Most Important Link to East Polynesian History
Parts of Ancient Canoe Found on Society Isle
By Helen Altonn
A Hawaii archaeologist has discovered what he believes are the remnants of an ancient double-hulled canoe such as described in Polynesian legends.
They are two large L-shaped boards, apparently the end splash boards of a double canoe.
“If it is a double canoe, the size is bigger than the Hokule’a,” said Yosihiko Sinoto, chairman of the Bishop Museum anthropology department.
He uncovered the boards and numerous other wooden objects, many associated with canoeing, in a pond on Huahine in the Society Islands.
Kenneth Emory, senior archaeologist as the museum, said the site is the most important found yet in revealing the early history of East Polynesia. “You have a cross-section of life at one moment of time before Hawaii and New Zealand were settled,” he said.
“IT GIVES US a chance to see how it was in the beginning, and we can follow the development to now,” Emory added.
Sinoto said the site is 1,000 to 1,100 years old.
There are a lot of legends and historical accounts from Capt. Cook and other explorers about double-hulled canoes in Polynesia at that time, Sinoto said. “But we didn’t know there were such large canoes.”
Sinoto disclosed his findings this week in a Star-Bulletin interview. He said they are the result of an expedition to the island of Huahine from July to September last year.
He conducted archaeological investigations on Huahine in 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1977. “I thought I had done enough work,” he said. Then the Bali Hai Hotel on Huahine began building a tennis court.
HE SAID DREDGING for fill material in a pond behind the hotel complex turned up a wooden patu (Tahitian war club), other long-handled clubs and wooden objects, and other perishable materials such as coconuts, sennit, gourd and even awa (kava) plants.
The find is extremely significant because it is the first itme perishable items of the early people have been found in East Polynesia, Sinoto said. “So far, all of our archaeological findings have been limited to stone, bone and shell objects.”
Ordinarily, perishable material couldn’t survive, but it was well preserved in the water-logged site on Huahine, he said, adding that it probably dates back to the settlement period of the Society Islands.
He said Richard Soupene, the hotel architect, informed him immediately of the dredging discovery and said he would stop the work if Sinoto would return to investigate the site.
SINOTO SUBMITTED an urgent request for funds for a salvage operation to the National Geographic Society and it was granted.
Working with him were Elaine Rogers-Jourdane and Toni Han, with the Bishop Museum staff, and Tim Lui-Kwan, a University of Hawaii student.
“Surprisingly, everywhere we put test bits we found cultural materials, mostly wooden objects,” Sinoto said.
Three areas were excavated extensively and one turned out to be a habitation site with the base of posts still standing. Long ridgepoles also were still intact, although knocked down, Sinoto said.
The team found wooden and whalebone patus, a round-grooved tapa beater and a stone tapa anvil in the habitation complex. Sinoto said this was the first evidence that ancient Polynesians had tapa beaters.
HE SAID THE dredging resumed while his group was there so they could monitor it. “In one place, the first coop brought up many logs and something like a surfboard. I halted the operation right away.”
He said he retrieved what he thought was a surfboard and found it was the blade of a steering paddle for a sailing canoe. Two pieces of a steering handle also were found, together totaling about 12½ feet in size. And it was probably longer originally, Sinoto said, “It was not complete.”
He said, “After I got the steering paddle, I put my arms down along the edge of the pond where the dredging was going on and five logs were sticking out, exposed by the sand.
“We immediately placed a trench next to the pond edge and discovered numerous wooden pieces—some worked and some not.”
Sinoto believes the wooden objects gathered and settled in that place after a tidal wave hit the area.
EXPANDING THE trench, he recovered a large canoe bailer on top of a huge piece of board. “I wanted to find out what the board was, but ground water rushing into the pit was tremendous,” he said, explaining that they had to bail water out constantly to do their work.
The trench was extended to follow the board—twice crossing a road in the area. “We finally reached the end of the board and it was 23 feet long,” Sinoto said. It was about 18 inches wide and nine inches in the L-shape part. It was more than an inch thick and was a single wooden piece, Sinoto said.
He said local workers thought the wood was from a breadfruit tree.
One side of the board had 21 holes evenly spaced and the end was square, with a notch.
Sinoto said he thought, “This is not a canoe hull, because there is no roundness showing, and it is not a…
(Star-Bulletin, 6/3/1978, p. A1)