A Canoe is launched for the Pacific

Left to Right: Margaret Austin, Dwight Alexander, Ro Teimumu Vuikaba Kepa

'Waita' (song) performed by the full Maori delegation

On 12 October 2005, New Zealand, Australia, Fiji and Palau hosted an unusual event at UNESCO that drew a large group of curious people eager to witness the launch of a Pacific canoe.

The evening began with a powerful Maori 'mihi' (welcome) by Tata Lawton, followed by a 'waita' (song) performed by the full Maori delegation. While the opening ceremony was executed according to appropriate protocol, the canoe being launched proved to be of a most unconventional nature.

This canoe was not constructed by a master craftsman or carved out of wood. Neither was it released into the sea, as the nearest coast is at least 200 km away from Paris. Instead, this was the launch of a small metallic CD-ROM that had taken 4 years of passionate work to produce. It is filled with indigenous Pacific Islander knowledge about the ocean environment and navigation, and destined to travel across the world, not on the traditional swells of an ocean, but on the electronic waves of a computer.

Speakers at the launch provided further insights into the make-up and aspirations of this unusual vessel entitled The Canoe Is the People.


At the reception after the launch, guests had the choice between wine and Kava, a traditional Pacific Islander drink that is often associated with ritual and ceremonial events.

Hon. Margaret Austin, Chairperson of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, began by explaining,

'This is a project where young people are introduced to knowledge of the past and challenged to apply it to present day systems. They will learn that Polynesian people knew the world was round long before European voyagers came to this conclusion. This alone will give us in the Pacific tremendous self-esteem and respect for our ancestors.'

Mr Walter Erdelen, UNESCO's Assistant Director General for the Natural Sciences began his statement by citing the renowned Cook Islands canoe builder and navigator Sir Tom Davis:

'The technology of building these ocean canoes that sailed from South-East Asia to as far as South America and, in the other direction, as far as Africa and settled Madagascar … I think that's something to be very proud of. It teaches us self-esteem. We were something. We did something. Therefore we can do something now, and therefore we can see a future for ourselves.'

Sir Tom Davis ("Papa Tom")

He continued stating that, 'Building the pride, self-esteem and self-confidence of Pacific youth, and young indigenous people throughout the world, is one of the priorities of the Local & Indigenous Knowledge Systems project', the creator of this CD-ROM.

Douglas Nakashima, head of the LINKS project, along with Hans Thulstrup of the UNESCO Office in Apia, revealed during the live-run to the audience that the CD-ROM 'includes 70 videos, 41 stories and accounts, 40 images and diagrams, of which 11 are animated, in addition to numerous maps, photos and texts.'

He further elaborated that the CD-ROM cannot possibly contain all the knowledge of Pacific navigation. Instead, it aims to 'provide young people with glimpses of the extraordinary wealth of knowledge that was developed and still survives in the Pacific region.'

Hon. Ro Teimumu Vuikaba Kepa, Minister of Education, Fiji and Hon. Dwight Alexander, Secretary General for the Palau National Commission for UNESCO, officially launched the CD-ROM.

With the rising prices of oil there will be a need for Pacific Islanders to look for alternative forms of transport in the future and 'thanks to the information contained in the CD-ROM', Hon. Dwight Alexander hinted that perhaps more Palauans may even 'revert back to traveling in our traditional ways - the canoe!'

The CD-ROM is only one part of a larger scheme. A Learning Resource Pack including teacher manuals and student workbooks is currently being developed to accompany the use of the CD-ROM in Pacific classrooms. It was also announced that Maori professors at Waikato University in New Zealand, have affirmed their interest in developing a Maori language version of the CD-ROM to strengthen Maori curriculum materials.

Can a single CD-ROM create a wave of intrigue that inspires a new generation of youths to go into their own communities, to find out more - to renew ties with elders and, by doing so, to take part in (and pride in) a voyage of revival? The creators of The Canoe Is the People CD-ROM certainly hope so.



  • Hon Ro Teimumu Vuikaba Kepa, Minister of Education, Fiji,
  • Hon Margaret Austin, Chairperson of the New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO

  • Hon Dwight Alexander, Secretary General for the Palau National Commission for UNESCO

  • Mr Walter Erdelen, Assistant Director General for the Natural Sciences

  • Douglas Nakashima, Head, UNESCO LINKS project

  • Hans Thulstrup, Science Programme Specialist, UNESCO Apia Office for the Pacific States 

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