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The Yami, or Tao, from Orchid Island off the coast of Taiwan, built this canoe in the twentieth century. The boat, which can hold up to twelve people, is used for fishing, but it's also an object of art and honorary significance.

The tree-like figures repeated on the boat represent a Yami ancestral hero. His body is the central "trunk" and spirals emerge from his arms and the top and sides of his head. This ancestor taught his people how to farm, build boats and, ultimately, how to survive.

This distinctive fishing boat, with its upturned extensions, is the Yami's central cultural icon. It's made completely by hand according to strict oral tradition—canoe building requires the assistance of many families within a clan. It takes years to finish a boat. When completed, the entire village gathers, and many hands carry the canoe above their heads into the sea. This launch is an occasion for an enormous feast provided by the canoe's owners. The party is a time for dressing up, giving gifts and singing songs about the beauty and future success of the canoe and how it will bring fish from the sea.

Inside the Spirits and Headhunters gallery there are more artifacts from the cultures of Oceania. There, you can see how its inhabitants have celebrated the ocean as a source of abundant food, a route to trading partners, an escape from enemies and a fearsome force of nature.

Step25-Canoe, Yami Culture, Taiwan

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