By John Greenshields of Adelaide, South Australia
I took this photo of Joseph Ayodila at the Milne Bay Canoe and Drum Festival on Alotau, Papua New Guinea, in 2014. I told Joseph of my interest in traditional canoes. I said I would like to return to Papua New Guinea one day to study them. Joseph replied that there were many canoes. In June 2017, I wrote to him at Waluma, his home village on Fergusson Island in the D’Entrecasteaux group of Milne Bay, on the eastern tip of PNG. I told him I would be on my way soon. The letter never arrived.
In August 2017, I was back in Milne Bay with two others who shared my enthusiasm for the province’s traditional “Massim” style canoes. Dr Harry Beran is a Massim researcher and David Payne is the Australian National Maritime Museum’s curator of historic vessels. With four more passengers, we spent a month in the northern and southern Massim region. At the request of the Waluma East villagers, their canoe’s story and images are copyright ©. I will explain shortly.
At 6am on Friday 18 August 2017 we reached Waluma. We met a surprised Joseph, the canoe’s owner Terry Ronal and a gathering of villagers. Peter Siloni translated when required.
Ownership of the Canoe Story
David Payne measured up the canoe for a drawing. I took still and video shots as the vessel was taken from its shed and rigged. Then we talked about the canoe’s features, such as design motifs. The villagers began a discussion about story ownership. They said the canoe’s story belonged to them. They didn’t want it taken by anyone who might benefit from it, or turn it into someone else’s story.
We wanted their story to make sure it wasn’t lost, I said. We explained that younger folk these days were taking less interest in the past. We planned a book which may include their canoe’s story. Books such as this cost hundreds of thousands of kina to publish. We had no intention to profit from it. However, I said that some websites take public images, and claim some ownership*. We couldn’t do much about that practice. Our only suggestion was to assert copyright, which we outlined. The Wikipedia definition** is included here, as this document will be distributed to the Waluma East community.
Intellectual property or copyright are personal or corporate assets. Here it is suggested that story copyright should belong to Joseph Ayodila and Terry Ronal on behalf of the Waluma East Village community. Google “Pinterest canoe Trobriands” to see what has been privatised from public images.
The Waluma people decided our suggestion was acceptable. They agreed to tell their story.
Here it is, starting with the specifications.
The Story of a Canoe Named Ealamai’iea, or Patience©
CANOE TYPE: Epoi.
OWNER: Terry Ronal.
CARVER: Joseph didn’t know his age, but possibly 60.
BUILT: About 2013/14.
BUILDER: Hull and outrigger “built by all of us”.
MATERIALS: From bush and forest behind Waluma East village.
KEEL: Busu means keel. It is rosewood from nearby Sanaroa Island.
PLANKS, STRAKES: Called bwada’ai, they are cut from tawana wood.
OUTRIGGER BEAMS: Liu means beam.
OUTRIGGER: Lowana is the name for both the wood for the outrigger and the outrigger itself.
OAR/RUDDER: Bwaloa means oar or rudder. It was cut from kwila wood.
Talking with Joseph through Peter Siloni, we learnt that there were three canoes in the village. They go to Alotau, the capital of Milne Bay province, but not for Kula, the ceremonial exchange system of the Massim region. When I asked Joseph if one end of the canoe was different from the other, he replied, “Both ends are the same”. He said the beach end was a branch end of a tree. To buy such a canoe would cost 2000 to 3000 kina, or some huge pigs’ tusks, m’wali, or bracelets, and bagi, or necklaces, 20 to 30 big baskets of yams, and betel nuts. In the villagers’ ancestral past, they used to do Kula in canoes for m’wali. Now people use dinghies with outboard motors.
“Both canoe ends are the same, except for the measurement,” Joseph continued. “They make it wider at the back because the captain stands there. He is important, the overall man in control. He should be a bit higher.”
- The lagimu is a woman, or gwamamuyo, with open wide legs. Almost every aspect of the lagimu represents female parts.
- BWALUWADA: The meaning of the red shapes had not been explained to Joseph.
- LUMATAGA: Male part of the chest.
- LUMATAGA: Female parts of the chest, below numeral 3 in the photo.
- KOIKOIBWABWA: Vagina.
- BWASIBWASI: Female pubic hair. The ferns on top and scrolls down each side are all part of female pubic hair.
- AIDEBWA: Female’s ear.
- MATAGATU: Female’s eye, on each side of the lagimu.
- PESAPESA: The running scroll around the top edges represents a “male and female mating in the grass, and is also a grass that grows around the beach.”
- Just a decoration, in this canoe a mermaid. It doesn’t have a special name – it’s the carver’s decision to make it a fish or a snake, and so on.
- MANULAI: Female’s sides, in red.
- LOULELE: The thin black lines each side of the red manulai, with thin black points above the numeral 12. Joseph had not been given an explanation.
- LABESITA: Red. No explanation known to Joseph.
A) BWASI BWASI: Female pubic hair (see image above).
B) Not all the stories have been given to Joseph for this part of the tabuye, which is letter B. “Usually when it goes onshore, the tabuye asks people on the land for wealth such as pigs for exchange (see image above).
Going into a new place, the front goes in first.” This is the front or beach end and makes sense because the bigger root end is where the captain sits. He must look forward to the beach when landing.
- GOLA: “Sula Sula shells are fastened to five holes, to make the canoe more attractive. The canoe looks more like a dragon with an open mouth, or a big snake.”
- MATA SELU SELU: The red and black tears of a woman crying, maybe raped. A story that was passed down. Mata is eye. Selu is tears. Hence mata selu selu is many tears.
- SEDA: “Jaw of a snake.” These designs go from the tip of the keel up to the point marked 3R. The designs in that length were not explained, other than jaw of a snake.
- PWALA PWALA: These designs were not understood by those present. The stylised whale shapes run almost the canoe’s full length.
- KIWIKIWIWI: The white part at the front of the keel.
X) MAGISUBU ANA LULU IGIYAINA: “A bird, the eagle, catching his prey with his legs; the bird is holding onto a bone.”
Our research complete, the canoe went back in its shed. I gave gifts and thanked the villagers for their helpfulness. As we were about to leave, John the sailor made a touching speech. It went like this:
“We thank you all for coming to our village Waluma East to seek out Joseph, the carver of the canoe in the photograph.You have come from far away, and it has taken you many years to get here.
“We have shared the story of our canoe with you, for you to tell. It is our story.
“Because you have come so far, and we have shared the story with you, you are now one of us. You are all welcome here any time.