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Magic of the Sea - Banabans on Rabi Island

Fiji Times Luke Rawalai Friday, April 12, 2013

THE sight of a tiny fishing canoe, the kind usually used by Banabans, bobbing against the swell on the vast blue sea is a sight that will make any visitor worry.

However one might not realise that the riders of these fishing canoes are descendants of old seafarers who have come to know the sea like their very own back yards.

One such fisherman is 60-year-old Taranabe Maoba who has had his experiences at sea aboard these tiny canoes.

Maoba said the canoe was a male domain and tied to those qualities which, in Kiribati, are seen as important in a man are strength, stoicism, and the skills of fishing, boat handling and survival at sea.

"In its construction women play a vital role of making sinnet string," he said. "Rolling the fine strands on their thighs, this string is used in every aspect of the canoe's construction. With it the planks of the hull are stitched together, the outrigger is lashed on and all spars are held firmly in place and thus the women's role literally holds the canoe together."

Maoba said the length of a canoe depended on each person and for measurements pandanus leaves were used since there were no pencils or rulers available to them in the past.

"Magic plays a very important part in the construction of a canoe and some practise magic so that the canoe will bring in a lot of fish. Some practise magic so that the canoe will be very swift and fast when sailing," he said.

"Magic is used for many reasons while some use magic to make them attractive and appealing to women, some use magic whenever participating in any kind of sport.

"Whenever magic is used, it has been seen to be very successful."

Maoba said it didn't take long to build a canoe if a lot of people were involved and they loved the communal spirit in everything they did.

"Our canoes are made to handle the big swells and large surf the boat is exposed to once it is out in the ocean," he said.

"The prows help save the canoe from taking in water as its crew skilfully manoeuvre them through the waves.

"Anyone fishing from the canoes should know how to handle the canoes in the ocean or else lose all to the rough conditions out there."

Maoba said the canoes had been used by his ancestors of old and it has been known for its prowess and easy manoeuvring in the wide open seas.

"Children even have the pride of riding in these canoes miles from the island on their fishing trips traversing the seas near to Rabi in search for fish," he said.

"In fact the size of these canoes makes it easy for anyone to handle them but it requires great mastery to manoeuvre the small crafts through the seas.

"The canoe has become a symbol of the Banaban people and their connection to the sea as an important part of our livelihood."

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