- Museum number
Wood canoe (vaka) with a hull made of forty-five wood sections bound together with continuous lengths of plaited coir cordage covering battens of split coconut leaf midrib. There is a pointed prow, a broken stern and a single plank seat amid ships, along with a broken figure, whose flattened legs are carved on either side of the stern.
- Production date
Height: 120 centimetres (approx)
Length: 415 centimetres (approx)
Width: 100 centimetres (approx)
- Curator's comments
Description from Extracts from the British and Medieval Register 1757-1878, p.3:
1771, May 31st. A canoe brought home by H.M.S. Dolphin: from the Lords of the Admiralty.
For Captain Wallis, see Philip Snow and Stefanie Waine, "The People from the Horizon", McLaren, London 1986, p.43ff.
Hooper 2006, p. 168-169
'This is one of the earliest documented surviving artefact collected from Polynesia (see above, pp. 22-4). It is in astonishingly good condition considering its long voyage to England lashed to the deck of the Dolphin. The hull is composed of forty-five wood sections bound together with continuous lengths of plaited coir cordage covering battens of split coconut leaf midrib. There is a pointed prow, a broken stern and a single plank seat amidships. There is no step for a mast, and it is likely to have been an outrigger paddling canoe, as suggested by Hornell, who gives an exhaustive account of its construction (Hornell, J., 1936, 'The canoes of Polynesia, Fiji and Micronesia,' Vol. I of 'The Canoes of Oceania' by A.C. Haddon and J. Hornell, 1936-38. Special Publication 27. Honolulu: B.P. Bishop Museum: 63-8). Missing are the head rails, which would have reached from the gunwales on each side to the ends of the prow and stern, as shown in Emory, K.P.,1975, 'Material culture of the Tuamotu Archipelago,' Pacific Anthropological Records 22. Honolulu: B.P. Bishop Museum: 166). No commentator has remarked on the broken figure, whose flattened legs are carved on either side of the stern. Sheared off at the waist, the figure would have faced into the canoe. This may have been a local break, or the result of the canoe being upside down on the Dolphin's deck. Grooves on the port gunwale - burn marks from fisherman's hand lines - testify to the canoe's former successful use.'
This canoe was the first Pacific object to be acquired by the British Museum, and is a good surviving example of early canoe construction from Nukutavake in the Tuamotu Archipelago. The people of Nukutavake were very reliant on these types of canoes to source food from the sea, as well as to navigate to nearby islands. Due to the lack of timber resources, these canoes were constructed from many smaller pieces of wood, fitted and lashed together.
See also Hornell, J., 'The oldest complete Polynesian canoe hull in existence', Man, Vol. 32 (Oct., 1932), pp. 225-228.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2006 21 May-13 Aug, Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Pacific Encounters
2006-2007 28 Sept-7 Jan, London, BM, Power and Taboo
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- From the HMS Dolphin Pacific expedition of 1766-1768; collected in 1767.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number
- Additional IDs
Miscellaneous number: Oc1982,Q.186 (also registered as)
Miscellaneous number: Un1771,0531.1