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How Pacific Islanders Are Fighting Climate Change With Canoes

Canoe building in Pohnpei, the Federated States of Micronesia, where the warriors are learning the canoe building process from local elders. Photo credit:

Canoe building in Pohnpei, the Federated States of Micronesia, where the warriors are learning the canoe building process from local elders. Photo credit: 350.org

This article was written by Fenton Lutunatabua for 350.organ organization building a global climate movement, and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content sharing agreement.

Climate change is hitting the Pacific Islands hard. Sea levels are rising, temperatures are increasing, and worsening storm surges and flooding have contaminated fresh water supplies and ruined crops. Already, residents of one island have decided to leave because of these devastating effects.

It's only expected to get worse, yet Australia has renewed its embrace of fossil fuels despite the plight of its Pacific neighbors. 

But Pacific Islanders are fighting back — with canoes. People from 16 different countries will voyage to Australia as part of 350.org's Pacific Warrior Campaign to deliver traditional canoes to major supporters of the fossil fuel industry with the aim of showing them that Pacific Islanders will work peacefully to protect their cultures, homelands and oceans.   

Earlier this year, climate warriors across the region marked the start of canoe construction. In Vanuatu, a specially chosen tree was donated to the team to begin the process. The video below features an interview with master canoe builder Walter Namua, who explains the significance of the tree.

We’re not usually into cutting down trees. In fact, over the last five years our Pacific organisers have planted thousands of trees, but for this project our teams are cutting down a single tree from each island. Many of them have been donated to the cause. The teams are working with master canoe builders and elders to conduct blessings for each tree before diving into the work of hollowing out the canoe.

The tradition of canoe building has slowly disappeared over the years among Pacific communities in the name of progress and technological advancements. The vessels were used in everyday life, while special ones became the most treasured chiefly possession. Building a canoe usually involved the entire community. While there was segregation of roles (men made the hulls and rigs, women made the sails), the entire community — men, women, young people and elders — came together to make the rope and cord that bound the craft together.

The trees that grow in areas of poor or infertile conditions were selected for canoes. It was important that the trees used could withstand the forces of the ocean as these canoes were used to travel between islands for trade.

The campaign is trying to regain the art of canoe building and traditional sailing to deliver messages on climate change to Australia.

In Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, the Warriors are already underway building the canoe, supported by the village of Enipein, Kitti, to learn the process of traditional canoe building from elders. Warriors in Tonga, meanwhile, performed the Tongan Sipi Tau (war dance) and worked with wood carvers to begin their canoe building on the April 12 Day of Action.

In Tokelau, they are calling on the support of the people of Atafu, who are famous for canoe building to begin their canoe. And in Papua New Guinea, the Climate Warriors walked through Port Moresby and raise public awareness about Climate Change, the role of the Pacific Climate Warriors in the region and how citizens can support the movement.

  • mememine

    Good news!

    If Human CO2 was actually a “threat to the planet” the science gods would have been 100% certain not 95% certain for 32 years that THE END IS NEAR. But they are however 100% sure the planet is not flat.

    It was all an exaggeration so be happy and stop scaring the kids like neocons just to make them “aware” and to turn the lights out more often.

    • CB

      Science is never 100% certain of anything.

      Now, how certain are you there won’t be a crisis?

      If we haven’t set the world on a course toward total polar meltdown, 75 meters of sea level rise, the drowning of the homes of billions of people, and untold climate chaos just with the CO₂ we’ve already emitted, why isn’t there a single previous example in Earth’s history of polar ice caps withstanding CO₂ so high?

  • Nat Turner

    This should scare those ostrich like racists over in Canberra a bit,
    the thought that,
    because of their greed based selfish policies,
    one day literally thousands of canoes turn up on the shores of Australia,
    with refugees from climate change.
    The very same climate change which they completely refuse to attempt tackling for the sake of profits and short shortsightedness.
    These refugees wouldn’t be so easy to stop at sea as
    a boatload fleeing from somewhere like Indonesia,
    which now Australia intercepts at sea and “processes” as to whether or not the refugees should have the right to refugee status, on the middle of the ocean and done in 5 minutes, before sending the people back to where they are fleeing from.
    Australia’s racist immigration policy can also be called genocidal,
    because it is turning small islands, with small populations, in the region into “detention camps” so that those fleeing never touch Australian soil,
    they are not, on release, allowed to leave the islands, therefore in a period of time, refugees will outnumber in places such as Nauru with population of less than 10,000, and Manus Island (P.N.G.) which has less than 45,000 indigenous inhabitants.
    All this without even mention of the daily debilitation the AbOriginals have suffered under European colonization.
    I would be great if Australia listens to the Pacific Islanders, but
    somehow their track record suggests a deaf ear will be turned.
    Australian “reforms” http://sco.lt/7eU6CX
    Sea Sheperd visit http://sco.lt/8pAs8f
    Aboriginal Dance http://sco.lt/6f7nxh
    Utopia film by John Pilger http://sco.lt/62YFU1
    This comment http://sco.lt/5o9WGv

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