Ancient Canoes on new stamp from French Polynesia

October 18th, 2013

A new stamp issue by the post of French Polynesia is dedicated to ancient Polynesian canoes.

Leaving South-East Asian, for centuries ancestors of Polynesian people have roamed the Pacific Ocean and discovered islands onboard pahis, double-hulled sailing canoes.Onboard those canoes up to 25 meters in length, transporting about 60 persons, riding upwind, allowing round trips, they have populated thePolynesian triangle.

From the 18th century, European travelers have described these ancient canoes, surprised by the major role they had within the Polynesian society. They were classified according to their method of propulsion and hull and the largestpahis were:

• Va'a, the small simple outrigger canoe propelled with a paddle, 5 to 9 meters in length, used for short trips and coastal fishing. Its hull dug out of one tree trunk and with the outrigger on the left side;

• Va'amotu, outrigger sailing canoe, from 10 to13 meters in length, used for fishing and short trips. Its hull was made with one or two tree trunks and there was at least one line of planks tied above flat edges;

• Tira, double-hulled canoe propelled with rowers, used for fishing and PahiTamai, the war canoe.

Each ancient canoe was built with plant materials. Makers used stone, wood, bone, fishbone or shells to dug the hull, drill different parts of the canoe and gather them, braid the sails…The making of a big canoe (pahi), followed by high priests evoking gods was entrusted to the best crafts persons. Launching was an exceptional event and was celebrated with great feasts and ceremonies.The canoe was named and consecrated to a god.