On view now at the Art School is this beautiful hala (pandanus odoratissimus, screw pine) sail from Lamotrek in the central Caroline Islands. The sail was created thanks in part to community-based cultural education organization Waa‘gey as part of their mission to promote traditional skills and knowledge transfer. When the sail was completed last spring, it traveled more than 1,000 miles from Lamotrek to Guam, where it was part of the 12th Festival of Pacific Arts in Guam, then it made its way to O‘ahu. But the sail almost wasn’t made.
Like many Micronesian atolls, Lamotrek has experienced a gradual decrease in its population as the youth leave the islands in search of jobs and money. About 300 people—largely middle-aged—remain on the atoll. There is no next generation to which to pass on their traditional knowledge and skills.
At one point, 95-year-old Maria Labusheilam was the only person in the world with knowledge of Lamotrek sail weaving. However, thanks to the efforts Waa‘gey, Labusheilam was able to teach the practice to 20 young women apprentices. Labusheilam died two weeks after training her students. She never got to see the completed sail, which took six months to weave.
On the sail are the signatures of the entire population of Lamotrek and the President of the Federated States of Micronesia H.E. Peter Christian. Also on the sail is the phrase “Falemwaiul Lamoireg?” “It highlights the community’s own struggle to combat the negative impact of modernization, including environmental issues such as climate change and sea level rise,” says Waa’gey project coordinator Larry Reigetal. It is the hope of the Lamotrek people that this sail travels around the world to show that our cultural heritage of the past, i.e. canoe building and voyaging, are not only applicable to our societies, but are indeed conducive to the environment in which we live.”