Letter from Klaus Hympendahl
Dear Hanneke, dear James,
As you know, I visited the islands of Anuta and Tikopia in May 2006. I had been asked by a BBC documentary film team to bring their scout Matt Fletcher to both islands in order to ask the chiefs of Anuta for permission to bring a film team to the island in September. Matt and I chartered a yacht in Fiji and due to a long period of calm, we managed to make the 700 miles in 13 days.
Anchoring off Anuta one hour after sunrise the reception could not have been more exciting. I knew from previous visits that the surf makes every yacht dinghy flip over. Therefore, we anchored about 200 meters in the lee, waiting for a boat to pick us up. After an hours time we saw an outrigger with four men heading for us. Just as the first man was reaching for our rope the man in the front looking at me said: “Welcome on Anuta, Klaus!”
I had met Joseph years ago in Lata on Santa Cruz Island, but could not remember him at all. Anyway, I gave each of the four men one of my collected second hand pipes and knew right from the binning a better gift could not be made.
Having visited Tikopia and Anuta four times and having lived on the bigger island of Tikopia for two months in 1997, one year after you came by on GAIA, I knew that to an islander a pipe means as much than a car does to a German.
Matt and I were taken to the island by two outriggers, with all our gear such as mosquito nets etc. I had more pipes, all together 120 for both islands, plus second hand glasses and medical aid. Matt brought some 10-kilo bags of rice as well as sugar, salt, noodles, fishing gear etc.
Anuta has 350 inhabitants and is as small as a housing block in London. There is a spring, some very fertile land and the best fishing ground you can think of.
For Anutans, a fishing boat is a vehicle of survival. They paddle out nearly every day and go for any fish you can think of. I saw them landing sharks, wahoos and a blue marlin, which was nearly the size of their outrigger. New for me were the sails they were rigging mainly as square sails. The sail material was cheap plastic.
Even on the lee side, the surf is strong and it needs skilled men to manage the landing without damage. Next to a small bluff, the Anutans have their “marina” with about 20 outriggers pulled up the beach. On the windward side, where most of the people live, they have another 50 canoes properly packed into thatched covers so that neither rain nor sun can damage them.
They measure the sizes of their canoes not by meter but by the number of beams, from two to five beams. Nearly every canoe has a top board on both sides sewn to the dugout hull with nylon or coconut string (Polynesian: kava).
Matt and I agreed to talk first with the two chiefs and their marus (advisers) about the ‘Wharram project’ as we called it and later about the BBC project.
While sitting crossed legged on mats in a hot hut getting bitten by mosquitoes I explained that Hanneke, James and myself were planning to give a catamaran each to the people of Anuta and Tikopia. I showed them Hanneke’s brochure starting with photos of the100 year old canoe from these islands exhibited in the Auckland Museum, plus the ones of the new catamaran “Child of the Sea”, built in the Philippines. I pointed out that the new catamaran is based fundamentally on the design of traditional Anuta and Tikopia canoes. The bow and stern and the V-shape hull make the catamaran go to windward, different than the common dugout hulls with round shaped hulls.
Looking in their eyes I knew at first sight they knew what I was talking about. They could read my lips, but wanted me to continue talking about the quality of their own canoes. For them, it was unbelievable that a white man was sitting on their mats telling them about the principles and advantages of their canoes. It would have been the same if a Polynesian came to the board of directors of Mercedes telling them what great an engineering job they were doing.
Your brochure went from hand to hand. I believe after 5 days staying on Anuta every man has seen it. Every man has understood that your design “Child of the Sea” is a true Anuta boat designed in the traditional empirical design.
Hanneke and James, it was just great watching how they immediately understood the principles. It really did not need my explanations.
We agreed that with a hand-operated winch hooked to a strong tree next to the beach plus slippery strong branches, the “Child of the Sea” could easily be winched up to the beach. Later it will need a cover for sun protection.
I told them that with the new catamaran they could go out offshore fishing, visit their brothers and sisters on 73 nautical miles off Tikopia, bring their sick persons to the hospital in Lata, another 220 miles away and practice again their Polynesian navigation.
After the acceptance of the Wharram project, Matt had quite an easy game to get the acceptance for his project. Therefore, in September he and a five-man film team will visit Anuta to film an episode for the next ‘Tribe’ series.