An unfamiliar sight happened two weekends ago during the 37th Annual Saipan International Fishing Tournament when four Flying Proas shared the seas around the Marianas with Bayliners, Islanders, Boston Whalers, Kevlar Cats, and Micronesia Marines.
The Auntie Oba, Neni, Richard Seman, and Anaguan of non-profit organization 500 Sails all took part in the two-day fishing derby and although none of them won any of the categories, they certainly made history.
“For the first time in hundreds of years, four local canoes headed out to sea to fish together as part of the Saipan Fisherman’s Association’s 37th Saipan International Fishing Tournament. Three of the canoes were captained by Carolinian traditional navigators and the crew and fishers were a mix of youth and adults representative of our diverse community—a beautiful example of how our local cultures work together and support each other. This is what canoe culture is all about,” said 500 Sails co-founder Pete Perez.
He also thanked SFA and Atkins Kroll for sponsoring the four Flying Proas’ entrance fee to the fishing derby.
“We’re proud of our sailors and fishers and grateful to SFA who invited us and to Atkins Kroll who sponsored the canoes in the event, and [Department of Land and Natural Resources] who hosted the canoes in Smiling Cove. We’ve never felt prouder of the CNMI!”
During the awards ceremony last Monday at the Aqua Resort Club poolside, SFA member and emcee Curtis Dancoe recognized the intrepid crew of the four Flying Proas by asking them to stand up and were cheered by everyone in attendance.
“They were given no special treatment and they didn’t want it anyways. They wanted to be equal as it was with our founding fathers in fishing and they wanted to be treated the same and we certainly appreciate your participation. We continue to pray to preserve the culture, to enhance, and be a part of future events,” said Dancoe before inviting one of the crew, Arthur De Oro, to say some words up in the stage.
“I think this is one of the first time that you have a traditional sailing canoe category in an international fishing tournament so we’re so proud and so happy that we were sponsored by the Saipan Fishermen’s Association and AK Toyota because if it wasn’t for the, you wouldn’t have seen us out there,” said De Oro.
He added that 500 Sails is indeed in the forefront of reviving the CNMI’s long lost sailing canoe tradition and even as he spoke other members of the group are educating the next generation about the important part the Flying Proa played in the islands’ history and culture.
“We lost our traditional sailing canoe tradition in Marianas but you know who’s helping us getting it back—our Carolinian brothers. In fact, master navigators Cecilio Raiukiulipiy, Antonio Piailug, and Mario Benito who sailed with the rest of the group through to Tinian for a summer camp this morning. So we’re so happy to be part of the 37th Annual Saipan International Fishing Tournament.”
Apart from De Oro, other crew that manned the Flying Proas for 12 grueling hours each day during the two-day fishing derby were Piailug, Leo Pangelinan, Jeremiah Benavente, and Percy Yalisman.
De Oro and Piailug hope that moving forward that an all-Flying Proa fishing derby would be held in the future to toast the culture and tradition of the Marianas’ seafaring past.