13 ft 10 in
A traditional Papua New Guinean Outrigger Canoe. Boats like this are used for setting and attending fish-traps and for line fishing.
Between 17 July and 4 September 1987, 80 members of the British Schools Exploring Society mounted an expedition to Northern Papua, New Guinea. The expedition was broken down into two phases; a Science phase, which saw the 5 'Fire' groups conducting a variety of research ranging from Mosquitoes to Reef Studies; and a 50 kilometre march through the jungle retracing two Japanese World War II invasion trials. It was during the Science phase that 15 members of the one 'Fire' group were able to help in the construction of this canoe.
There are over 600 different languages in Papua New Guinea, which comprises a quarter of the world's total number of languages. The coastal village of Numbami, with a resident population of 250, where the canoe 'Fire' group were based had its own unique language and was cut off from the outside world by high mountains. To leave necessitated an arduous day's climb over the mountains, or a day's paddle by canoe, to the next village. This isolation led to a thriving, self sufficiency on a substantial basis. The canoe has become essential in this environment; being used for fishing with hand lines and spears, and for transport between the villages.
At the earliest opportunity a child is given a piece of wood and shown how to craft a canoe model. Once he has perfected this art the size of the models are increased until he is able to build his own canoe. Throughout he will always be helped by other members of the village, including one of the village elders, known as 'Big Pela', who will always oversee the whole operation. The operation starts with the cutting down of the tree, which has been specially planted near the village some years before, and using techniques which have changed little over the last 1000 years, ends with the weaving of the sail out of a mixture of tree bark and leaves. These completed craft then have a life expectancy of some ten years.
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