polowat canoe 1956

Sacred Vessels

Navigating Tradition and Identity in Micronesia

A moving islands production.

"Like veins in our bodies, canoes are sacred vessels that carry the life of the people." Thus explains Celestino Emwalu, one of the three navigators featured in Sacred Vessels. This documentary examines the survival of traditional canoebuilding and navigation in Polowat (Chuuk State, Federated States of Micronesia) and efforts to revive the seafaring traditions in Guam. It follows the work of brothers Celestino (Tino) and the late Polowat navigator Sosthenis (Soste) Emwalu and Rob Limtiaco, a Chamorro canoecarver from Guam,to trace the character and persistence of traditional seafaring in contemporary Micronesia.

polowat navigational charm Tino and Soste grew up in the water, building and sailing canoes using traditional ancient ways. Rob grew up in modern Guam, and spent part of his life stateside. On the surface, the islands which they call home are strikingly different, occupying opposite ends of Micronesia's experience of colonialism. Where Guam gives Waikiki a run for its money in the tourist and military industry, Polowat "lacks" power, running water and automobiles. Where Chamorros curse traffic jams in an island that serves as a hub for air traffic flow in the western Pacific and the Far East, the Polowatese lounge in "uts" or canoehouses, walk footpaths to taro patches and routinely tap their "faluva" or "tuba." Where Guam appears hopelessly modern, Polowat appears helplessly primitive.

But through the lens of Soste, Tino and Rob's stories, the indefatigable canoe culture re-emerges to implode these superficial stereotypes of cultural life in contemporary Micronesia, and reveals the persistence of ancient values and traditions and their struggles to navigate the turbulent seas of today. Like their ancestors before them, Soste, Tino and Rob have re-connected ancient links between Chamorros and Carolinians in their shared efforts to maintain the traditions of the canoe. In the 1980's Rob returned to Guam to study canoebuilding under Tun Segundo Blas, one of the last active Chamorro canoebuilders. Afterwards, Rob and fellow canoebuilder Gary Guerrero would travel to Polowat to learn the arts and science of building bigger, sailing canoes. Both have since maintained close contacts with the Polowatese communities there, and here, in Guam, where they have devoted their lives to promoting the seafaring tradition through carving and through lectures and workshops.

polowat to guam voyage dr cunningham Like most Polowatese of their generation, Tino and Soste travelled to Moen, Chuuk's capital, to attend high school. Upon graduation, Tino went on to college in Hawaii and California while Soste returned to Polowat to continue his studies in canoebuilding and navigation. One of his primary mentors was his adoptive father, Chief Manipy, who was a great navigator. Tino and Soste made a pact: Tino would go and learn about the American ways and Soste would learn the old ways. They would then reunite and teach each other what they had learned. Since the mid 1980s this is exactly what they have done. Until his recent election to public office, Tino served as the Assistant Administrator at the College of Micronesia, Chuuk campus, where he began to develop a Chuuk Studies curriculum with navigation as a centerpiece. Tino and Soste would also travel the region in workshops and conferences to lecture about Polowat's traditions of seafaring made famous by the late anthropologist Tom Gladwin in his book East is a Big Bird (Harvard 1970). Tino and Soste were also key leaders in the formation of the Micronesian Seafaring Society, a regional organization of traditional canoebuilders and navigators from Micronesia, created by the initiative of the Guam Council for the Arts and Humanities Agency, with support from the Guam Humanities Council. In the Spring of 1997, Soste taught courses in traditional Carolinian navigation at the University of Guam. Tragically, towards the end of the semester Soste was hospitalized and was diagnosed with advanced cancer of the liver. He died in May but not before rekindling the fires of the seafaring heritage in many of his Chamorro students at the University. Sacred Vessels is dedicated to Sosthenis Emwalu (1952-1997)

The producers of Sacred Vessels are honored to have been given the privilege to work with Tino, Soste and Rob, and with their respective communities. In making Sacred Vessels we wanted to honor those who have paid homage to traditions of the canoe. We also hope that it incites others to take up the adz, look up at the sky, and carve anew yet another sacred vessel.

To obtain the videotape contact: Pacific Islanders in Communications / 1221 Kapi'olani Blvd. / Suite 6A-4 / Honolulu, Hawai'i 96813 / Tel 808 591-0059 / Fax 808 591-1114 / Email: piccom@aloha.net