Next to a well-built house, Samoan ingenuity was seen in their canoes. Any one could fell a tree, cut off the branches, and hollow out the log some fifteen feet long, for a common fishing canoe in which one or two men can sit. But the more carefully-built canoe, with a number of separate planks raised from a keel, was the work of a distinct and not very numerous class of professed carpenters. The keel was laid in one piece, twenty-five to fifty feet long, as the size of the canoe might be, and to that they added board after board, not by overlapping and nailing, but by sewing each close to its fellow, until they had raised it some two, or, it might be, three feet from the ground. These boards were not sawn, squared, and uniform, but were a number of pieces, or patches, as they are called, varying in size from eighteen inches to five feet long, as the wood split up from the log with felling axes happens to suit; all, however, were well fastened together, and, with the help of a little gum of the bread-fruit tree for pitch, the whole was perfectly water-tight. In dressing each board, they left a ledge, or rim, all round the edge, which was to be inside, making it double the thickness at the edge to what it was in the middle of the board. It is through this ledge or rim they bored the holes, and with a few turns of cinnet sewed tight one board to the other. The sewing only appeared on the inside. Outside all was smooth and neat; and it was only on close inspection you could see that there was a join at all. They had timbers, thwarts, and gunwale, to keep all tight; and over a few feet at the bow and the stern they had a deck, under which they could stow away anything. The decked part at the bow was the seat of honour, and there you generally saw the chief of the travelling party sitting cross-legged, at his ease, while the others were paddling.

The width of a canoe varied from eighteen to thirty inches; the length, from fifteen to fifty feet. But for an outrigger, it was impossible to keep such a long, narrow thing steady in the water. The outrigger may be described, in any boat, by laying oars across at equal distances, say one right above a thwart. Make fast the handle of each oar to the gunwale on the starboard side of the boat, and let the oars project on the larboard side. To the end of each projecting oar make fast four small sticks running down towards the water, and let their ends also be fastened to a long thick piece of wood, sharp at the one end to cut through the water, and floating on the surface parallel to the boat. This being done will give any one an exact idea of a Polynesian outrigger, by means of which long narrow canoes are kept steady in the water.

Some people who sketch and engrave from imagination, err in representing the natives of Samoa as pulling their short paddles, as the European boatman pulls his long oars. The paddle is about four feet long, something like a sharp-pointed shovel; and when the natives paddle, they sit with their faces in the direction in which the canoe is going, "dig" in their paddles, send the water flying behind them, and forward the canoe shoots at the rate of seven miles an hour. They have always a sail for their canoe, as well as paddles, to take advantage of a fair wind. The sail is triangular, and made of matting. When set, the base is up, and the apex down, quite the reverse of what we see in some other islands. The mat sails, however, are giving place to cloth ones, made in the form of European boat-sails.

Some two or three generations back the Samoans built large double canoes like the Fijians. Latterly they seldom built anything larger than a single canoe, with an outrigger, which might carry from fifteen to twenty people. Within the last few years the native carpenters have tried their hand at boat-building, and it is astonishing to see how well they have succeeded in copying the model of an English or American whaleboat, sharp at both ends, or having "two bows," as they call it. Some of them are fifty feet long, and carry well on to one hundred people. From stem to stern there is not a nail; everything is fastened in their ancient style, with cinnet plaited from the fibre of the cocoa-nut husk. Cinnet is likely long to prevail in native canoe and boat-building. Although it looks clumsy, it has the advantage of not rotting the wood like an iron nail. It is durable also. With care, and the sewing once or twice renewed, a Samoan canoe or boat will last ten or twenty years.

They did not paint their canoes, but decorated them with rows of white shells (Cypræa ovula) running along the middle of the deck at the bow and stern, and also along the upper part of the outrigger. Now and then they had a figure-head with some rude device of a human figure, a dog, a bird, or something else, which had from time immemorial been the "coat-of-arms" of the particular village or district to which the canoe belonged. A chief of importance must also have one, or perhaps two, large shells in his canoe, to answer the purpose of trumpets, to blow now and then as the canoe passed along. It attracted the attention of the villagers, and called them out to look and inquire, "Who is that?" The ambition to see and to be seen was as common in Polynesia as anywhere else. As the canoe approached any principal settlement, or when it reached its destination, there was a special too-too-too, or flourish of their shell trumpets, to herald its approach. The paddlers at the same time struck up some lively chant, and, as the canoe touched the beach, all was wound up with a united shout, having more of the yell in it, but the same in meaning as a "hip, hip, hurrah!"

The French navigator Bougainville, seeing the Samoans so often moving about in their canoes, named the group "The Navigators." A stranger in the distance, judging from the name, may suppose that the Samoans are noted among the Polynesians as enterprising navigators. This is not the case. They are quite a domestic people, and rarely venture out of sight of land. The group, however, is extensive, and gives them some scope for travel. It numbers ten inhabited islands, and stretches east and west about 200 miles. Within these bounds they have kept up an intercourse from the earliest times in their history, which is fully proved, not only by tradition, but by the uniformity of customs and language which prevails from the one end of the group to the other.