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by Whitt Birnie

These small craft are not playthings. They are the creations of a native people honoring their loved ones, those who have passed into the afterworld.

Homemade from palm materials gathered in their backyards, the husk of a coconut serves as a hull, a transparent layer of frond acts as a sail. The rolled, fresh green banana leaf offers a tiny castle, a temporary refuge for the spirit. An optional folded “in memory of” note might contain a farewell prayer, or just a handwritten name.

The departure ceremony could occur when a family is moved to commemorate their loved one’s final journey into the unknown, but is more commonly seen around religious holidays. The only requirements are a tragic loss, and a calm lagoon with a gentle breeze blowing offshore.

Nature, and the cultural traditions of native people, can lend tremendous support to our perspective when life’s journey becomes rough. The simplicity of concept and clarity of vision help us see through the disappointments and distractions of everyday existence, to find time to relax and unwind, to focus more on the essentials, and finally, to appreciate what a precious gift life’s short journey really is.