In Mariwai in April 2018, The Mariwai Project commissioned a large paddle canoe from the village’s master canoe makers using a fresh cut tree limb to carve a customary shape, the crocodile. Intricately carved paddle canoes are rarely seen on the Sepik anymore and certainly not painted ones. Several men participated in chopping down the tree and the sculpting of the canoe, complete with crocodile head, eyes, scales, arms, legs and tail. After the carving was finished the canoe was filled with palm fronds and set alight. This burning process removes excess moisture from the wood and the fire cauterizes the surface, aiding impermeability.
Burgos wanted to create a sense of shared ownership of the canoe between the clans and to agree on a name that was not owned by a particular group. Wasmanj, the water spirit was chosen. She then created a design for the canoe dividing it into sections with each clan painting one side.
“I divided the canoe painting plans on 2 sides to fit clan symbols ‘fairly’ as I am well aware of the great importance of proprietorship. For example the pig, cassowary and pigeon are Wanyi clan symbols. Sun, moon, turtle and crocodile are the main Kiava clan motifs. These are interspersed with legend stories and secret spirits. I then added flames to each end to give a reference to the moai, the Kwoma comet or shooting star spirit figure, and a nod to American hot rod culture.”
Wasmanj remains in the village as a symbol of Kwoma culture and a testament to the prowess of the canoe makers, George Numai, Samuel Yingot, Matthew Kuar, Ruben Manga, Simon Numai and others.