Plants Used for Building Canoes
by Chad Baybayan,
Rowena Keaka, Melissa Kim, Beatrice Krauss, and Mollie Sperry
Niu / Coconut, by Melanie Lessett]
environment provided all the necessary items to construct and
provision a canoe. The native Polynesian possessed a tremendous
ability in discovering the many uses his natural environment
provided for him. It is this resourcefulness that allow ed him to
move freely upon the ocean. The following is a list of plants and
their uses in building canoes.
'akoko: paint, dye
'uhaloa: paint, dye
'aka'akai: paint, dye
'ama'u: paint, dye
hala: sails, covers
koa: hull, manu,
seats, gunnels, spar, mast, paddles
'ulu: hull, manu,
gunnels, seats, caulking
kukui: hulls, paint
hau: 'iako (outrigger
boom), ama (outrigger float), boom, paddles
in Polynesian Seafaring Heritage, Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools,
1980, edited by Cecilia Kapua Lindo and Nancy Alpert Mower.)
People have made and
used cordage for many centuries. It has been used to attach one
object to another and to lift, pull, or secure things into place.
Cordage has been not only useful but also decorative. Because of the
various uses of cordage, individual s have created many ways of
knotting and lashing. 'Aha (coconut sennit cordage) is still being
made in many places in the Pacific. Both the green and dry husks of
the coconut are used.
There are several ways
in which Polynesians prepare the coconut fibers. One method is to
break the husk apart into sections. Each section is then turned over
to expose the slick outer skin. This outside portion is then
pounded. Pounding aids in breaking t he inner fibers away from the
outer skin. The sections are next soaked in seawater for several
weeks before the long fibers that are worked into cordage are
removed. Another method is to break the husk apart, then remove some
of the long fibers which are soaked in seawater for eight weeks.
Pacific Islanders who use the green husk just remove the long fibers
by pulling the husk apart and working the fibers into cordage.
Canoe sennit, which
must be a very tight braid, is extremely difficult to make. Because
of the roughness of the fibers, only a few lengths can be made in a
kinds of cordage were used throughout Hawai'i and the Pacific. Bark
from the hau (hibiscus) was easier to work with than coconut fibers.
Hau bark strips are longer and when braided or twisted are very
strong. Hau cordage was used for securing items such as umeke (bowls
/ calabashes), or rolls of kapa or lauhala.
Making Coconut Cordage
1. Husk mature dry
coconuts and break into 8-10 sections. Remove shorter fibers next to
outer shell, at both ends of the husk, and discard.
2. Soak sections for 2
weeks, or until they are easy to work. Soaking fibers in running
water helps in the cleaning process. Weight them down with a brick
or stone when soaking.
sections--work sections by twisting or use table edge and press
sections over the edge; peel and discard outer skin.
4. Beat each section
with a wooden mallet. Use a piece of hard wood or a flat stone for
5. Start beating. Beat
sections starting from the center and working to the edge. Turn
section around, repeat process to remove extraneous matter.
6. Rinse to separate
"chaff" from fibers. Shaking the bundle helps to remove the "chaff."
Tools like shells or a strong comb help in removing extraneous
material. Work through fibers. This process cleans and untangles
fibers. Tie each section around middle. This is for easy handling.
Making Hau Cordage
1. Cut hau (hibiscus)
branch. Select a straight branch with few branch scars.
2. Strip outer bark (bast)
using a sharp instrument ('opihi shell or knife). Peel the bark away
from the branch.
3. If a fine cordage
is desired, scrape off the outer bark.
4. Soak in water for
about a week. Running water is desirable (a stream would be ideal),
or change tap water periodically to prevent the bark from rotting.
The object of soaking is to soften the fibers and separate them into
5. Take strips of the
material and braid or twist to make cordage.
6. Take three strands
of fiber, start each one about l" from the other. Place right palm
over fibers; place fibers on leg; firmly roll downward towards knee.
Keep adding fibers to lengthen the single fiber thread.
Another method to use
when making hau cordage:
l. After all the
fibers are cleaned, tie 15 fibers together with a knot. This will
2. Divide the fibers
in 3 groups of 5 fibers. It is better if the groups of fibers are
not the same length.
3. The knot may be
held between your toes or tacked at the edge of a table. Braid the
4. Before you reach
the end of a fiber group, add in a new group of 5 fibers. Individual
fibers may also be spliced in as needed.