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Sails the seas

mailife - - Contents - Tokota’a Sails the Seas

From the time Moala Tokota’a was just a boy in Tubou, Lakeba in Lau – once the boat-build­ing cap­i­tal of the South Pa­cific – he has been in­sep­a­ra­ble from the sea. He is now the chief nav­i­ga­tor for The Drua Ex­pe­ri­ence, a lo­cally owned com­pany that charters the only tra­di­tional sail­ing ca­noe in Fiji for tourist voy­ages around Suva. He also rep­re­sented Fiji in out­rig­ger ca­noe pad­dling in the 1995 and 2003 Pa­cific games. The 46 year old still re­mem­bers his first long dis­tance trip that con­firmed his love for the ocean, from his na­tive Lakeba to Savusavu on Vanua Levu in an epic three-week ca­noe jour­ney. ‘My goal was to go fur­ther than ever be­fore,’ he said. Tokota’a’s as­pi­ra­tion be­came re­al­ity when he joined the Poly­ne­sian Voy­ag­ing So­ci­ety in 1986, along with cur­rent crew­mate Ka­iafa Le­dua. Be­fore go­ing fur­ther than ever be­fore, Tokota’a’s pas­sion first took him back in time. “Our dream was to sail the drua. When we heard about Sa­mual Nut­tall’s project, it was a big bless­ing. We were in­ter­ested in be­ing a part of mak­ing the his­tory.” The fa­mous drua, or waqa tabu (sa­cred ca­noe), once dom­i­nated the seas of the South Pa­cific as the bat­tle­ship of choice for most ad­ven­tur­ers. Its name stems from its dou­ble hulled de­sign, a com­bi­na­tion of ‘dua’ and ‘rua’ – ‘one’ and ‘two’ in Fi­jian – that also trans­lates across the idea of ‘two be­com­ing one’, Tokota’a ex­plained. Though pri­mar­ily re­served for high chief­tains, the drua were also known to trans­port en­tire com­mu­ni­ties of up to 200 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the jour­nals of ex­plorer James Cook. When Sa­mual Nut­tal set about re­vi­tal­is­ing the an­cient craft, he knew to start small, de­sign­ing a boat one third of the size of the largest recorded drua. The am­bi­tious project, now named The Drua Ex­pe­ri­ence, sought to con­struct the first ca­noe of its kind built in the past hun­dred years, based on mea­sure­ments from the only sur­viv­ing boat in the Fiji Mu­seum – the 103 years old Ratu Finau. Though Tokota’a is un­sure whether he is a di­rect de­scen­dant from the mataisau clan (tra­di­tional crafts­men), he knows his an­ces­tors’ chief, Ratu Alif­er­eti Finau, owned the ca­noe now dis­played in the mu­seum. And he cer­tainly proved in­valu­able in the boat’s two-year con­struc­tion in Navua. ‘Build­ing it is some­thing dif­fer­ent en­tirely to sail­ing…you re­ally put your heart into it, Tokota’a said.Tokota’a and Ka­iafa were part of the group who set about repli­cat­ing the orig­i­nal drua con­struc­tion in the most au­then­tic way pos­si­ble. Each

el­e­ment of the orig­i­nal de­sign was ad­hered to, from lo­cally sourced ma­te­ri­als to the ex­act carv­ing of in­di­vid­ual notches in the wood. Mea­sure­ments were also cal­cu­lated us­ing tra­di­tional meth­ods – by eye or hand-spans. It was Tokota’a’s per­sonal in­no­va­tions, how­ever, that helped make cer­tain the mod­ern drua is fully sea­wor­thy, rem­e­dy­ing what he points to as ‘his an­ces­tors’ main weak­nesses’ in the craft. By de­sign­ing a wa­ter­tight seal for the two hulls, flood­ing is pre­vented so that a crewmem­ber is freed the job of hav­ing to con­tin­u­ously empty the bulk­heads dur­ing a voy­age. As well as pro­mot­ing tra­di­tional sail­ing, Tokota’a’s in­ter­ests are firmly based in con­ser­va­tion. He spent four years work­ing for the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety and later the Coral Al­liance, be­cause of his con­cern for the en­vi­ron­ment. “The drua is a com­bi­na­tion of both cul­ture and con­ser­va­tion. We’re work­ing hard to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment, it’s a sus­tain­able ini­tia­tive, and it’s help in mak­ing Suva a tourist des­ti­na­tion is im­por­tant.”He also ad­mits the im­por­tance of turn­ing his sail­ing into a prof­itable ven­ture now he has a fam­ily to look af­ter. “In the past, we’d go sail­ing and come back with a story to tell. But money is also im­por­tant,” he chuck­led. “Now we come back with a lit­tle more and our fam­i­lies are happy.” Though the fur­thest the drua has been is to Beqa Is­land and back, Tokota’a is never one to be eas­ily sat­is­fied. He hopes to char­ter some longer voy­ages, and a trip to New Zealand is in the plan­ning. “We want to test it to the level of safe sail­ing a ca­noe can go. But I’ll al­ways want to go fur­ther.”

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