Loktanur lived on Ailinglaplap Atoll with her sons. One day she said to them, “There will be a canoe race to the far side of the lagoon. Whoever wins the race will be Chief of the East.” Her sons paddled off. She shouted after them, “Take me aboard so that I may reach the far side of the lagoon.” Each son in turn cried back, “No! The large bundle you’re carrying will slow me down.” When Loktanur pleaded with her youngest son, Jebro, to take her across the lagoon, he pulled his canoe ashore. As his mother climbed in, she pulled from her bundle a triangular mat woven from pandanus leaf. She lashed the mat to two poles; using a third pole as a mast, she stood the mat on the canoe. Because no one had ever seen a sail before, men gathered all around to look at it. “Quick!” she cried. “Launch the canoe!” A gust of wind filled the sail, Jebro and his mother passed each of the other sons trying to cross the lagoon. When they reached their destination, Loktanur made Jebro Chief of the East.
This is the Polynesian story of how canoes got their sails. This story and the pictured diorama come from Chicago’s Field Museum. Tomorrow, the MRH sixth grade launches on their annual expedition field trip. This year they’re headed to Chicago and they’ll attempt to do in 36 hours, most of what we took four days to do last month. The highpoint of this trip will be a night in the Field Museum, cue Ben Stiller.
The reason that I created this post is that the diorama sort of reminded me of Anne’s family cabin. There are a few differences, I admit. I framed this post last month in wintery Chicago, so a Polynesian beach didn’t seem so far away in space as Anne’s beach this summer, did in time. To reconcile the two beaches, you would have to adjust a few things, like the latitude, by dialing it up about 45°. This change would account for the climate change between the two locals, from the South Seas to Lake Superior. Of course the flora would change, from tropical rainforest to a northern arboreal forest, but the island would still be there. I guess that the other main difference between this diorama and my reality is the substitution of an outrigger canoe for a colorful fleet of kayaks. I could go either way on this point.