Friday, January 25, 2013

The Flying Proa - Chamorro Galaide

The Galaide was a smaller version of the Proa — a type of outrigger canoe with a single masted lanteen sail made of palm fronds used in the Marianas Islands 3,000 years ago. The Galaide was primarily utilized by the Chamorro people for fishing and transport around the island as opposed to the larger Proa or Sakram that was used more for inter-island travel and trade.

The first European reference to the Galaide goes back to when Ferdinand Magellan came upon Guam in 1521. A Francisco Alvos entry in his log book from that voyage notes that "...many small sails approached the ship sailing so swiftly they appeared to be flying." An account from the 1566 voyage of the San Geronimo under the command of Pedro Sanchez Pericon also speaks to the swiftness of Chamorro voyaging canoes and the agility of the voyagers by some accounts they traveled at or above 20 mile per hour which would have made them the fastest vessels in the world at that time.
By the end of the seventeenth century, contact and eventual settlement on Guam by Spanish colonialists and missionaries led to the near decimation of the indigenous Chamorro people through introduced diseases and warfare. In an effort to further demobilize and control the Chamorros, the Spanish government prohibited the construction and use of the Sakman and Galaide by locals. This led to the eventual decline of the construction and loss of the intricate engineering details of these swift, ocean-going canoes that had so fascinated the first visiting Europeans.
There are several groups on Guam and elsewhere who are working to reconnect with the seafaring past of the Chamorro people.
While in Guam, I was fortunate enough to run into a few members of TASA while hanging out near Ypau Beach. TASA: Traditions Affirming our Seafaring Ancestry. When we arrived at TASAs place there in the park, a few members were pulling in a small galaide the group had made.

Two things: One, being from the mountains what I know about sailing could fill a thimble and Two, being a slinger I was more interested in the materials used to make rope and bindings to build these amazing vessels so my new found friend Vicente was kind enough to introduce me to Pago (Wild Hibiscus) bark. Long straight limbs of Pagu which is very light but at the same time very strong was used for various parts of the mast and outrigger assemblies of the galaide. The bark of the wild hibiscus or pago is strong and the preferred fiber for making rope. Interestingly enough it is resistant to and said to be even stronger when exposed to salt water. I’ll talk more about pago and sling making later.
I was impressed and inspired by the craftsmanship of TASA and before leaving Guam I found a galaide model kit at the Che’lu Store in the Chamorro Village. It took a while to whittle down the pieces to get the best fit but it makes a nice addition to my office.

When you are in Guam, please seek out TASA members down at Ypau Beach. If you’re lucky, you may even get to take a ride in the bay on one of these beautiful hand-made boats.  

EDIT: I knew I didn't have the rigging just right and still probably not entirely accurate but here is the Galaide rerigged.

These small sailboats were not sailed conventionally, especially in turning the way most sail boats are piloted. They do not tack.

Another visitor, Woodes Rogers in 1711, said:
The Governor presented us with one of their flying prows, which I shall describe here because of the oddness of it. The Spaniards told me it would run twenty leagues per hour, which I think too large; but by what I saw they may run twenty miles or more in the time, for when they viewed our ships, they passed by us like a bird flying. These prows are about thirty foot long, not above two broad, and about three deep. They have but one mast which stands in the middle, with a mat sail, made in the form of a ship’s paddle to steer her, so that when they go about, they don’t turn the boat as we do to bring the wind on the other side, but only change the sail, so that the Jack and sheet of the sail are used alike. The boat’s head and stern are the same, only they change them, as occasion requires, to sail either way. For they are so narrow that they could not bear any sail, were it not for booms that run out from the windward side, fastened to a a large log shaped like a boat, and nearly half as long, which becomes contiguous to the boat. On these booms a stage is made above the water on a level with the side of the boat, upon which they carry goods or passengers.
They were called “flying proas” because of their speed, and possessed three technological innovations which made this label well deserved:
• Their hull was asymmetrical to counter the drag of the outrigger float.
• Chamorros used triangular sails to increase speed and allow for a closer sail to the wind.
• The proas tacked by moving the sail from one end of the canoe to the other. This is called shunting and is done because the outrigger float must always be to windward.
So fast were these vessels that one voyage from Guam to Manila reportedly took only four days, which means they traveled more than twenty miles per hour.
These canoes were vital to the survival of Chamorros because they facilitated transport and trade amongst islands and allowed them to fish beyond the reef.
Ancient Chamorros had at least six types of canoes: sakman, leklek, duding, duduli, panga and galaide. The sakman was the largest and most impressive, regularly measuring more than forty feet, some reportedly holding a hundred men, and ideal for long voyages and deep sea fishing. Leklek, duding and duduli were smaller vessels for shorter voyages. The panga is a duduli without a sail. The galaide, also without a sail, is also a small vessel. Both the panga and galaide were used within the reef.
Canoe construction and navigation were considered men’s tasks, and most likely specialized to a select few. The learning of these skills were either passed down from father to son, or a part of a young man’s education in the guma’uritao or men’s houses.

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