The art of the canoe in Polynesia: An ancestral tradition


Polynesia is a vast and diverse archipelago that is known for its many unique cultures and traditions. One of these traditional aspects is the art of the canoe. The canoe is a means of transport that has been used for generations by Polynesian peoples to navigate the waters of the Pacific Ocean. This article will explain the meaning of canoe art in Polynesia, its history and the different types of canoes.

Canoes in Polynesia

In Polynesia, there are different types of canoes that are used for different occasions. Some canoes are used for fishing, while others are used for religious ceremonies and canoe racing competitions.

The most popular canoes in Polynesia are the Va’a. Va’a canoes are often used for racing and are made of breadfruit wood and braided plant fibers. Some modern Va’a canoes are made of fiberglass and composite materials, providing exceptional performance when racing.

Also, there are the Vaka canoes which are used to navigate the high seas for fishing and trading. These canoes are often larger than the Va’a, able to accommodate several people and come with widened planks for more stability.

The manufacturing process

Canoe making is a meticulous practice that uses natural materials such as wood, bamboo, coconut fiber and vines. The manufacturing procedure is a centuries-old artisanal process that follows ancestral techniques.

The canoe-making process uses simple tools, most of which were crafted by hand. These tools include stone cutters, saws, mobs for cleaning coir, sanders and drills. Every part of the canoe is carefully made and tested for strength and flexibility.

After collecting the raw materials, they are cleaned and prepared for the construction of the canoe. The craftsmen of the canoe start by making the trunk of the canoe by connecting the different parts and using brambles for more solidity. They then use braided ropes to form the shape of the boat, which they stretch and adjust using planks and counterweights.

The decoration of the canoes

Canoes in Polynesia are often decorated with symbols and designs representative of Polynesian culture. These drawings serve to represent the history and significance of the canoe for the Polynesian islands. The choice of designs is often linked to the traditions and religious beliefs of local communities.

The designs are often done by professional tattoo artists who use traditional tattoo techniques to apply them to the hull of the canoe. The designs can be simple or elaborate, depending on the artistic abilities of the tattoo artist and the preferences of the dugout owner.

The meaning of the art of the canoe in Polynesia

The Polynesian canoe tradition is deeply rooted in Polynesian culture and is considered one of the oldest surviving cultural traditions. For Polynesians, canoes represent the connection between oceans, cultures and generations.

Canoes also represent the spirit of mutual aid and collaboration in Polynesian society. Villagers often work together to build a canoe and share it during community activities. The canoe is then taken care of by a crew which becomes a symbol of unity and harmony.

The heritage of the art of the canoe in Polynesia

The art of canoeing in Polynesia has been passed down from generation to generation, based on ancestral techniques and knowledge. Canoe craftsmen pass on not only technical skills for canoe construction, but also knowledge of the history, symbols, cultural significance and religious beliefs associated with the canoe.

Moreover, the art of the canoe contributes to the promotion of tourism in Polynesia. Visitors from around the world are increasingly interested in Polynesian culture and its unique traditions. They are curious to discover the art of the canoe and its cultural meanings.


The art of canoeing in Polynesia is an ancient tradition that is deeply rooted in Polynesian culture. Canoes are a symbol of unity and collaboration between local communities and represent the connection between oceans, cultures and generations. Canoe making uses natural techniques and materials and is considered an age-old craft practice. The art of canoeing in Polynesia is a true cultural marvel for visitors from all over the world, who seek to immerse themselves in local traditions and customs.