesian culture,” says Barbara Wavell, an anthropologist and author of “Arts & Crafts of Micronesia.” “Canoe building requires many important skills including woodworking, lashing. These skills can also be applied to other cultural activities such as house construction and the making of bowls and tools. The Habele canoe project is a significant step in the promotion and preservation of this important cultural knowledge.”

Among the Micronesians who gathered to reassemble the canoe using distinctive and complex lashing techniques were Camilius Epoulipiy, John Salmai, Marino Yarogimal, Ralph Tawerilig, Richard Yangitelmes, and Troy Hasugulut. American born relatives of Island descent joined as well as American volunteers.

The canoe’s point of origin and its new berth share historical ties with the Spanish Empire. In 1686, the Islands of Yap were sighted and first claimed as Spanish colony. That same year -over 7,000 miles away- Point of Pines Plantation on Edisto was burned by Spanish raiders from Florida hoping to expel English colonists from present day South Carolina.

“This canoe is authentic enough for museum display, and functional enough to take shrimping in South Carolina’s tidal creeks,” explained Larry Raigetal of Waa’gey. “It’s made from local materials, with traditional tools, and we are excited about our friends at Point of Pines putting it to good use.”

“I join our elders and young men of Waa'gey in extending our heart felt appreciation and congratulations to our partner, Habele and those who have helped to assemble the canoe,” continued Raigetal, the "Senap," or master carver. He was supervised by his late father and master canoe carver Peter Pakemai  “This is a proud moment for us and we are humbled with the opportunity to play a small part of this achievement.” Organizers hope to formally commission the canoe in mid-June.

“I was grateful to be a part of this,” said Cam Epoulipiy, who drove more than seven hours to attend. “To reconnect with Islanders living in the States, to practice and preserve important skills, and to see that others outside our Islands also value these things of such importance to us.”



Micronesia's Robotic Olympians Training, Fundraising

Reprinted with permission from Kaselehlie Press, Volume 17, Issue 10

Micronesia's famously traditional Island of Stone Money is sending top students to a high tech global robotics competition this summer. The team, their teachers, and a network of supporters, are working hard to ensure they arrive on time, properly equipped, and prepared to compete.

Support the team at GoFundMe.com/YapRobo

The FIRST Global Challenge is a worldwide robotics competition scheduled for mid-July in Washington DC.  Small student teams design, build, and compete complex robots from simple parts. Featuring over 150 teams from across the planet, it also serves as a forum for students to meet and partner with diverse international peers.


Condition Assessment of Micronesian Canoe

To: Habele Outer Island Education Fund
From: Geoffrey Chambers
Date of Assessment: Friday, April 7, 2017 at 4:00 PM
Location of Assessment: Edisto Island, South Carolina

Abstract and Summary of Conclusions:

This is a condition assessment of a donated 11.5 foot long outrigger canoe built by Larry Raigetal and the Waa'gey Organization of Lamotrek Atoll. The canoe is a solid and well-made vessel of tropical hardwood construction. The canoe is currently in good condition and stored disassembled in a shipping crate. Minor repair of cosmetic outrigger grain separation should be considered prior to assembly. All parts are present for assembly and are structurally sound. The canoe and parts show no evidence of rot or significant deterioration and the paint is in good condition. Authentic coconut hair line was provided for lashing in the assembly of the canoe. Expert assistance is needed for assembly with the coconut hair line because there is insufficient coconut hair line to make mistakes in assembly and / or lashing.

Background and Objectives:
Habele is a non-profit organization benefiting education and cultural preservation in the outer islands of Micronesia. Habele and Burnie Maybank organized the importation of a Micronesian paddling canoe to the United States. The canoe is currently in a shipping container on Edisto Island.


From Stone Money to STEM Olympians: Micronesian students head to International Robotics Competition

The famously traditional Island of Stone Money is sending top students to a high tech global robotics competition.

Students from 153 nations will gather in Washington DC this summer for the international high school robotics Olympics. Few will have traveled as far –geographically or culturally– as the Robo League team from Yap.

The FIRST Global Challenge is a worldwide robotics competition. Small student teams design, build, and compete complex robots from simple parts. The work demands hands-on mastery of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) skills. Featuring teams from across the planet, it also serves as a forum for students to meet and partner with diverse international peers.

Students in Yap –a remote Micronesian Island most famous for its Stone Money– established their own Robotics League in 2011, holding Micronesia’s first public exhibition in summer of 2012.

Organized by US-based NGO “Habele,” the Yap Robo League remains the only coordinated multi-year robotics program in the Central or Western Pacific. It has grown and thrived through a defining partnership with a robotics team at Chaminade College Preparatory School, in Los Angeles, California. In-kind gifts of time and talent, as well as private donations and local fundraisers entirely finance the league.


Historic Sail showcases Micronesian craftsmanship, navigation

UOG President Dr. Underwood stands with the traditional navigators from the Lamotrek, Yap State, Micronesia at a ceremony celebrating their voyage (link).

For centuries, the people of the central Caroline Islands have relied heavily on their voyaging canoes as their primary means of transport. They made voyages to islands near and afar to obtain necessities including food, tools, and other valuables. In some instances, following devastating natural calamities, their canoes are used to relocate to a different island as was the case for the “Carolinians” now residing in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas (CNMI). 

Today, the art of canoe building and traditional celestial navigations, continues in these remote islands of the Federated States of Micronesia. Although at a smaller scale than what it used to be, the important knowledge of their ancestors is being passed on to younger generations. Waa’gey is a community-based organization that is working with their island communities to promote traditional skills and knowledge transfer.


Micronesian Diaspora, Peace Corps, seek support for isolated Island School

Gene Rachielug is from Federai and currently lives in Portland, Oregon. On his last home trip to Ulithi, he met Stephen Guertler a new Peace Corps Volunteer serving on the island. Gene proposed creating an online platform to not only raise awareness on the issues of Climate Change effecting his island home, and raise money and donations to help out the school and the entire community. 

Gene will coordinate all the monetary and in-kind donations, and Stephen will coordinate everything on the ground. 


Break down barriers for FAS migrants, revamp aid to Micronesia - HI Think tank

US aid programs for Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands are deeply flawed, and Micronesians who come to the US seeking a better life often face major challenges as well.

That's the conclusion of a new report published by the Hawaiian-based Grassroot Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.

The Institute's new Returning Power to Micronesians in Hawaii report explains how decades of poorly designed and badly managed bilateral aid has stunted economic growth in these three strategically situated Pacific islands nations, collectively known as the Freely Associated States (FAS).

Lack of domestic opportunity, combined with special rights of entry and indefinite residency in the United States, have driven large numbers of Micronesians from the FAS to Guam, Hawaii, and the US mainland in the recent years.

The Returning Power report examines how FAS migrants who come to Hawaii face a second set of challenges in the form of artificial barriers to affordable housing and economic mobility.

Read the full report at GrassrootInstitute.org.