Outrigger club gives new canoe an old blessing

The Wailua Outrigger Canoe Club has added a new boat to its collection, and according to outrigger tradition, that meant a blessing ceremony to prepare the vessel for use.

It’s a ceremony that might be unique for Kamloops, but it has a long history associated with the type of canoe in Hawaii and the Polynesian islands of the South Pacific.

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“The original outriggers were sacred to the people who owned them,” said Paul Blackett, club founder and paddling coach. “They were treated as family members.”

Modern outrigger canoes are built with lightweight composites like carbon fibre, but they were originally carved from a single Koa tree. According to traditional Hawaiian beliefs, when the tree fell and died, it took on a new life.

Part of the blessing ceremony is to ask the tree for forgiveness in taking its life. The ceremony is also intended to bridge the gap from the tree’s life on land to its new life as part of the water.

Among those thanked in the ceremony are Aku, or God, Lono, the demigod of fertility, and Kanaloa, the demigod of ke kai, or the sea.

The club’s new canoe — or wa’a, as it is traditionally known — was purchased with a donation from the Kamloops Blazers Sports Legacy Fund and was christened “Lokahi,” which translates to “unity.”

According to Blackett, once the ceremony is complete, the boat is considered the seventh paddler, after the six paddlers inside of it.

“It was given a great amount of respect because without it a family couldn’t survive,” he said. “There’s a lot of respect and lore that surrounds the boats.”

The ceremony was performed on May 23 on the South Thompson River beach at Riverside Park and was adapted somewhat from a traditional blessing. For example, pineapple was used as one of the offerings instead of the traditional breadfruit because the latter couldn’t be found in Kamloops.

On hand for the ceremony were members of the outrigger club, as well as donors.

The outrigger club has been in Kamloops under a number of names for 25 years, but has been operated as the Wailua Outrigger Canoe Club for the last 15 years. Its doors are open to new members and anyone can visit and try the club’s canoes. Members practise on Mondays and Wednesdays in the evening and Saturdays.

More information on the club can be found online at kamloopsoutrigger.com.

© Kamloops This Week


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