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Canoe building in Pohnpei, the Federated States of Micronesia, where the warriors are learning the canoe building process from local elders. Photo credit: 350.org

How Pacific Islanders Are Fighting Climate Change With Canoes

People from 16 different countries will voyage to Australia to deliver traditional canoes to major fossil fuel industry supporters. They want to highlight the dire consequences of climate change.

This is a community post, untouched by our editors.

This article was written by Fenton Lutunatabua for 350.org, an organization building a global climate movement, and is republished on Global Voices as part of a content sharing agreement.

Climate change is hitting the Pacific Islands hard. Sea levels are rising, temperatures are increasing, and worsening storm surges and flooding have contaminated fresh water supplies and ruined crops. Already, residents of one island have decided to leave because of these devastating effects.

It’s only expected to get worse, yet Australia has renewed its embrace of fossil fuels despite the plight of its Pacific neighbors. 

But Pacific Islanders are fighting back — with canoes. People from 16 different countries will voyage to Australia as part of 350.org’s Pacific Warrior Campaign to deliver traditional canoes to major supporters of the fossil fuel industry with the aim of showing them that Pacific Islanders will work peacefully to protect their cultures, homelands and oceans.   

Earlier this year, climate warriors across the region marked the start of canoe construction. In Vanuatu, a specially chosen tree was donated to the team to begin the process. The video below features an interview with master canoe builder Walter Namua, who explains the significance of the tree.

We’re not usually into cutting down trees. In fact, over the last five years our Pacific organisers have planted thousands of trees, but for this project our teams are cutting down a single tree from each island. Many of them have been donated to the cause. The teams are working with master canoe builders and elders to conduct blessings for each tree before diving into the work of hollowing out the canoe.

The tradition of canoe building has slowly disappeared over the years among Pacific communities in the name of progress and technological advancements. The vessels were used in everyday life, while special ones became the most treasured chiefly possession. Building a canoe usually involved the entire community. While there was segregation of roles (men made the hulls and rigs, women made the sails), the entire community — men, women, young people and elders — came together to make the rope and cord that bound the craft together.

The trees that grow in areas of poor or infertile conditions were selected for canoes. It was important that the trees used could withstand the forces of the ocean as these canoes were used to travel between islands for trade.

The campaign is trying to regain the art of canoe building and traditional sailing to deliver messages on climate change to Australia.

In Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, the Warriors are already underway building the canoe, supported by the village of Enipein, Kitti, to learn the process of traditional canoe building from elders. Warriors in Tonga, meanwhile, performed the Tongan Sipi Tau (war dance) and worked with wood carvers to begin their canoe building on the April 12 Day of Action.

In Tokelau, they are calling on the support of the people of Atafu, who are famous for canoe building to begin their canoe. And in Papua New Guinea, the Climate Warriors walked through Port Moresby and raise public awareness about Climate Change, the role of the Pacific Climate Warriors in the region and how citizens can support the movement.

Written by 350.org.