© 2008 WAAN AELON IN MAJEL
OUR HISTORY

The first documentation of the designs for traditional outrigger canoes in the Marshall Islands was the Waan Aelõn Kein (Canoes of These Islands) Project, which ran from 1989 to 1996. The Waan Aelon Kein Project started at the Alele Museum and National Archives in Majuro. Dennis worked with the traditional builders whose families held the knowledge and documented the step by step construction methods of the traditional outrigger canoes while the canoes were being built. Traditionally, in order to gain these types of traditional knowledge, one must have the permission from the traditional leaders. The Marshall Islands Council of Chiefs gave Dennis their consent and blessing and with every documentation, the traditional leaders of the atoll where Dennis worked, welcomed and supported him. With this permission, the families who held the knowledge, first adopted him into their families, which is also custom, since the owners of the knowledge are not allowed to give the skills away to others out of the family circle. The canoe building projects in the outer islands were coordinated with the schools, so that the kids could come to the site and learn about their canoes, their history, and the songs and ceremonies that accompany canoe building. All of the school kids were involved in these documentations. WAM remains a loving member of all of these communities and extended families. Six canoes were built over seven years for the documentation.

Alson joined Dennis in late 1992 and translated the Enewetak canoe documentation into the Marshallese language. Both Alson and Dennis worked on the last documentation of a 40’ voyaging canoe built at Ujae Atoll. When the canoe was finished they sailed the Lañinmentil to Majuro via Kwajelein Atoll with the builders and sailors of Ujae Atoll. During the documentation period, Dennis also did fish catch surveys to determine what the cost would be to catch fish using the outrigger canoes compared to outboard motor boats. It was discovered that the canoes were definitely a very cost effective means of transportation and fishing. They realized that a technology more than 2,000 years in the making had fast become an appropriate technology for the future. This even more rings true today, as the cost of fuel is almost $6.00 per gallon and rising. In the outer islands, the cost of fuel has risen to around $10.00 per gallon.

After documenting the canoe designs, the interest to learn these skills had grown with more and more young people asking to learn how to build and sail canoes. At that time, Alson and Dennis had meetings with the late Darlene Keju Johnson who had started the Youth to Youth in Health (YTYIH) Program in the mid-80’s. Darlene’s husband Giff, also on the YTYIH board, thought that partnering both programs was a great idea. WAM could do the vocational training with the kids from YTYIH. The program then shifted its focus to critically needed vocational training and capacity building of Marshallese youth. In 1999 Waan Aelõn in Majel (Canoes of the Marshall Islands, or “WAM”) was incorporated as a non-profit, non-government (NGO) and community-based organization (CBO) focusing on entry-level workforce development and employment preparation through the use of traditional Marshallese skills for men and women. Particularly WAM serves Marshallese youth. Through long-standing elements of the Marshallese culture - canoe building, sailing, navigation, and woodworking - the WAM Program is demonstrating that sustainable economic and cultural development, national cohesiveness, and strengthening self-identity and worth are not only important to nation building, but are essential and achievable. As the program continues to evolve, we discover more and more contemporary variations on these skills, making them powerful tools for movement to modern skill sets for our trainees. WAM now teaches modern vocational skills in boatbuilding and fiberglass technology, carpentry, and woodworking, and continues to develop curricula for further vocational training.


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Six canoes were built over seven years for the documentation Close
  • Construction and recording of a traditional Jaluit outrigger canoe (malmel) with contemporary materials for the hull.
  • Construction and recording of a traditional Likiep outrigger canoe (taburbur) with traditional materials.
  • Recording of the traditional Namorik outrigger canoes (various designs) built with traditional materials as well as the detailed documentation of the lashing techniques.
  • Conducted a training program integrated with the construction of a traditionally designed Namorik canoe using contemporary materials for the hull.
  • Recording of the traditional Ailuk outrigger canoes (various designs) built with traditional and contemporary materials.
  • Conducted a comparative economic survey of boat use and construction costs of a traditional 20' Marshallese sailing outrigger canoe of Ailuk Atoll with that of a 12' and 18' outboard motor system.
  • Conducted a training maintenance program integrated with the complete re-construction of a traditionally built 21’ Marshallese outrigger canoe using a combination of traditional and contemporary materials.
  • Construction and recording of a 52’ traditional Enewetak voyaging canoe (walap) with a combination of traditional and contemporary materials.
  • Organized Marshall Islands representation in the 1992 VI Festival of Pacific Arts in Rarotonga, Cook Islands during which the Enewetak voyaging canoe was officially deemed the fastest traditional craft in the entire Pacific.
  • Conducted a comparative economic survey of boat use and construction costs of a traditional 14' Marshallese sailing outrigger canoe used on Majuro Atoll with that of a 12' and 18' outboard motor system.
  • Construction and recording of a 40-foot traditional Ujae voyaging canoe (walap) with traditional materials; with contemporary and traditional mat sail. The canoe was named LANINMENTOL