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In the wake of the canoe

Ilaitia Turagabeci
Monday, October 08, 2012

Having Conquered The World's Oceans In Her Three-Year Adventure, The Crew Of The Uto Ni Yalo Discover The South Pacific Ocean Is The Most Unpredictable And Ferocious.

She Puts The Pacific Voyagers Through Their Most Challenging Test.

This Is Part Four Of A Five-Part Series On Fiji's Sailing Icon That Became The Heart Of An Epic Voyage And Awakened Millions Of People Across The Globe To The Plight Of The World's Greatest Resource — The Ocean.

Ilaitia Turagabeci, Who Joined The Uto Ni Yalo As A Crew, Explains What She Stands For, Some Of Her Adventures, Her Future And That Of The Brave Men And Women Who Defied The Odds To Sail The World Using Just The Wind, Waves, Sun, Stars And The Moon To Spread The Gospel Of Sustainable Sailing And Ocean Protection.

UNDER the gaze of the stars that steered him home, Teddy Fong counted his blessings that were as vast as the ocean he sailed.

He was at the pinnacle of his life where all his learning had come full circle.

Being the co-founder of the Econesian Society and a strong advocate of the use of traditional knowledge, he was on the ocean the same way his ancestors had.

Without the use of modern equipment, he now only relied on the heavens above him and the ocean that heaved with life and the tell-tale signs of our existence that had somewhat affected an old relationship with nature.

That relationship helped our ancestors understand the vast stretch of blue that became their home for centuries.

For Teddy, as he is commonly known in the environment advocacy fraternity, it was a dream come true.

His voyage on the Uto ni Yalo was the closest he had got to understanding that relationship and how our ancient seafarers had used it to sail with precision from island to island throughout the Pacific Ocean.

"When I left high school, I enrolled at the Fiji School of Maritime. My wish was always to be at sea," he said.

His understanding of the sea, the life in it and their relationship with the land and the different seasons grew when he pursued his studies to become a biogeographer

That profession took the former Marist Brothers High School student across the Pacific. For two years, he was involved in the lapita archeological survey, researching the lapita people and their travels through the islands.

The voyage put him in touch with the ancient methods and the people that connected them.

"I've come to appreciate that the ocean is a living thing. It's alive. The lands, currents, even the skies, they are all functions which we have no power over."

Teddy, who joined the Te Mana o te Moana voyage in Fiji when the Pacific Voyagers sailed through here from Samoa, had kept his fingers crossed for a spot on the vaka. His prayers were answered when he and Miss South Pacific Alisi Rabukawaqa boarded.

It meant a lot that he had with him another Econesian who also believed in traditional knowledge which had disappeared over time as development brought technological advancements.

The loss of that knowledge was a painful thing for him. Being a crew gave him the chance to share his understanding of the different people and cultures they encountered in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands.

It became a voyage of deeper understanding for the crew with Teddy — who hails from Macuata — on board.

He had visited many of the island before to record some of the traditional knowledge that were still being used and those the old folks still remembered.

How did our forefathers know when to sail and when not to? How did they understand the trade winds? How did they know when to plant certain food during the year? How did they interact with other people and did what they did?

The answers for all that happened on land came across the ocean. From other lands where cultures were similar, where there were links in the languages they spoke, in their dances and songs, traditional wear, in their lapita and in their art, there was a connection.

They were connected by the ocean which they had sailed using knowledge passed across the islands in the world's biggest ocean.

"On this voyage I've learnt a lot. To be a voyager first is accepting the fact that there is a power bigger than traditional and modern methods. To be one with the ocean is appreciating that fact," said Teddy.

"And it's basically being able to navigate using basic senses. At night, using just the stars to guide you and the feel of the wind to judge the sails and direction and on the uli, just letting it take control.

"Understanding the elements helped our people inhabit the islands.

"And having come through these islands in the Pacific, you can see the pattern that connect us in our cultural behaviours and in our language."

For this sailor — whose study thesis at the University of the South Pacific was on the varivoce (parrotfish) — the fault is not of the young that they don't know basic traditional knowledge.

"It's our educational curriculum," he said.

"When I came out of high school, I knew more about the rest of the world and very little on the Pacific.

"We're coastal people. Ninety per cent of us are on the coast. Why isn't marine studies part of our curriculum? Why is traditional knowledge not part of biology classes?"

"Our studies must not be just pure science. It must also include traditional knowledge.

"Nowadays, it's getting harder to find traditional medicines. People have to walk deeper into the forests. This is the result of development. Village men today just hack away to clear the bush for mass planting for income generation without giving any thought to the value of different plants."

Deforestation has cost us more than we bargained for. In the old days, our forefathers knew it was the season to sail with the flowering of different plants, which pointed to the change in seasons and condition of the ocean.

The Uto ni Yalo could not have come at a better time for voyagers to understand this.

It gave the crew the chance to live life the old way.

"To be able to grasp that knowledge we have lost we must live it. You can only protect what you know."

At the end of the voyage, the real mission begins on land for the Econesian.

"Our purpose is to go out there and regain all the knowledge we have lost and protect it.

"We have met so many people sailing through the islands, people who have passed on their knowledge to these voyagers to pass on.

"We owe it to them and to our forefathers to teach our young how to live in the world and sustain it for our children and our future."

This biogeographer has become one with the land and the ocean. His voyage may have come to an end but another adventure has begun.





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