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What I learned this week: wayfinders

wakanomori and I went to see Moana this past week. (I arrived at the theater first and bought the tickets. "Two for Moana," I said, and the ticket seller said, ". . . Two adult tickets?" "Yes," I said. Yes, two adults can go see a Disney film, unaccompanied by a child. IT CAN BE DONE.)

I enjoyed it very much, mainly all sorts of small things that had nothing to do with the overarching story or even the characters, really. One part that really swelled my heart was the song of Moana's wayfinding ancestors, which you can listen to below. (It won't spoil anything about the movie for you.)

The sense of huge adventure, of traveling to worlds unknown, guided by the stars--just, so moving. And the sails caught my attention, the care that the animators had taken to show the weave of them. And I thought about how I know someone who once worked making sails, and it got me wondering about how the wayfinders' sails were made. So I dug around, and I found two great sources. This PDF from the British museum describes repairing a Tahitian canoe sail and describes how it was made from a series of mats, made of woven pandanus leaves.

Figure 5, Construction features of the sail, from Sailing Through History: Conserving and Researching a Rare Tahitian Canoe Sail, by Tara Hiquily et al.

And then this great blog post from the blog "The Art of Wayfinding" talked about the different parts of a Marshall Islands outrigger canoe, including the sails. An organization called Waan Aelon in Majel (WAM), which means "Canoes of the Marshall Islands" in Marshallese, teaches kids how to make traditional canoes. (In a case of unrelated languages having similar-sounding names for the same thing, "aelon" means "island.")

Here are some girls with their model canoes (photo by John Huth, from the blog post)

And here is a pandanus tree, with those handy leaves (Photo by Eric Guinther, courtesy of Wikipedia):

I also loved that the start of the song "We Know the Way" was in some Pacific-islands language, and I wondered which one. Turns out it's Tokelauan. Tokelauan is spoken in Tokelau, a territory of New Zealand that's north of New Zealand, and also on Swain's island in American Samoa. Wikipedia says there are only about 4,000 speakers--but one of those is Opetaia Foa'i, who, with Lin-Manuel Miranda, wrote and sings "We Know the Way."


PS--one other (galling) thing I learned: In the 1840s,the French forbade inter-island travel in their colonies. Isn't that just like a colonial power: denying people the right to travel from place to place freely. After that, people in the French colonies stopped making woven sails because they weren't needed for the level of travel that was still permitted.


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 15th, 2017 09:31 pm (UTC)
This one goes on my list. Thanks so much for sharing the great song and also the information about sails.
Jan. 15th, 2017 10:05 pm (UTC)
My pleasure! Thank *you* for the great article about the auto-repair-and-salon-shop. I want to share that with one of my tutees---she was talking about wanting to open up a unisex salon one day. [ETA: whoops; realized I already told you that at your entry...]

Let me know what you think of the movie, after you see it.

Edited at 2017-01-16 01:09 am (UTC)
Jan. 15th, 2017 09:55 pm (UTC)
Fascinating (in a grim way) about the interdiction re sailing. It's not only colonial govts that do that: think of the kaikin 海禁 of the Tokugawa shogunate (which they in turn borrowed from Chinese policy models). But even better to think that knowledge can be restored -- that's a smashing photo of the three canoe model makers!
Jan. 15th, 2017 10:08 pm (UTC)
Yes--good point re: 海禁. The desire of people in power (of whatever provenance) to control those under them...

Knowledge can definitely be restored. Additionally, those girls in the photo were from the Marshall Islands, which were never under French control, so would have escaped that law--so that may have helped sailmaking traditions to survive there.
Jan. 15th, 2017 10:32 pm (UTC)
That is fascinating! I wanted to get to that film, but haven't, alas. I love the song.
Jan. 16th, 2017 12:58 am (UTC)
I think you'll enjoy it when you see it. The story's v-e-r-y simple, but the incidental moments are lovely, all the way through. And yeah, the song's just wonderful.
Jan. 17th, 2017 12:30 am (UTC)

It's still out in some theaters, but if you can't see it in theaters, I recommend renting the DVD when it comes out. It's not "big screen necessary" but it is an awesome movie.

Jan. 16th, 2017 12:25 am (UTC)
I've watched that video clip at least ten times since I saw the movie, and it makes me cry every time. Just beautiful.

I love that "aue" is a word in Tokelauan, and also a homonym for "away." (Maybe also a synonym? I'm not sure what it means.) But it's so clever that the chorus sounds the same in both languages.

By the way, Dwayne Johnson (the Rock) Tweeted a photo of his grandfather, a Samoan high chief: https://twitter.com/therock/status/345552715297988610?lang=en

And here: http://1samoana.com/high-chief-peter-maivia/

Disney based some of Maui's character design on him.
Jan. 16th, 2017 01:02 am (UTC)
You cried too! I don't know what it is about that, but it brought tears to my eyes when it played in the theater, and then again when I watched it again. There's something so --I don't even know what it is.

And I didn't know that about the Rock being Samoan! What an awesome photograph.
Jan. 16th, 2017 01:16 am (UTC)
That clip is gorgeous! Wonderfully joyous and positive - as is the info about mat-sails, and the indispensable pandanus tree. Thank you! :)

(The French... yes, well. Colonialism continues.)

Edited at 2017-01-16 04:18 am (UTC)
Jan. 16th, 2017 01:56 am (UTC)
True about colonialism, and (of course) other forms of exploitation based on power. I have a friend from New Caledonia. I met her after college, when we were both studying in Japan. She's ethnically Chinese, was born on Tahiti, and grew up (and lives now) in New Caledonia. I wonder what her position is on independence.
Jan. 16th, 2017 09:28 am (UTC)
Thanks for this
Jan. 16th, 2017 10:52 am (UTC)
You can escape all that snow for a while :-)
Jan. 16th, 2017 01:01 pm (UTC)
I saw the movie and was somewhat disappointed - I'm particularly fond of trickster characters, and I guess on the whole Maui's characterization/arc didn't gel for me. But I tried not to let it color my fondness of the numerous smaller pleasures the movie had to offer - that song chief among them. (One of the teachers at my studio put it on his yoga playlist for one of the faster-paced sections in a class; it was pretty perfect. :)

I'm fascinated at how much you learned! Maybe that's a good life lesson - why focus so much energy on things that disappoint you, when even within them there's usually new and fascinating stuff to learn about?
Jan. 16th, 2017 01:32 pm (UTC)
I thought the storyline was kind of thin (compared with, for example, Frozen, which had a lot going on and managed to have the many moving parts be fairly integrated), and motivations seemed kind of one-note (and yet confusing at times, too), but within that broad complaint, I liked Maui well enough. But yeah, it was all the little things that I really liked: the look of toddler Moana, her wandering into the sea, the grandmother's death-transformation moment, the wayfinders's song, the look of Te Fiti when she transformed back, etc.
Jan. 17th, 2017 03:43 am (UTC)
This is great -- thanks for sharing! I saw little pieces of "Moana" when I was in Florida with my niece. She's part Pacific Islander, so it's wonderful that there are things about her heritage that she's growing up with even though most of her family around her are Irish. We're trying!
Jan. 17th, 2017 10:06 am (UTC)
So happy for your niece--sounds like you guys are doing great ^_^

I think movies like that are great for kids like I was, too: ones who yearned after far-away and different. Moana's attitude is one I can really identify with: liking your home just fine, but wanting to go elsewhere.
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 17th, 2017 11:26 pm (UTC)
You're welcome--I had so much fun learning all this stuff. I hope you get to see this movie at some point, if not in theaters, then through Netflix.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )



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