Last week was largely spent in an aside, looking at traditional boats of the Pacific. The whole thing was fueled by the sudden appearance of a fleet of ocean going canoes.
Outside of our field trip, we also spent quite a lot of time studying the traditional boats and maritime lifestyle of the Pacific Islands. As luck would have it, our local library managed to produce a great resource book called ‘Fishing for Islands.’ It explores a whole range of different types of traditional boats, showing the relationship between design, purpose and available materials. It also covers how these boats developed from very simple bark canoes used to navigate swamps and quiet rivers.
My oldest boy in particular seems as impressed as I am by simple technologies. He has explored bark as a roofing material, made a stone blade, had a look at ancient fish traps, tried his hand at weaving grass, and just today, he hafted a shard of glass onto a length of wood to make a clovis point spear.
He really wanted to make a bark canoe based on a design from Arnhem Land. Making it out of bark was a bit beyond us, but we do have lots of Bangalow palms growing at our place. The leaves are always falling off and the base gives a large waterproof sheet which is just perfect for the job.
We hunted around until we found one which was still green. As they dry out, they become brittle, and crack if you try to bend them. I did most of the work on the actual canoe, with the boys mostly just passing me things as I needed them. In the background though, they were busy cutting, stitching and tying their own creations.
The closest thing I had to an awl was a phillips head screwdriver. I would cut the leaf with secateurs, fold it as I needed, and then use the screwdriver to drill a hole in it, as well as to push a piece of string through the hole. I was using heavy jute twine. Partly this was just because it was strong enough to do the job, and partly it gave an authentic feel to the project.
The back was stitched together straight up and down. The front needed a bit more work, being folded and stitched into a point for pushing through reeds. At this stage, although nearly finished, it still does not look like much. Here it is against the picture we were using for inspiration.
We trimmed a piece of the leaf stem, and then stitched a couple of lengths across the boat. These spreaders stop the sides either folding in or spreading out flat.
Of course, two boys need two canoes. For a moment, I thought we had run out of materials, but we managed to find a fresh, very large leaf hidden in a corner of the garden. Here they are, fully decked out with their respective crews.
A couple of days later, we used a similar method to make a simple bark hut. We tied a basic framework together, then cut and folded some leaves over to make a roof. We weighed the bases down with rocks to hold them in place. The boys also hammered a post into the ground to moor their canoes up to.
The largest of these canoes is about a 1/3 scale of the real thing. I enjoyed making it every bit as much as the boys did.