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Around the Islands | Saipan’s First Pwo Ceremony

THE following is an excerpt from Around the Islands’ most recent episode, “Saipan’s First Pwo Ceremony”:

Ali Haleyalur: A Pwo ceremony signifies that a navigator has completed all the requirements of the school and that he is to be initiated into the Pwo so that people will call him a navigator.

Tony Piailug: That’s what happened to me, and it happened here in the CNMI. I believe this is the first time in the Marianas. It’s an honor and it’s nice to get the title of master navigator. My Uncle Ali and Sesario, you can call them “Grandmasters.” They’ve been sailing a lot.

Ali Haleyalur: Tony has met all the requirements. He has been sailing around, crossing some sea lanes, navigating himself.

Tony Piailug: My island is Satawal, an outer island in Yap. I did a couple of trips on different boats with my dad from my island to here.

Ali Haleyalur: We also know that Tony can build the canoes without any assistance from his master. Tony knows how to build a men’s house, the techniques of a men’s house when it comes to falling down or breaking, and we see that he has accomplished those things. So that’s why, at the end of the ceremony, we decided to just bestow the title of “Master Navigator” on him.

A screenshot from the episodeA screenshot from the episode

Cecilio Raiukiulipiy: It’s a really heavy responsibility. So you’re responsible for the people, you’re responsible for the canoe, you’re responsible for the voyage, you’re responsible for your crew, for safekeeping the knowledge and to pass it on. And also, in case something happens, like when there’s a disaster, you have to lead the people to a safe place.

Sesario Sewralur: This is our life back home. That’s what we depend on. We survive on the ocean.

Tony Piailug: [Conducting the ceremony] shows the Carolinians here how the Pwo goes on because they’ve never seen this kind of ceremony in the Marianas.

Ali Haleyalur: Bringing this Pwo here to Saipan is one way that I thought it would be good because it might move the elders to thinking back about how important these things are. So that they could talk to the youngsters to change their minds and start learning our skills.

Cecilio Raiukiulipiy: So the first day of the ceremony, the master, Uncle Ali, that passes the knowledge to Tony, he talks to Tony and blesses the area where they want to do the ceremony inside. Then whoever is going to come inside the sacred area, they have to be blessed. Because of the spirit in your mind and your heart and your whole body… it’s like it’s pure, so that all the knowledge that the navigators and elders teach you, it will easily go into your system. Because there’s no recording. There are no documents, no writing, you have to memorize everything. So you have to purify yourself and be close to the spirit of the Pwo, so you can absorb all that knowledge.

Ali Haleyalur: Pwo comes from the word “pound” because we are inserting all the knowledge into him, like pounding them inside to his heart and brain.

Make sure to check out the full episode, “Around the Extras,” on Marianas Variety’s YouTube channel!