By ELLEN TIAMU
HENRY Koragai is one of the last men alive in Tatana village who knows how to make a ‘real’ lakatoi. In fact, he has just completed a “small-sized” lakatoi that will feature in the 2017 Hiri Moale Festival which is to take place today and tomorrow.
The 62 year old said it is difficult nowadays to build a real-sized lakatoi as trees for the hull and outrigger and vines that were used in olden days to put the large sailing canoe together were becoming harder to find due to once-forested areas being cleared.
“When you stand up close to a real lakatoi, the hull is up to your neck,” he told The National at Tatana village on Wednesday this week.
Koragai has had to look to neighbouring Motuan villages such as Doura and Lealea in search of material build a smaller replica of the large hulled canoe in time for the festivities this weekend. Working with his assistant Michael Kevau, and a team of young boys from Tatana, they built the canoe in three weeks, sourcing only local material from the bush.
“We used only bamboo, sago leaves and stalks, and dried banana leaves and modified the style to cater for the weight.”
Pandanus leaves woven into mats served as the sail, and river reeds were also used with everything wired together using rattan cane and other local bush vines.
The “weight” Koragai spoke of is two singled hulled canoes (without outriggers) that were borrowed from people from Fisherman Island to form the hull of their lakatoi. Finding the right tree and hulling it to perfection would have taken months.
“There are no nails, all traditional,” he reiterated.
For Michael Kevau, this is the first such endeavor he’s undertaken.
“I learnt a lot from Mr Koregai.
“It is not an easy task to build a lakatoi,” Kevau said.
He said it was important that the large sailing canoe be built so that it can float, as it would be a big embarrassment for the lakatoi builders and their village if something went wrong.
He said it was fun learning the ropes from Koregai and is sure that the young boys in the team will be able to build one a lakatoi themselves in the future. A big traditional taboo for men while building a lakatoi is any intimacy with their spouses or partners. It is believed that breaking this rule will result in the canoe taking in water or worser luck once it’s in the water.
Koregai was a tough master who demanded nothing less than perfection in their work. If he saw that part of the canoe was not done according to his specifications, he ordered the boys to take it down right away and redo it.
The master builder pointed out that the ‘lakatoi’ they have is actually a canoe by old standards. The sails in former times were made out of kunai, elephant grass.
The young men were also taught how to make ‘perfumes’ that their ancestors (both men and women) smeared on their bodies, when welcoming their spouses returning from the long voyage. Another tradition Koregai also pointed out was that upon returning home, the sailors- now considered heroes by the village- would not come to shore straight away, and had to be enticed into doing so by the villagers with gifts of pig meat or young women.
In the time of their ancestors, Motuan men sailed to parts of what is now called Gulf province, to exchange their clay pots for sago. This barter trade continued for years and was discontinued as soon as they started coming into contact with foreigners.
The winds, Laurabada (south-east trade winds) and Lahara (northwest monsoon winds), were a huge factor in their sailing to and from. The men, in their canoes large enough to accommodate extra cargo, would leave their villages for the weeklong trip when the Laurabada set in. For the return trip from Gulf, they had to wait for the Lahara to fill their sails for the homeward journey. They were usually away from their families for about three months or more. These trips were not without their dangers and many lives were lost at sea.
The Lakatoi at Tatana village was ‘sea tested’ to Manubada Island. It will be a major feature of the Hiri Moale Festival when it sail from there to Paga Ring Road today (Friday).
Hiri Hanenamo (Beauty Quest)
Another big hit at Hiri Moale Festivals is the Hiri Hanenamo beauty quest where young Motuan girls vie to be crowned the Hiri Queen. On Tuesday this week, 18 young women underwent the first judging parade at Nature Park in Port Moresby.
In rhythm to the sounds of bamboo beats and singing from the Vanea cultural group from Boera village, the young girls individually danced their way towards where the audience and judges were milling.
All eight Motu Koitabu villages, landowners of Port Moresby, enter as many contestants as they please. The contenders must be aged between 18 and 22 years of age, single and be first time nominees.
For the young hopefuls, tomorrow (Saturday) will be the final day of judging where one lucky one among them will be crowned Miss Hiri Hanenamo, or Hiri Queen, 2017.
Mere Oala, Chairperson of the Hanenamo Committee said activities have been organized for the main show on Friday and Saturday (today and tomorrow) at Paga Ring Road. Canoe racing, musical presentations, and arts and crafts exhibitions will also be part of the show.