Articles: Thesis Examines Canoe's Rebirth as Symbol of Identity for Marshallese
In the Marshall Islands, the outrigger canoe has been at the heart of cultural life as well as practical survival for millennia, but is there room for the canoe tradition in a rapidly changing Marshallese world? A new thesis, by University of Hawaii graduate student Rachel Leah Miller, explores "the state and shape of the canoe tradition for Marshallese people today, how and why it has changed over time, and how it articulates with broader Marshallese culture and modern way of life."
Although the research and field work for "Wa Kuk Wa Jimor: Outrigger Canoes, Social Change, and Modern Life in the Marshall Islands" was conducted in 2009, Miller's interest in canoes developed several years earlier.
She came to the Marshalls as a volunteer teacher 2005. On Namdrik, an outer atoll where canoes are still used every day, Miller first felt the "strength, the meaning, and the power that the canoe embodies in Marshallese life."
"This feeling was further strengthened during my two years working at the non-profit youth vocational training organization Waan Aelōñ in Majel (WAM) in Majuro."
At WAM, young Marshallese men and women were transformed through a training program of traditional canoe building and sailing.
For her thesis toward a Master of Arts degree in Pacific Studies, she sought to analyze the canoe tradition, through interviews, proverbs, legends and the Marshallese language.
According to Miller, the people of the Marshall Islands are beginning to embrace the canoe as a symbol of pride and identity, and not a "relic from a backward past."
"It is my hope that this thesis might serve as the beginning of a much longer discussion – within the Marshall Islands and beyond – about the nature and potential of the canoe tradition today."
- Aenet Rowa, Yokwe Online, July 21, 2010
Thesis courtesy of Rachel Miller. Photo credit Waan Aelōñ in Majel