Enjoying the process in the work

Life in the village, especially those in rural and remote settings, can be a fun place to visit especially for tourists or for people who just come for the holidays. But for people who live there, it can be a struggle at times. Apart from poor access issues to good social services like heath, education and communication, villagers in Manus still have to struggle to get by. Most often, you have to physically exert yourself so that the basic needs of life can be satisfied.

Take for example, having fish to eat to supplement your diet of mostly carbohydrates such as cassava, sago, sweet potato, bananas, yams, taro and a little bit of greens . The process starts with making a canoe and goes through many stages before a canoe is finished and ready for sailing over the sea to the place where you can catch fish. It can take days, weeks or months to even select, carve, tighten, fix, pull and put together a decent canoe fit enough to pass over water.

Carving a canoe in the inland of Manus Island
My brother uses a hacking tool to chip away at the hull of the canoe

But to say that going through the process of making a canoe is tiring and difficult in order to catch a fish, even true? I guess it depends on the way you look at it. Some people enjoy the life that comes with the process of doing things. It may take several days or months but it may not be the work at all that is important when making the canoe. It is family connections, the tea drinking, the long stories in between, the learning that takes place, etc. All these things happen as the process of work i.e. making a canoe takes place.

Shaping a canoe at the beginning in the bushes of Kurti language group area in Manus Province.
Its a work in progress but something he enjoys doing

My small brother has been shaping a canoe from a tree he felled behind the house. This tree is very light but durable. Its easy to carve but it is taking time to develop. I sit beside him and talk to him while he works – asking questions about why he is doing this, how he intends to bring it down to the seaside since we are up on the mountains. He chats while his mind is on the work. He stops, looks at the angles, then continues chipping away. He uses an axe and then uses a hacking tool like a chisel but circular. Both are metal tools but represent what our people in the past have used to carve the canoe. We are both near a creek as he continues doing his work. He will shape the canoe and then after a few weeks, he will, with a group of his friends or family carry this down to the beach. It is around two hours walk down to the coast. Once there he will continue further shaping it, put the outrigger and carve the paddles.

Kingston Namun on Manus Island
Why not a selfie while at work!

Life is in the process. We work but we also have to find enjoyment in the work that we do. Otherwise what is the point of grinding away at work while we loose ourselves in the process?

How it starts: The beginning of a simple fishing canoe from a softwood tree

Using canoes for fishing and travelling has been happening for a long time in Manus island. Many families living along the coastline and surrounding islands have one or two small canoes to help them with daily chores such as transporting firewood and even for journeys to places afar. Some are intricately made while others are just produced quickly to serve a certain need.

Today my brother began started the canoe making process. He cut down the tree in the forest. As it typical of canoes, they are made from a lightwood ‘noe’ as it is water resistant and light. The tree is just at the back of the house so it was easy to cut down.

Once the tree was cut down, he began the shaping process. In this case, he begins to bring a shape in his mind to the tree trunk. He begins the shape by cutting the edge into a pointy end. So using the axe, he methodically chips away the end of the trunk until a sharp or pointed edge appears.

He then begins to cut a rectangular shape on the top of the trunk. Again using the axe, he cuts into the softwood, every step digging into the middle of the trunk. Eventually he will dig into the tree trunk forming a hallow shell. He may need a different too than the axe. For now, the axe is utilized to slowly form the shape. One the shape of the canoe is realized, he will carry the canoe to the house where there is a clearing or a shaded area where he will slowly carve out the canoe.

It will take a few more weeks before the canoe is finalized. I will let you know of its progress.