This week a delegation of traditional culture experts from the Waa’gey organization travelled to Yap Catholic High School for a presentation to the summer school students. Volunteers Joe Paiyar of Fachailap and Selestine Retewailam of Satawal spent several hours at the school talking to the students about canoe carving and traditional navigation.
Waa’gey founder Larry Raigetal accompanied the volunteers to supplement their presentations and provide translation into English when needed, and Habele member Alex Sidles was also present to talk to the students about scholarship opportunities.
Although most of the students at Yap Catholic were from Yap State, the Waa’gey presentation was for many the first time they had learned in detail about the various skills and practices required to build and operate a traditional sailing canoe. According to the Waa’gey members, such knowledge is in danger of being lost as society in Yap changes. As Raigetal explained, the purpose of Waa’gey is to remind young people of their heritage, even as they face the future.
Raigetal used the metaphor of a canoe to explain the value of teaching students cultural knowledge: “When a canoe is sailing toward a distant destination, the navigator always looks back at the point of departure to estimate how fast the canoe is drifting due to ocean currents. If he didn’t look back, he would have no reliable way of reaching his destination. We at Waa’gey teach traditional skills as a way of giving young people the means to look back on where they came from, even as their lives take them to new places or new countries. Without a firm understanding of who they are, they would be as lost as a canoe that didn’t take note of its point of departure.”
Joer and Selestine illustrated their presentation using model canoes, sketches of canoes under construction, star charts, and wave pattern diagrams. Although the information was new to most of the students, they absorbed the concepts quickly. “Now you’re ready to a sail a canoe,” Selestine joked at the end of the presentation , although in fact it takes many years of study to acquire the full range of necessary skills.
Raigetal invited any interested students to come to the canoe house in Colonia and spend time with the Waa’gey volunteers who work there. “The canoe house is yours as much as it is ours,” said Raigetal, addressing the students. “Everything we do is for the purpose of teaching young people, so please come by any time you like!”