Shaman Mother Ehrith tells us how young men in her time were taught to merge aspects of themselves, the tree, the seal and the water together, so that their canoe would be absolutely at home in the water. It’s a journey.
An edited excerpt:
“I was a shaman and lived in a village that was quite settled, we were not really nomadic, although we were situated on a river, so there was still a nomadic aspect to our existence. We also traded with other villages, we went by water and used canoes. We had to, of course, make the canoes. They could be different sizes, but generally there was enough room for one person and trading items. The canoes were mainly used by the men. Trading was an important part of our existence, so this meant that the canoes were important, this made the making and owning of a canoe more than a practicality. A canoe was a symbol of freedom and possibilities, so the making of one was a significant, almost spiritual event.
In many ways the making of a canoe was part of initiation into manhood because it was your transport, but it also signified your ability to provide for your family in a much larger way. The building could take up to two years because it was very specialised. You would have to search for the wood, which had to be strong but malleable or pliable, and whilst the elders would guide this, the person had to feel a true affinity with the tree. You would find young wood, because just like the young human being, it had to be moulded to become strong, independent, and purposeful. The wood was a reflection of the person going through the initiation rite.
The wood then needed to be tempered, so it was soaked in water before being dried and oiled. However, putting the wood in water had another purpose. It was connecting the material with its new purpose, and aligning the two elements to the same energy, so they work together. So, now you have the initiate working and moulding the wood, and the wood and water working together, they are all becoming connected and invested. The actual making of the canoe was very meditative, and it was at this point that the initiate put himself, energetically, into the canoe. This took time, but this was expected, the more time it took, the greater the transfer of energy.
Once the wooden skeleton of the canoe was finished, it was covered with skins. This was normally seal skins, because they too are from the sea and specialised for sea journeying. Killing any animal is a serious business and never something to be done lightly. All seals would be asked to give up their life for this new purpose, and then thanked for the gift of life. All parts of the seal would be used, the skins for the covering, the blubber melted down and used as a waterproofing paste on the wood, and the meat eaten in celebration of the initiate, new life and purpose.
The making of the canoe was not just about having a boat for trading. The process gave the initiate the skills to survive. Because they could make a canoe, they knew how to find and use wood for building, they knew how to kill an animal to survive, they learned what they could use from the animal, they learned by doing it themselves, they became an independent person, and in the end they had a canoe, that offered them greater independence, and an ability to go out into the world.”