Kiribati canoe being built in Maia garage

Skilled craftsman: Booro Tione is building a traditional Kiribati canoe by hand in his daughter’s...
Skilled craftsman: Booro Tione is building a traditional Kiribati canoe by hand in his daughter’s Maia garage.
Booro Tione (78) is building what may be his last traditional Kiribati outrigger canoe, in a Dunedin garage.


The father of Dunedin early childhood teacher Takeua Burnett arrived on a visit from his Micronesian island home late last year and has spent the past seven months hand-building the wooden outrigger canoe.

Mrs Burnett and her husband Greg have been documenting and videoing the project to preserve the knowledge of a dying art.

‘‘We requested that he make the canoe because it is a skill that needs preserving,'' Mrs Burnett said.

So without any written plans, using measurements specified by hand breadths and outstretched arms and fashioned only with handtools, Mr Tione has been building a canoe.

Materials have had to be adapted to fit what is available in Dunedin.

Coconut planks lashed together with coconut fibre rope and sealed with a mixture of mangrove fruit pulp and sap have given way to marine plywood, nylon string, putty and glue.

Now complete, except for mast and sail, the canoe is only the fifth or sixth Mr Tione has built.

‘‘Back home, each family has a special skill which is owned by the family and passed down through the generations,'' Mrs Burnett explained for her father, who speaks no English.

One family might be specialist fishermen, another, the house builders.

Mr Tione's family are the canoe builders.

‘‘But you are not allowed to build canoes when you are young. That is reserved for mature people.''

The skills are supposed to be passed from male to male but because motorboats are replacing canoes, Mr Tione has agreed to share his skills with his daughter.

‘‘He is really pleased the skills are being passed on.

‘‘If my children are interested, they can learn. Otherwise I will share the knowledge with the Kiribati community.''

The Burnetts hope to sail the canoe on Otago harbour.

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