Indigenous carvers and weavers from Canada are in Fiji in a project with their Fijian counterparts at the University of the South Pacific Oceania Centre.
The carvers will work on a North American Indian totem pole while the women weavers will work together to weave a sail for a canoe that was carved earlier this year by traditional Fijian and Canadian master builders.
Ernest Swanson, a carver from the Haida Nation in British Columbia, will work with Jeke Lagi, Titoko Moceibure, Paula Liga and Tomasi Domomate on the totem pole which is slowly taking shape at the Oceania Centre.
Swanson says totem pole and canoe carving are synonymous with his people as they are from an island in the northern Pacific Ocean.
"We're an island people. We belong too to the Pacific Ocean and we would like to identify ourselves as oceanic people because we have this beautiful culture which is centred around the ocean just like the people of the Pacific," Swanson says.
Moceibure says their experience in Canada, when he went over with Lagi to carve a canoe, was the inspiration behind the totem pole and they believe this collaboration between two cultures is worth pursuing.
"Apart from showcasing the traditional Fijian carving style we also got to learn the indigenous North American carving style and even though there were differences, we hope this totem pole will serve as a reminder the day the two cultures came together," Moceibure says.
Last year Moceibure and Lagi collaborated with the Squamish First Nations carvers from Vancouver at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia to create a canoe which was named Tabu Soro. The name was chosen so it would serve as a reminder of the never give up attitude of the duo after encountering and overcoming the challenges during their stay there.
This caught the attention of the Haida Nation elder and master carver, chief Henry Robertson, who was inspired by the Fijians' skills.
Unfortunately chief Robertson became ill and was unable to travel to Fiji for the project but he sent Swanson instead to work on the totem pole.
The mahogany trunk was given by Sustainable Mahogany Industries which gave a first class mahogany trunk to be used for the project.
Project leader Christine Germano says the 12-foot totem pole depicts the coming together of two cultures with a killer whale and an octopus intertwined as a hurricane bird watches over them.
"The Orca whale represents the northern waters of Canada's west coast and the octopus represents the waters around Fiji. These ocean creatures instinctively protect their homeland. Through their struggle, respect is gained for one another and resolution of the tension leads to peace and collaboration," Germano says.
Meanwhile the weavers, Meghann O'Brien, who has blood ties to both the Kwakwakw'wakw and Haida peoples, and Sandlanee Gid Raven Ann from the Haida people will share their traditional art form of weaving and with cultured weavers of Fiji of Finau Mara, Vava Waqabaca, Maana Antonio, Ana Folau and Kesaia Lagi.
The women share knowledge and have already weaved a sail to be used by the Tabu Soro which will be used to sail children as means of promoting traditional sailing knowledge in Canada.
The women will also share their traditional songs and drumming lessons with Fijian youths and school groups who will visit the project at the Oceania Centre.
The carvers will be present at the art fair this Saturday at the centre where a variety of artworks will be available as well as other merchandise.