Monday, March 11, 2013

The Vaka of Rarotonga

Mike and I lashing the stern
There are no words for my last week in Rarotonga, an incredible mountainous island in the center of the Pacific Ocean. I am changed as a person. I went to see Mike Tavioni, a traditional Vaka (canoe) builder, stone and wood carver, artist and community elder for the Rarotonga/Cook Islands people. The man keeps alive many of the islanders traditional arts and I felt truly blessed to spend the week with he and his wife, the sole female master canoe builder in the pacific.

A Vaka Ama (outrigger canoe), made by Mike Tavioni, in the National Museum,

We spent much of our time preparing a hull, shaping the bow and stern and lashing on the gunnels at a Vaka Ama or outrigger canoe. These canoes are used for paddling within the reefs and fishing by islanders, but very few exists in this part of the world. What Mike knows of these processes are the last bits of cultural knowledge, yet his willingness to teach is inspiring. Mike is a man of ideas, a fast flowing river of ideas, constantly carving the world by trying them. Each day with Mike was an optimistic and energetic reminder that we are "all artists".

Mike examining my work on the gunnel, and me waiting nervously for his feedback.

We lashed into our new Vaka Ama a plank from an old sailing canoe the Te Toronui, keeping alive the canoe into the future as those who are alive today keep their ancestors in their hearts. From a bog in his taro patch we took coconut husk, ready to be weaved into cordage or sennit.

Lashing towards the bow

Mike showing me an adze he made from an old lawnmower in Hawaii, at the Festival of Canoes, providing his resourcefulness

Mike also gave me lessons in carving, philosophy, economics, and just about any topic in which a person can learn and entertain. THis is one of the incredible things about the man, his fearlessness not only in approaching a topic, but in actually participating in it. That is what makes his an incredible teacher and inspiring artist. When I told him that my finger had been broken the week before in a Taiaha spar (a traditional Maori stick fight), he said I must carve a Taiaha for myself. So with only the use of my right hand, I carved a Taiaha from local Taua (war party wood, or ironwood). In every movement I could feel my hurt finger, and in turn feel the responsibility of what I was making.

Mike wielding the chisel

Using my broken finger to hold the chisel on my Taiaha
Rarotonga is a beautiful place and my soul is recharged after a week that will always be with me. There is to many story to tell to many epiphanies for a single week. I know, later in my life I will be back, but more importantly, I will always have the mindset to return to. I was taught this week a new meaning of following ones passions and ideas, of truly embracing love and openness, of seeing the beauty of a place, and simply doing a task as best as you can.

The Mountains of Rarotonga

Black Rock, the place of departure for souls

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