Building a traditional canoe-like wooden boat marked the end of elementary school for a group of students on Lanyu (蘭嶼) — also known as Orchid Island — but the beginning of a mission to pass down the boat-building tradition of their tribe, the Tao.
Huang Hao-wei (黃豪蔚), who represented the 11 Dongching Elementary School graduates, navigated the boat the students began building in August last year around a 20-minute circuit yesterday to pay tribute to the Tao culture.
According to Tao tradition, the size of the fish caught during a boat’s maiden journey symbolizes the future of its owners — the larger the fish it is, the better their lives are supposed to be.
However, because the boy had not yet learned to catch fish from a wooden boat, some of the tribal elders, who accompanied Huang in two other boats during his trip, left a lembus rudderfish in Huang’s boat to wish the graduates a life full of happiness.
The elders also sang a traditional song and threw millet and taros into Huang’s boat for good luck before he embarked on his journey.
Huang docked 20 minutes after departing and distributed the diplomas he had brought with him to the other graduates, before handing over the oars to the fifth-graders.
Huang said he was “very happy and proud to have represented the graduates,” while his father said he was proud of his son for accomplishing the mission.
The school’s principal, Wen Sheng-hsun (溫昇勳), said building the wooden boat was the students’ last assignment of their elementary school careers.
In addition to constructing the boat, the students were also responsible for inviting guests to the graduation and harvesting the taros that were put into the boat. They also killed two pigs and distributed their meat to tribal households on the island earlier in the day.