News

Oregonian: Outrigger canoe being built at PSU as part of cultural exchange
Author: Stephanie Yao Long, The Oregonian/OregonLive
Posted: October 21, 2015

See the original story and photos from the Oregonian here.

The whine of the automated tool attracts the attention of pedestrians at Portland State University. But the construction they turn to see isn't of the usual variety. Wood shavings fly off the hull of a traditional outrigger canoe being built by Marshall Islands native Tiem Clement.

This outdoors, living demonstration, that goes on most Mondays-Saturdays just northwest of Millar Library, is a project of the non-profit Living Islands. It is the brainchild of the organization's founder Kianna Angelo. She worked with PSU's Native American Student & Community Center to stage the demonstration on campus.

The builder, Clement, currently lives in Spokane. He says he's built about 30 boats in his lifetime, starting as a 20-year-old soaking in knowledge from his maternal grandfather. 

Volunteer David Anderson translates questions and answers for Clement. Anderson lived in the Marshall Islands in the 1970s when he was in the Peace Corps. 

Also helping in the construction is Erick Pedro, Clement's nephew who lives in Keizer. Family friends and eventually students will also help out, creating a cultural exchange for the community. According to Melissa Bennett, program coordinator at the Native American student center, there will be an opportunity to help weave the sail and ropes out of coconut and other plant fiber. 

Construction began on September 28 and should be complete by the end of November. 

Three redwood sequoia logs from Woodland, Washington, were donated, measuring 30 feet long and 3-4 feet in diameter. The final outrigger canoe will be 22 feet long.

The boat's plans are in the builder's head, not a blueprint in sight. Volunteer Anderson says Clement used a string to measure from end to end, then folded the string in half to make marks and in half again to make other marks. Each mark apparently indicated where to start a curve.

Clement has built boats using only hand tools. In Portland, he has been able to expedite the process with chainsaws and other mechanized tools.

Anderson explains that the bottom part of the canoe is called the jouj, which is "kindness" in Marshallese. The jouj supports the entire canoe, just as kindness is what keeps family and society cohesive.

Check back in a month for photos of the completion of the canoe.