Peter Perez, executive director of 500 Sails.org., said the goal of the nonprofit organization is to bring back traditional Chamorro boat making that was lost long ago due to Spain’s colonization of the Marianas.
Serving as the guest speaker of the weekly Saipan Rotary Club meeting at the Hyatt Regency Saipan yesterday, Perez said the organization wants to see 500 of these boats, called “Chamorro Flying Proas” by the Spaniards, out in open water by enabling people to build and maintain them.
Perez thinks the program could help the CNMI not only culturally but economically as well. He even pointed out that multiple Proas along the shore of Saipan in itself is a sight to behold that could attract legions of tourists to the islands.
“You need a reason for people to come here,” said Perez. He added the Proa would also benefit the local economy because people could go out on their Proa and catch fish without the expenses that come with modernization (i.e. gasoline) and sell them. The Proa can be sold to buyers or even boat collectors. The program could help the community by hosting events that feature Proas or even starting a Proa community within the CNMI.
Perez expressed the importance of cultural restoration in the CNMI. According to him, people should also learn basic safety precautions and other necessary skill in order to assure the success of Proa sailing.
“Anyone who comes in to learn the program, they’ll come in to build their boat and they’ll be assisted by what we call Sakman leaders,” said Perez.
“At the same time we’d be teaching them how to swim and how to sail. We’ll be teaching them very culturally important things like what is the language of sailing.”
Perez also stresses that learning how to build a Proa is not just about building for cultural restoration.
“It’s also teaching people a vocation. How to work with fiber glass, how to maintain a boat,” said Perez. “I envision that one day Saipan would be known as a place that makes boats. That’s a pretty cool thing.”
Perez even predicts that people would be happier by making boats. “That kind of vocation is culturally relevant. There’s a lot of jobs out there that are not culturally relevant. I think people are happiest when they do something that is meaningful to them.”