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Sailing with the past

Sailosi Batiratu
Friday, August 22, 2014

IN Suva Harbour today will be sight which would have been common on the sea of inhabited stretches of coastline in days before the outboard engine and diesel-powered sailing vessels were the norm.

As part of this year's Hibiscus Festival, as it has been in the past, there will be a race between traditional sailing crafts. The race is an initiative by the Pacific Blue Foundation.

Explaining why the race was important, foundation director of government and community relations Roko Josefa Cinavilakeba said: "It is for the transfer of knowledge pertaining to the construction and actual sailing of traditional vessels."

Roko Josefa, who is also the Roko Sau, a traditional title from Totoya in the Lau Group also explained it was important the knowledge be kept alive through transfer and the skills sustained through practise.

"A lot of these people (from the places regarded as the seat of such traditional knowledge) leave their island homes in pursuit of higher education. As they gain more knowledge of new things, whatever traditional knowledge they had is slowly lost over time.

"Hence the importance of having such a competition where the knowledge they have is implemented right from the construction of the vessel to its sailing.

"This is something which is very important and should be encouraged."

In an earlier conversation, Roko Josefa said this particular initiative was part of a wider effort. He said its importance could not be stressed enough because it was part of a person's identity.

This identity, the Roko Sau said, could be transferred in a number of ways including the dialect together with the rituals and customs of a people. Also part of this was indigenous or traditional knowledge which included the building and sailing of iTaukei vessels or waqa vakaviti.

Once more touching upon its importance, Roko Josefa said: "It is part of our rich, traditional inheritance. It is a very significant resource.

"It cannot, it should not, this body of knowledge which belongs to the iTaukei, be lost over time either through negligence and disuse and then only to be alive in stories.

"That should never be the case. If it is, then we have failed our future generations."

Roko Josefa said the race stemmed from an idea by foundation head Greg Mitchell after he first saw how strung out the islands of the archipelago were.

His question then was how those who had first peopled the islands of Fiji traversed the island group. From that sprung the inspiration which has materialised at the Hibiscus Festival for several years now.

As part of their efforts to keep this body of traditional knowledge alive, Roko Josefa explained there were several categories of sailing crafts used by the earlier generations of iTaukei.

First is the bakanawa.

This, he explained is used by children for sailing practice and/or play but cannot be used to transport anyone.

It can be up to a metre in length, has an outrigger or what is known in the iTaukei language as a cama.

It is not hulled. The bakanawa is something like the camakau in appearance.

Unlike the bakanawa, the camakau is a craft which is hulled. It however also has an outrigger.

Measuring between three to 14 metres, it also has a sail and can transport between four to seven people for inter-island travel.

The takia on the other hand is a vessel used by coastal dwellers for river and inshore fishing and transportation.

This craft does not have a sail but is poled along to the destination by whoever is the user.

Finally, there is the drua.

As the name suggests, drua literally meaning twin in the iTaukei language, there are two hulls which are the same in proportion.

This traditional sailing vessel is built to accommodate up to 20 to 50 people along with their luggage.

Its dimensions are larger than that of the camakau.

In the days of old, it was used to transport raiding or war parties.

So if you have not planned anything for the day, are into traditional knowledge and stuff like that, someone always looking for an opportunity to broaden your knowledge, or someone looking for something new to do this school holidays, this maybe an activity for you which you can then share with your friends when the holiday is over.

On a more serious note, as Roko Josefa said, this is part of our culture and identity which would be worth our while finding out more about.

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