Antonio Piailug’s fond memories of his father, legendary Micronesian navigator Mau Piailug, were about the countless voyages they made together.
“I used to sail with my father in Yap and Chuuk since I was 6 years old,” the younger Piailug told Saipan Tribune in a telephone interview.
With unsurpassed skills in journeying across the Pacific without the use of any navigational instruments, Mau Piailug was considered a palu, a master navigator that only uses of ancient methods of wayfaring.
On July 12, Mau Piailug, the last of the traditional master navigators, passed away on his home island of Satawal, state of Yap, in the Federated States of Micronesia. He was 78.
Mau Piailug was well-known for having navigated the Hokule’a, a Polynesia double-hulled voyaging canoe, in the 2,500-mile journey from Hawaii to Tahiti on its maiden voyage in 1976.
According to his son Henry Yarofalpiy, they found out about his father’s death through a call from their relatives back in Satawal.
Mau Piailug had 10 sons and six daughters, three of whom are based on Saipan.
Yarofalpiy said his father was buried the day after he died, which is customary in Yap since they do not have a morgue.
To observe the death of a navigator like his father, Yarofalpiy said sailing between islands is banned until the family of the deceased opens up the seas by initiating sea voyaging once again.
“We won’t hold it for long. We understand that people need to travel to other islands for food. We plan to open sail nine days after his death,” said Yarofalpiy.
Piailug, who last saw his father when he sailed to Satawal last year, said he followed his father in most of his trips from Satawal to Saipan on a conventional canoe.
“He had diabetes but he was in good condition [then],” said Piailug.
Being one of the last traditional navigators, Mau Piailug trained younger navigators, including Charles Nainoa Thompson, executive director of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, which invited Mau Piailug to support them in their quest to revive the ancient art of Hawaiian wayfaring.
“There are young people that have the knowledge but not like what he did. He’s into traditional [method],” said Yarofalpiy.
In an e-mail to Saipan Tribune, Commonwealth Council for Arts executive director Angel S. Hocog offered his condolences to the family of the late Mau Piailug.
Hocog said the death of Mau Piailug is “a great loss” for the Micronesian culture because “there is so much to learn” from the late master navigator.
He added that CCAC is planning to organize an exhibit that will coincide with the Cultural Heritage Month in September to pay tribute to Mau Piailug.
Piailug noted that the continued existence of the art of traditional navigation lies to a great extent on those who have learned from the late master navigator.
“Whoever learned from him should step up and do what they learned. We have to step up and try navigating around and pass the knowledge,” he said.
To continue his father’s legacy, Yarofalpiy said he plans to work closely with the Canoe Federation on Saipan and the CCAC and do educational outreach to students.
Yarofalpiy, who has done presentations at Marianas High School and other schools in the past, said he is willing to teach children so they can learn about traditional art and culture.
“It will be up to the young generation to continue this art. That’s what we want, to preserve our culture,” he said.
The family of the late Mau Piailug started the nightly rosary last Tuesday, July 13, at 7:30pm and will continue until the memorial service 6pm on July 21 to be held at Santa Soledad Church.
For more information, contact Henry Yarofalpiy at 788-4521.
Nightly Rosary: July 13 to 20 at 7:30pm
Memorial service: July 21, 6pm, Santa Soledad Church
For more information, contact Henry Yarofalpiy at 788-4521