Piailug undergoes sacred ‘Pwo’ initiation

Posted on Oct 07 2019

The sacred initiation of “Pwo” for Antonio “Tony” Urmeyang Piailug begun Saturday at the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs’ canoe house in Susupe in a ceremony that will last until Tomorrow, Oct. 8.

Piailug, who started sailing as a young boy with his father, feels great about the initiation, adding that he has already proven his prowess in sailing from Saipan to Palau and to Chuuk in the Federated States of Micronesia, relying on his traditional knowledge of “wayfinding.”

“I have been sailing with my dad since when I was a young boy. I have been traveling for more than 40 years,” said Piailug.

Piailug is the son of grand master navigator Pius “Mau” Piailug, and the brother of grand master navigator Sesario Sewralur, who is carrying out the sacred initiation with Ali Haleyalur, also a grand master navigator.

“This is very important,” Piailug said, referring to the initiation rites. “We have all these days to [learn how to] prepare before going out sailing, taking care of who is [going to] be with you on your boat, know all things like that. So, it’s very important to me.”

Grand master navigators Ali Haleyalur and Sesario Sewralur carrying out the sacred initiation of “Pwo” for Antonio “Tony” Urmeyang Piailug, center, last Saturday at the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs’ Commonwealth Council for Arts and Culture Seafaring Traditions Canoe House in Susupe. (IVA MAURIN)

“Pwo” is a sacred ritual for individuals who are initiated into the secrets of master navigators, and who have successfully concluded a rigorous course of training in traditional wayfinding.

DCCA Secretary Robert Hunter said Piailug’s initiation into becoming a master navigator is exciting for their office. Piailug co-manages the DCCA’s seafaring traditions program, with a project to build the first large-scale Chamorro oceangoing vessel in 200 years.

“It is exciting,” Hunter said. “It is quite exciting for us, because he’ll [Piailug] be here and he is trying to help us right now relearn the craft of Chamorro canoe-making, and then to teach celestial navigation. That’s the project they have ongoing right now, to build the first large-scale Chamorro oceangoing vessel probably in 200 years.”

The sacred initiation is the first recorded “Pwo” ceremony to happen in the Northern Marianas. A “Pwo” ceremony was held three years ago in Guam but most of these sacred initiations are held in other parts of Micronesia.

Piailug is also reaching out to members of the community who want to learn traditional navigation,

“We’re trying to teach to pass [the knowledge of traditional navigation] on. My message is if [people] want to learn, we welcome them to come and learn if they want to be a future navigator.”

The “Pwo” ceremony, which will conclude on Oct. 8 at 11am, is made possible by the DCCA-Commonwealth Council for Arts and Culture, in partnership with the Carolinian Affairs Office, Indigenous Affairs Office and Palau Community College.

Iva Maurin | Author
Iva Maurin is a communications specialist with environment and community outreach experience in the Philippines and in California. She has a background in graphic arts and is the Saipan Tribune’s community and environment reporter. Contact her at iva_maurin@saipantribune.com
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