Canoes and their construction

Ko te iwi te wairua o te waka, ko te waka te wairua o te iwi

... the people are the spirit of the canoe, the canoe is the spirit of the people

A Maori saying


Sailing rafts and sewn boats existed in the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago long before the Austronesian ancestors are thought to have moved out of Taiwan.  However, there is no evidence of Chinese boat technology in Austronesian boats and the combination of outrigger and oceanic triangular sail is not suitable for lakes or rivers. The Austronesians must have adopted wind-power (sails) and boatbuilding technology from south east Asian islands during or after the time that they left Mainland Asia. The idiosyncrasies of the single-outrigger canoes of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia are most likely to have their origin in pre-Austronesian times in what are now Indonesia and the Philippines.

The Austronesians and the Polynesians refined this boatbuilding technology, and the canoe designs became more sophisticated and elaborate, using wave splitters, splash boards and canoe prows embellished with symbolic cultural images, especially of sea animals such as the frigate bird.

They also developed their own unique triangular sail and outriggers to stabilise the canoe with a mast and sail. When their descendants (the Polynesians) made voyages into ‘remote Oceania’, they favoured the twin-hulled canoes (with sails and paddles) because of their greater stability and carrying capacity, which made long ranging voyaging and migration possible. Many traditional skills were associated with both the rigging and paddling of outrigger canoes.