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Secret song for a Fijian

Setareki Ledua
Friday, June 14, 2013

THE Taiwanese take pride in their culture and tradition and have strived hard to revive ancient songs and dances with a lot of passion.

After being invited to the Formosa Song and Dance Troupe, formed by indigenous people from the 14 tribes in Taiwan in 1991, they were given an insight into traditional Fijian navigation and sailing.

The Taiwanese believe that the fruit of the barringtonia asiatica — vutu in Fijian and which grow in the coastal area of southern and northern Taiwan and Orchid Island — is dispersed by the ocean connecting the islands and shows how humans migrated (floated) from Taiwan into the many lands of the Pacific spreading their seeds of hope, possibility, culture, language and knowledge.

Their interest in how our ancestors sailed the ocean is huge.

The Drua Project — a proposal to build a drua in Fiji that will sail to the Pacific Arts festival in Guam in 2016 — is of particular interest to the Hualien Tribal College (Taiwan Indigenous), which may send one of its own to Fiji in August to learn and take back our traditional boat-building skills.

There's only one club in Taiwan which teaches about the sea and I was glad to be back in the water with some of its members. I was taken aback by their surprise when I returned from paddling three miles out. One of the old men thought I was going to paddle back to Fiji.

The Taiwanese pride themselves in traditional revival and the Formosa troupe, which travels the world performing in theatre and stages, is working with other stakeholders to try trace their past to revive all indigenous cultures, songs and dances in all their tribes.

Earlier on, I did my first presentation at the National Taiwan University, which was organised by Taiwan Society of Pacific Studies and co-hosted with the Taiwan Indigenous Peoples Resource Center, with the support of the Council of Indigenous People.

This workshop was well attended with more than 100 participants of all ages and walks of life.

They were given an insight into the Te Mana O Te Moana voyage and the Uto Ni Yalo bole, a traditional challenge that was written by Manoa Rasigatale.

It was only right that I made this traditional call as this here is a new journey for me and the Uto ni Yalo Trust (formerly the Fiji Islands Voyaging Society) with our Taiwanese friends and kin.

The bole is what they have requested I must teach them before I leave but first they must understand the meaning of the chant.

I began with short clips of the soon-to-be released documentary, Our Blue Canoe. Then I shared with them the history of the Uto ni Yalo Trust and its role in the epic voyage across over 50,000 kilometres of the Pacific Ocean.

I shared with them some activities we've carried out such as turtle tagging around Ringgold Islands and whale watching near Ovalau, the community visits and sails with children and how we are trying to reach out to revive our traditional sailing knowledge.

After Hualien, I travelled to Titung, one and half hours by train towards the southern side of the island, and was welcomed by the students and principal of the National Guan Shan Vocational Senior High School, which has a special class for students learning about their culture, carving, weaving and traditional designs.

Fiji must do the same if we are to safeguard our traditional knowledge. We must act fast and also start a school to revive the ancient arts of navigation and boat-building so we can keep the knowledge.

Those with the knowledge back home are in old age and time is running out on us.

The school is reviving the indigenous way of dancing and singing, something that seems to be slowly disappearing in Fiji.

We need to teach primary schoolchildren. I hope the Ministry of Education can allow such a school or a special class for each school to learn chants, songs and meke.

There is much to learn from the Taiwanese and there is a lot of similarities between us.

I was lost for words when a tribe from the mountains overlooking Titung welcomed me and my colleagues and all of them were old men and women.

I was so touched that these people had been looking forward to meeting us by preparing a secret song and dance for our welcome ceremony.

It's just like us at home when we prepare special items for special meetings.

This is a reconnection of people divided by the ocean across thousands of kilometres. And it's a journey I'll share more in the next update.

Until then, moce mada vakalailai.

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