Friday, August 23, 2013 by Fred Wesley
THE Veitau Waqa, or traditional canoe race, is set to take place today as part of the Hibiscus Festival in Suva.
The event is organised by Pacific Blue Foundation and pits the best of our traditional canoe builders in a race around the Suva Harbour.
But today is much more than just racing canoes. It is much more than just comparisons about which canoe is better or faster.
Today is about tradition and culture. It is about a way of life.
Today, tradition, history and modern technology come face to face.
As 2012 champion Joji Misaele pointed out yesterday, preparations have been going on for about two months.
He is ready to defend his title in an event that is attracting a lot of attention.
He tested his craft in the waters of Suva Harbour and appeared content this week.
He was happy with the test sail and appeared confident heading into today’s event.
Misaele comes from a line of traditional boatbuilders.
His father was also an experienced builder and he says most of his family members and fellow villagers on Ogea in Lau “still have that skill to sail big and fast canoes”.
Sadly though, this appears to be a dying breed.
For people like him, the Veitau Waqa represents much more than just a race.
It is about a way of life and an appreciation of the important place these canoes have in the history of our country.
Men like Misaele believe there is still a place for the traditional boat as an alternative means of transportation in Fiji.
The recent exploits of seafarers on the Uto ni Yalo on its journeys around the Pacific Ocean can never be shrugged aside.
Designed in much the same way as a traditional drua, the giant doubled hulled canoes that once plied our waters, the Uto ni Yalo travelled around the region, pushed on by wind power.
The drua, once a warship in prehistoric Fiji brought terror to enemies.
The concept of the drua was transformed into a unique seagoing vessel incorporating traditional design and modern technology.
The Uto ni Yalo was born.
But of course, Misaele and his fellow boatbuilders appreciate the need to adapt and incorporate modern technology and additions to their traditional craft.
Today, we see the smaller version, the camakau in action.
Today’s race will attract attention and hopefully will reignite interest in the old ways of sailing.
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