500 Sails’ canoes make historic voyage around Saipan


The Richard Seman canoe and its crew, led by grand master navigator Sesario Sewralur, takes oxff from the Smiling Cove Marina yesterday morning in a historic maritime voyage that will see them circling the entire island of Saipan. (LEIGH GASES)

Four canoes took off yesterday morning from the Smiling Cove Marina for a historic maritime event that will see the vessels circumnavigating the island of Saipan, starting with the launch yesterday, landing at Laulau and spending the night, then finishing the journey by heading to Guma Sakman in Susupe sometime today, Monday.

About 30 spectators witnessed the beginning of this event, called “Circumnavigation of Saipan in Traditional Chamorro Canoes via Unai Bapot,” which event organizer 500 Sails said has never been seen before in hundreds of years. The voyage of the four canoes are being done under the direction of four Carolinian master navigators and selected crew.

According to the 500 Sails, “this voyage is intended to commemorate the legacy of traditional navigation and the ancestral village of Unai Bapot, which dates back approximately 3,500 years.”

Unai Bapot is the name of the ancient Chamorro ancestral village settlement in Laulau, Saipan. This settlement is believed to be the oldest of early settlements by the ancient Chamorros in the Northern Marianas.

Along with “commemorating a sacred site of our ancestors, this open ocean journey gives the crew members an opportunity to build upon their experiences in the open ocean and apply their skill sets and knowledge under the tutelage of the well-seasoned master navigators,” said 500 Sails in an earlier news release.

The four Chamorro canoes launched in this voyage are named Neni, Auntie Oba, Richard Seman, and Anaguan.

Grand master navigator Sesario Sewralur, son of Mau Piailug, is the navigator of the Richard Seman. The Aunty Oba is under the direction of Sewralur’s brother, master navigator Antonio Piailug. The Anaguan is under the direction of their nephew, master navigator Cecilio Raiukiulipiy, and the Neni is under the direction of Mariano Bonito.

Sewralur described the voyage as “very important for our new generation to understand our life and our history, because this is how we survived in the old days. …This is what brings us from different places to another place. If typhoons destroy our food, then we need to go to different places to bring food to our people and that’s the navigator’s role. …So I hope that this will be a very historic voyage for our new generation to understand.”

Emma Perez, co-founder of 500 Sails, said the launching of the canoes was a beautiful sight to behold. “It touches me deeply. It may have been centuries or more since this has happened.”

One spectator, Tano Taitano, who experienced sailing one of the canoes the day before, said that witnessing the event “is exvidence that our ancestors were great sea[farers]. …Today we have women out there with the men…and it’s great just to be in touch with our past. These [navigators] are the best—some of the best in the world.”

Perez encourages the community to join the activities that 500 Sails has to offer. “Our programs are all free. We really encourage people. We started out with swimming, and to be a voyager, you need to be able to swim. So please join us for any swimming class…and when you’re ready, come on out. It’s here for the whole community.”

500 Sails is a non-profit organization whose mission is to revive, promote, and preserve the maritime cultural traditions of the Mariana Islands. For more information on programs, call 670-323-7245(SAIL), email info@500sails.org, or follow 500 Sails on Facebook and Instagram

Leigh Gases
Leigh Gases is the youngest reporter of Saipan Tribune and primarily covers community related news, but she also handles the utilities, education, municipal, and veterans beats. Contact Leigh at leigh_gases@saipantribune.com.

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