Larry Raigetal

Pwo Ceremony


Traditionally, navigators learn the way-finding knowledge from fathers or uncles within their family and eventually, when ready, may pass through the traditional initiation of navigators', Pwo Ceremony

The canoe house (2017) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

The Canoe House

In the remote central caroline islands where the indigenous lifestyle of the seafearing system is still practice, it all begins at a very young age and evolves around the central facility known as the canoe house.  Every navigator knows to protect his canoe when he is not voyaging. A local canoe house is an important asset and central facility of learning all about navigation.  It is said that one has to first learn the stories that are told in the canoe house, then from there begins the long journey toward becoming a complete "Pwo" Navigator.

Getting the right wood (2017) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Getting the right wood

As a learning facility and a roof to protect the canoes, the right types of logs that takes into account its overall strength and durability are harvested.
Straight logs are selected and fell for all parts of the canoe house. Immediately after felling logs, they have to be debarked and in most cases soaked in the salt water for natural protection.

Pulling logs (2017) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Pulling logs

The debarks logs are pulled out in open spaces for pick up. Because building a canoe house is a communal effort as well as a learning process. It takes several young men to gather and manually pulled the logs out into the open. Little once are always curious and attempt to be part of the process and are remained under watchful eyes of the elders.

Shaping the logs (2017) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Shaping the logs

After the logs have been soaked in salt water, the master builder has to try and get each logs as straight as he could. This requires using hand tools such as the adze. This process is required as in some cases, the cross beams must connect perfectly especially if the connections are sitting on top of one of the main posts. Thus, a straight line is drawn on the curvature side of the log and then slowly carved away. The adze tools that are used today, unlike the original shell blades are now made from vehicle springs that are sharpened and lashed to a handle to allow of better precision when carving.

Cross beams (2017) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Cross beams

As stated, the life of a seafearing person starts early. As early as 3 years old. The young boy is brought to the canoe house to be with the elders. As they grow older, they begin hearing the stories and observing the men at work. At some point, the youngster is given simple tasks including handling tools appropriately.
These young boys are learning how to handle tools by carving out a beam. It is possible that the beam they are working on might never be used but the idea is that they practice their skills. In this culture, the elders know that the only way these skills can be transferred is by allowing the young to handle them even if they make mistakes.

Lashing posts by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Lashing posts

Getting bigger logs for the post is important for the canoe house. Lashing them strong is even more critical. It normally take more than just one person to do the lashing. Furthermore, the lashing of important canoe house beams must be watched carefully by elders who coached the younger person and ensures he is doing the right type of lashing.

Placing upper beems by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Placing upper beams

Once the posts are secure, the builders can start to place the upper beams to construct the canoe house. Lashing them can be an individual task.

Collecting thatch materials (2017) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Collecting thatch materials

Several materials can be collected for thatch roof, however, the easiest and most available is the coconut leafs. Here again, is the idea of given the simple tasks to the younger kids who are learning these skills from very young age. Here, the young kids will collect the coconut leafs and take them to the elders who will weave them as they observe. In so doing, the kids are picking up the skills and at some point will start weaving the themselves.

Weaving tatch roofs from coconut leaves by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Weaving thatch roofs

Once the structure is in place, the community gets involved in weaving thatch roofs. Men would climb coconut trees, pick the fruits, and cut few leafs. The coconut fruits are given to the weavers.

Ready woven leaves by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Ready woven leaves

Once the thatch roofs are done, they are place underneath the structure for easy access. This is so that when the thatching takes place, it is easy for those throwing the thatch to just pull out from underneath the structure.

Roofing (2017) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP


When canoe house's main structure is in place, it will then be ready for roofing. Young men will climb the structure to start tying thatches to the beams. This is an easy task for the younger people to do thus, they are given the responsibility to climb the structure and thatch it up. It is also normal practice to place the more experienced ones at the end of the structure to ensure the ends are lined up nicely.

The Navigator's Float (2016) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

The Navigator's Float

The canoe is the navigator's float or means of getting from one place to the other.  The art of canoe building is therefore an essential component to the system of seafearing. In other words, to become a "pwo" navigator, one has to climb the latter.  You need to learn how to build the canoe house, then you need to know how to build a canoe. Like the schools of navigation, the art of canoe building also has several schools. The last few remaining of canoe building schools are less then five in the central Caroline Islands.

Getting side blanks fitted (2016) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Getting side blanks fitted

Because the central Caroline Islands are small atolls, bigger logs for canoes are rare. Thus, the canoes, particularly the voyaging canoes need to be constructed in such a way that they are not only large enough but sea worthy. To do so, the builders main objective is to be able to get the main hull of the canoe and start to build up the sides from there. This video shows how the guys are building the sides up and using a similar techniques used by dentist for molding and ensuring the planks are fitted nicely.

Sowing the sail by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Sowing the sail

Once the canoe takes shape, a sail is sown in proportion to the canoe. Sail usually were made from woven pandanus leafs. Today they are made from imported material.

As was in the case of canoe house building, young boys are given the easy task of sowing to learn the knowledge. Elders nearby keep watchful eyes. The original sails from pandanus leafs however, will take skills and knowledge of the elders to complete. In recent days, the sails are now made of imported materials. Often from visiting yachts to these island that are able to leave behind used sails.

Sail measure (2017) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Sail measure

"Urusou" is what it is called when we measure the sail of the canoe. The straight post or sail frame is the male one while the curvy one is the female. The male frame is shorter by about 3 feet or equal to the top length of the canoe while the female is a bit longer.

The sail of the navigators "float" the canoe must have a proportionate sail that is measured off the canoe length and height.

