Sunday, January 25, 2015

Queen Kapiʻolani’s Canoe

In April 1887, Queen Kapiʻolani and Princess Liliʻuokalani traveled to England to participate in the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee.  They first sailed to San Francisco, traveled by train across the North American continent, spent some time in Washington and New York; they then sailed to England.

Upon their return from Europe, Queen Kapiʻolani and her entourage stopped again in Washington, DC. At that time, they toured the National Museum, later to become the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. As a result of that visit, Queen Kapiʻolani gifted the museum with a Hawaiian outrigger canoe to add to their collection.  (OHA)

“The royal yacht of Queen Kapiʻolani of Hawaii is in the National museum, and may be passed and re-passed without attracting the notice of the sight-seeker.”

“High against the eastern wall it is placed, and from the floor little can be seen except the small sail of straw. This royal boat was once a log, and with rude instruments was hollowed into the semblance of a canoe, making a craft 18 feet long and but 18 inches wide.”

“It is such a boat as the Hawaiians used long before Columbus sailed on his voyage to a new country, and it was in such a boat that the Hawaiians sailed from the western Islands in the Pacific to the Samoan islands.”

“The little craft is what is known as an outrigger canoe, and has a small float extended on arms from either side of the canoe. This plan renders it impossible for the boat to be upset.”

“The sail is of the rudest kind, made of plaited straw, supported on rudely-hewn masts.  In the boat is a gourd to be used for bailing out the water and also a net with which to catch fish.”

“In such a boat the proud queen of the Hawaiians went forth, on the waters of her country to woo the cool breezes of the ocean. In the bottom of the boat is found the strangest thing of all, a small English flag of the commonest type, which the queen was wont to place in the stern of her pleasure boat.”

“… Liliʻuokalani was asked lately if she remembered this craft of her royal sister-in-law, and answered that she did most distinctly, and even related the circumstance which led to the boat being given to the museum.”

She noted, “I accompanied Queen Kapiʻolani on her visit to England in 1887, and on our return we stopped for some time in this city. One day I accompanied the queen and her party, consisting of Col. Boyd, Col Iaukea and Gen. Dominis, to the museum.”

“After looking around the different apartments the curator showed us a boat, something like a canoe, with a man at the bow, and asked the queen if our canoes were like that in Hawaii. The queen, said yes, and that she would be pleased to contribute one to the museum on her return to her own country." (Washington Post; Decatur Daily, August 30, 1897)

When Queen Kapiʻolani sent this fishing canoe to the Smithsonian, it was already quite old. A hole at the bottom of the canoe suggests that it had hit a reef and would have been difficult to repair. (Smithsonian)

Outrigger canoes of this kind were formerly quite extensively used for fishing and other purposes by the natives in Hawaiʻi, in the Sandwich Islands, but in recent years they have been superseded by boats more conventional in their construction and better adapted to the needs of the fisherman.  (Smithsonian)

This is an open, sharp-ended, round-bottomed, keelless dugout canoe, with low superstructure fastened to upper part of hull, and provided with small balance log lashed to the ends of two outriggers.  It is rigged with a single mast and loose-footed spritsail.  (Smithsonian)  The canoe was added to the Smithsonian collection on January 25, 1888.

The canoe was refurbished for a subsequent display in the National Museum of Natural History exhibit “Na Mea Makamae o Hawaiʻi - Hawaiian Treasures,” 2004-2005.

Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education (SCMRE) collaborated closely with the National Museum of Natural History to restore a 19th-century Hawaiian outrigger canoe; it is reportedly the oldest existing Hawaiian canoe in the world.

In the years since Hawaii's Queen Kapiʻolani presented the canoe to the Smithsonian, the boat's wood had deteriorated. A SCMRE team, including a senior furniture conservator, restored the bow, stern and an outrigger boom and replaced the original coconut-fiber lashings. Wherever possible they used materials that were both handmade and native to Hawaii.  (Smithsonian)

Throughout the years of late-prehistory, AD 1400s - 1700s, and through much of the 1800s, the canoe was a principal means of travel in ancient Hawaiʻi.  Canoes were used for interisland and inter-village coastal travel.

Most permanent villages initially were near the ocean and at sheltered beaches, which provided access to good fishing grounds, as well as facilitating convenient canoe travel.

Although the canoe was a principal means of travel in ancient Hawaiʻi, extensive cross-country trail networks enabled gathering of food and water and harvesting of materials for shelter, clothing, medicine, religious observances and other necessities for survival.

These trails were usually narrow, following the topography of the land.  Sometimes, over ‘a‘ā lava, they were paved with water-worn stones.   Back then, land travel was only foot traffic, over little more than trails and pathways.

The image shows Kapiʻolani’s Canoe in the Na Mea Makamae o Hawaiʻi exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History, 2004–2005.  In addition, I have included other related images in a folder of like name in the Photos section on my Facebook and Google+ pages.

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