Children prepare their small canoes, bakanawa, for a race at the Suva foreshore last year on Friday, August 23. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU
Thursday, August 07, 2014 by Sailosi Batiratu
“I FLICK it from the inside and I will know from the sound whether we have the required thickness.”
The it, Walesi Jone Tukana Temo was referring to, was a log which was being hollowed out according to his specifications by his sons and grandsons at their Wainibuku homestead.
Temo, a traditional craftsman from the village of Naividamu on the island of Fulaga in the Lau Group, said his knowledge about such things were a gift from those who had preceded him. And he now is passing on the knowledge, or has already done so, to his sons and they on to theirs after them.
Temo said, of his sons and grandsons, that they possessed the knowledge and skill to build a traditional iTaukei sailing vessel on their own. On that warm July day, Temo said a son and grandson had recently returned from Fulaga after winning a racing competition in the village.
His role, Temo explained in the construction of the drua to be raced at this year’s Hibiscus Festival, is more that of a supervisor guiding and instructing as and when needed.
The 69-year-old who was raised on Lakeba said the drua they were in the process of building from a log felled in the forest of Delaidogo, would have to be sturdier than in-shore vessels as they would be up against the waves of the open seas.
Temo said he started his apprecticeship, if one may call it that, working on tanoa and then on to the takia, another form of traditional iTaukei vessel. After three or four takia, he started working on his own and only solicited the help of fellow villagers when the need arose.
Back in the village when he was starting out, Temo said he would have a look at other traditional sailing crafts when he was stuck or needed some inspiration. After some thought, he said what needed to be and how it was to be carried out would slowly form in his mind.
Another Fulaga man who is also building such a vessel for the competition during the Hibiscus Festival is Seniloli Muritovo, from Muana-i-ra Village, said he followed and learnt from his father until he had gathered enough knowledge and skills to start building on his own.
The 49-year-old who came to Suva in 1995 to help support his children in school, said he was thankful to the Pacific Blue Foundation for the initiative as it’s one sure way of keeping this form of traditional knowledge alive.
Totoya chief the Roko Sau, Roko Josefa Cinavilakeba, who is the director of government and community relations at the foundation, said they at the foundation and the traditional boat builders were immensely grateful to the iTaukei Land Trust Board which had come forward with monetary help.
Muritovo, explaining how he was going about his task, said some aspects of traditional craft building were coming back to him, which he was then passing on to his three helpers who are all from the same village, as work progressed. He said his helpers, were experiencing a steep learning curve as it was their first craft.
The craftsman said he was used to onlookers watching him as he worked under his tarpaulin shade in front of his base at Nakasi.
In a conversation before heading out to meet the two traditional craftsmen, Ratu Josefa had stressed the importance, and hence his everlasting gratitude to the iTLTB for coming to their aid, of keeping traditional knowledge alive.
And one sure way of doing this, Ratu Josefa said, was through the competition which once again will be held at this year’s Hibiscus Festival.
“We want to pass this knowledge to the next generation. We don’t want to lose these skills,” he said after the camakau race at last year’s festival.
“I think the important thing is that as our elders are getting older, we must utilise their potential.
“We have the bakanawa canoes for the children and the camakau, which is mainly used for racing,” the turaga Roko Sau said as he explained the difference the two canoes.
In that article published on August 24 last year, it was reported that Ratu Josefa was already looking forward to a bigger and better race this year hoping there would be a race for the Fijian drua or ocean-going canoe.
With teams putting the finishing touches to their crafts, it seems Ratu Josefa’s wish of a drua race will be a reality at this year’s festival, even if the vessels being used for the race maybe smaller than what our ancestors sailed in.
There will be definitely some honour attached to winning that race as rivalry has been building up between teams as can be witnessed by the friendly banter when the team members meet.
Yet, even of more and lasting importance is the fact that they will possess their canoes once the race is over which they will be able to use for inter-island travel and also as a teaching and learning tool for the next generation of traditional craftsmen.
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