A sacred connection

A BROKEN basin filled with cooked cassava and two old pots filled with fried fish in coconut milk.

That was dinner delivered on board the Uto ni Yalo on Saturday night by the villagers of Yaqaga in Bua.

It was on the surface just a simple gesture yet which touched the crew.

Over the past three days we were cut off from all forms of communication while visiting some of the isolated villages of Raviravi, Naividamu and Yaqaga.

The welcome by the villages really touched our hearts, maybe because it was sincere and also from their hearts.

Seeing how they’re cut off from the mainland and the limited resources at their disposal, they made sure to make us feel welcome with a feast and kava.

Earlier in the day, we sailed to the island of Yaqaga in Bua waters. We were met with ladies getting ready for the traditional cere on shore.

But before the crew approached, they were met by a group of elders waiting in knee-deep water with a tabua.

It is the high form of welcome in iTaukei society. Called the qaloqalovi, it is usually presented to a visiting chief or person of noble birth, where the locals ask the chief to grace them with his presence on shore.

Witnessing the scene was emotional for some of the crew members.

Vice-president of the Uto ni Yalo Trust, Monifa Fiu, shared how she never got tired of seeing the cere.

For a Rotuman woman sailing the waters of Fiji and seeing the mana and deep traditional links being practised was to her a powerful representation of the vanua and the sacredness of the vaka.

Sailing the Uto ni Yalo is not just some trip, it’s a spiritual connection with the land and the sea and what it means to be a Pacific Islander. It’s a rich heritage and one to remind us of our ancient culture.

You could feel a sense of pride among the villagers when they set foot on this vessel. Some remark in wonderment and walked around cautiously as if on sacred ground.

They know the Uto ni Yalo belongs to them. It reminds them of their heritage, of what their ancestors used as a means of transport throughout the islands.

As I write this we’re nearing the end of our trip. It’s Tuesday morning and we’re docked on the coast of Nananu-i-Ra.

We had just survived a rough night of sailing through the Vatu-i-Ra passage. Strong winds, heavy gust and big waves made some of us stay up whole night on the deck. It was a bit scary as the vessel rocked and swayed violently through the night as the hardworking crew kept vigil behind the heavy mast sails and followed the wind.

The trip has been an eye-opener and something I will take back with me. I would like to thank the Uto Ni Yalo Trust for having me on board to see the work they do and how important it is for the communities.

* Read more stories from the trip in The Sunday Times.

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