Harvesting coconut fiber by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Harvesting coconut fiber to make lash ropes for canoe and canoe house

The coconut rope is our local nails to lash canoes and houses. They are made from coconut fiber that are soaked in salt water for 3 months. It takes skills to be able to harvest the coconut fiber after 3 months. This fiber is a critical component of canoe house making, sail making, canoe building, and just about everything that we do in the canoe culture.

Harvesting coconut fiber to make lash ropes for canoe and canoe house. The soaked coconut husks are pull out of the water, pounded and washed so that the only thing left is the fiber to be made into sennit ropes. This is one of the most important skills and knowledge of the seafearing system.

Drying coconut fiber by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Drying coconut fiber

After washing, the fiber are then put out under the sun to be dried. One of the reason it is important to dry the fiber is because it makes it easier to work with and make the ropes of various sizes to lash our canoes, houses, and sails. The sennit ropes are also critical tools to take on long voyages as a safety tool.

Rope making by Larry Raigetal and Rope makingICHCAP

Rope making

The fibers are then joined and rolled on ones thigh to make the coconut sennit rope.This is a skill that is often learned at the very young age. In most cases, the left over fibers are given to the young boys to learn and later on will do better to make the important ropes.

Rope making by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

The fiber are pulled off by stands and joined to make coconut fiber robes that will be used for the canoe house or lashing the canoe itself.

Coconut ropes as local nail by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Coconut ropes as local nail

After reaching 100 fathom, they are rolled up in bundles and hung up in the canoe houses for use when needed. These ropes are used for canoe building, house building, and just about anything necessary for repairs. In many ways, the coconut ropes are equivalent to strong permanent glues

Attaching outrigger (2017) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Attaching outrigger

The coconut fiber is used to lash the outrigger component of the canoe. After the outriggers are lashed on, some other components of the outrigger system are put in place by allowing more than individual to construct these important components. The outrigger arms are often measured as half the canoe size while the outrigger itself is 1/3 of the keel bottom.

Much like the canoe house, lashing a canoe often takes two people to ensure it is appropriately laid and tied perfectly.

Hash pachu (2017) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Hasu pachu

One of the primary stages of canoe building is hasu pachu or when the ending pieces of the canoe are connected not in its final form or finishing stage yet. This is important because once the ending part of the canoe is put in place, it provides the master carver the opportunity to look it the canoe from a distance and determine the height and length of the canoe.

Building the side planks also requires more than one person for lashing. As was shown in the video, the Central Caroline Islands, because of lack of large logs, have to build by several pieces being lashed together. As was shown in previous video, here the young boys are lashing the planks together. It should also be noted that this is not the final stage which means the thickness of the planks are rather large but so long as they are nicely fitted, they can and will be trimmed down during finishing carving of the canoe.

Lashing outrigger (2017) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Lashing outrigger

Here the young apprentices are learning to connect the outrigger piece to the main canoe structure via the outrigger arms.

Lashing outrigger (2017) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Young apprentices lashing a bigger outrigger arm that will be use on a voyaging canoe.

Pwo (2017) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP


The word "Pwo" comes from the pounding stone for breadfruit. It is a Chuukese word that can mean both the actual pounding stone or the action of pounding "kon". Pwo is a sacred initiation ritual where student navigators become a master in Micronesia.

"UMW" The underground oven (2016) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Umw, the underground oven

One the new apprentice has learned all the needed skills and knowledge from the canoe house and ready to be initiated. His master will then announced for his to be "pwo". The pwo ritual community engagement begins with the preparation of the underground cooking oven known as umw. The women will go harvest the best of their sweet taro and breadfruit are harvested to be placed in the umw.

Bowl blessing (2015) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Bowl blessing

Prior to the actual pwo ritual, the first step is for the Grand Master Navigator who will bestow the rite of passage to first bless the food bowl. He chants to his ancestors, great navigators of the past, and above all "yalulwei" the navigation deity. Often carved from breadfruit tree signifying the importance of the tree in canoe building.

The Grand Master Navigator prepares himself to administer the pwo ritual to new master navigators. This pwo ceremony is conducted for master navigators under the school of Weriyeng.

Covering bowl with payment tribute (2015) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Covering bowl with payment tribute

The bowl is covered with lava lava given as form of payment of knowledge given to each student by the teacher.

Bracelet "Rou Rou" (2016) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Bracelet "Rou Rou"

The bracelet made from young coconut palm leave to be tied on the wrist of each student to be initiated. A small herbal medicine wrapped in a piece of cloth also accompanied the palm leafs bracelet. Both items are put on with specific chants to empower the items as protection charms.

Herbal medicine for protection (2015) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Herbal medicine for protection

The Grand Master will get young coconuts tipped a prepared herbal medicine and give to each student to drink for protection.

"Roras" wrapping students (2016) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

"Roras" wrapping students

Each student is given a specially woven cloth to tie around his waste indicating the ceremony to begin.

Pay respect (2016) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Pay respect

To show respect to the sacred bowl now containing food for all traditional schools of navigation. The initiator must first bless it all the while chanting a special chant to protect himself. The first offering of a young coconut is open.

Shares for all traditional schools of navigation (2016) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Shares for all traditional schools of navigation

Before any content of the bowl is shared . The Grand Master will first take out a bail for the new initiates. He will then start to take the shares of each of the schools of navigation.

Chosen apprentices (2015) by Larry RaigetalICHCAP

Chosen apprentices

After apprentices have gone through series of training including learning names of stars and other wayfinding methods, and the Master Navigator is satisfied, he will select his new initiates.

Credits: Story

Curator: Larry Raigetal (Founder, Waa'gey)

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