AFTER more than a century, and under the gaze of the misty mountains from where feared Fijian warriors once kept a lookout, the seven canoes sailed into Levuka Harbour.
It was the first time in modern times in a town holding on to its past that a fleet of drua called into port. And Ovalau celebrated in style.
More than 5000 people filled the one-way street of the Pacifics oldest port to give the 120 ocean adventurers a rousing welcome yesterday.
Students from all over the island lined the sea wall from Levuka Vaka Viti Village to the wharf, citizens dressed in their best and work was put aside.
The spruced-up heritage town came to a standstill.
It was a day to celebrate traditional sailing and revive ancient ties across the seas.
The children cheered, the lali beat rang across the calm sea and the band played as the Uto ni Yalo led the Hine Moana (mixed), Gaualofa (Samoa), Mamaru Atu (Cooks Islands), Faafaite (Tahiti), Hanui (New Zealand/ Hawaii), and Te Matau a Maui (Maori) touched the dock.
Manoa Rasigatale, a founding crew member who gave the Uto ni Yalo its name, said it was a proud moment.
This moment can never come back. Uto ni Yalo, which literally means from the depth of the heart, has brought us together, he said. From the depth from which we feel pain, and joy, the Uto has done what it had set out to do, to make us feel for our culture, our identity, our ocean, our ways.
I thank the families of these sailors who have sacrificed their time and resources, families who have had to miss their loved ones and given their support.
Mr Rasigatale said the seeds of traditional knowledge were being sowed.
Our ancestors used to know the Pacific Ocean as Veimuana, which means you go where the bow of the canoe takes you. You go, dock where you reach and cast your seeds to forge a relationship and spread the mana of the spirit of the Pacific people, he said. Te Matau a Maui crew Pererika Makiha of Tahiti said it was great to see people learn traditional sailing practices that our ancestors used when they sailed across the oceans.
Utilising the stars, the setting and rising of the sun, cloud formations, wave patterns, wind direction and even the bird life is a revival of those traditions, he said.
The environment message that were passing on to our generation and the next that live around the Pacific about caring for our ocean is important.
Were privileged to witness the traditional ceremonies in Levuka and other islands we visited. Although the journey is coming to a close, its important that message continues.
The head of the Anglican Church in the Pacific, Bishop Winston Halafoa, who boarded the Uto in Apia for the last leg, asked God to bless the mission and strengthen their ties for the sake of our next generation.