Fascinating Experience Of Traditional Voyaging

This is what I had been looking forward to do and I was happy to scrape a couple of barnacles off before I passed the metal scrappers to another crew and joined the rest of the crew enjoying the sandbank and the clear waters surrounding the little haven.
16 Aug 2020 14:57
Fascinating Experience Of Traditional Voyaging
AnnMary Raduva on board Mama Uto at the Sailing Centre in Suva.

Indigenous navigation or traditional voyaging have always fascinated me! I find stories of how islanders maneuvered through the Pacific Ocean using the ocean’s currents, winds and celestial navigation very enchanting.

The story of Raho’s (a Samoan high chief and demi god who sailed to Rotuma in a canoe) journey to Rotuma and the 2004 feature film that was written and directed by Professor Vilsoni Hereniko, “The Land Has Eyes” are popular folklore stories that are often on repeat mode at home.

Our storytelling sessions in the weekends are our way of keeping old stories and traditional knowledge alive and we never really tire of hearing these stories.

The stories vary from the first settlers in Fiji and their journey through the Nakauvadra highlands in Ra, to the Sigatoka Sand Dunes and the pottery pieces found at the foot of the dunes, the tribal wars and the reign of Ratu Seru Cakobau.

These stories trigger the fascination and have fueled my passion to appreciate traditional knowledge and the yearning to learn more about my history.

We have gone on traditional dhows (a lateen-rigged ship with one or two masts, used chiefly in the Arabian region) during our school holidays in the United Arab Emirates and have appreciated learning from the old Arabic voyagers who tell their story of how their ancestors sailed across the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean in traditional sailing vessels to trade.

The dhow rides in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are memories that my sister Faith and I cherish because they are stories that connect us – a voyaging people. The Disney cartoon, Moana also pulls at the heart of every islander.

I first went on the Uto ni Yalo or “Heart of the Spirit” in 2017 and then in 2018 and I have always looked forward to volunteer to join the Mama Uto (Mother Uto and we say this with a lot of passion and pride) crew whenever I can.

The thought of being on deck always makes me smile. I have always admired the crew of mixed ages, genders and sailing experience and I have always been keen on reading updates and flipping through photos of voyages on its Facebook page.

For me, being on board Mama Uto is a way of finding my own self where I can make the legends from stories live.

The short voyages I have been on demonstrate the seafaring skills, confidence and commitment of the crew.

And in the middle of all the navigating, there is always time for learning, connecting with Moana (ocean) and having fun.

The opportunity to relive this sailing fantasy last Saturday was something I had enthusiastically looked forward to since receiving the call for crew to sail Mama Uto to the sand bank just outside Suva harbour for maintenance.

My Saturday started at 3am; I completed my weekend homework, packed and was ready for the sail before the break of dawn.

I had invited some of my classmates from school to join me but due to prior family commitments they all send in rainchecks and promised to join me on another sail and only one of my senior school sisters confirmed for the day sail.

We planned to meet at the Hot Bread Kitchen at Damodar City in Suva. My senior, Siga was already at Damodar City when I arrived with my mom and we quickly bought a few grab and eat stuff from the bread shop before we strolled to the Sailing Centre.

The Sailing Centre at the end of Laucala Road is home to Mama Uto and the Saturday planned sailing was an opportunity and privilege that was simply too much not to grasp hold of.

My senior Siga and I beamed with joy as we strolled to the meeting point and were looking forward to meeting the old crew and the sailing family as well as meeting new crew.
Beach clean-up

Our sailing day started with an hour beach clean-up – a tradition that the Uto Ni Yalo crew are very serious about. They are ocean champions on and off the Mama Uto!

We filled more than 15 garbage bags of PET bottles, pieces and used styrofoam food packs, diapers, plastic straws and cups and every other litter that we could find or dig out along the Sailing Centre foreshore in smaller groups.

We foraged the Sailing Centre for litter and made brief introductions before the formalities and briefing at the centre conference room.

One of the team members found a mud crab along the rocks facing the University of the South Pacific’s marine campus. There was also a twin tub washing machine that was half buried in sand, old tyres and heaps of food packaging and wrappers. This is the stark reality of littering in our society.

The rubbish collected will be weighed and sorted accordingly by the Uto Ni Yalo team at the Sailing Centre.

We were marshalled into the conference room for introductions and short briefings and there is so much to take away from Mama Uto’s crew and the professional force behind Mama Uto’s day to day running.
At the sandbank.    

On board Mama Uto we quickly said a prayer before we were divided into working groups and tasks.

This is our sailing family and all hands on deck is our mantra. The old crew guided us out of the berthing location and our first three groups worked on getting us safely to the sandbank.

I am indebted for strong sailing genes – there was no trace of sea sickness!  Taking to the ocean like ducks to water, the young crew jumped at all the opportunity to learn something new on our journey.

This seventy-two foot double masted hulled Polynesian sailing canoe was built in New Zealand in 2010. It is outfitted with a solar powered propulsion system. I also learned the different nautical terms and jargons used by seasonal sailors and navigators.

At the sandbank we dived in clear blue waters and scrubbed the sides of Mama Uto’s hulls with scrubbing brushes. Some of us scraped barnacles off the bottom of Mama Uto.

This is what I had been looking forward to do and I was happy to scrape a couple of barnacles off before I passed the metal scrappers to another crew and joined the rest of the crew enjoying the sandbank and the clear waters surrounding the little haven.

It was a mixture of learning, sharing experiences, networking and having fun. The senior crew made the voyage exciting, educational, safe and very enjoyable.

There was never a dull moment on board Mama Uto – the traditional banter and the jokes kept the momentum high right throughout the day.

On our return, my group was designated to sail us back to the National Sailing Centre and our first task was to pull Mama Uto’s anchor so we could prepare for our sail back.

I have never done this before, but the challenge was rewarding; team work is key.

We prepared Mama Uto under the watchful eyes of the senior crew and were rewarded with high-5s and were taught how to master the art of tying nautical knots when it is necessary.
Appreciating traditional voyaging.

With the global fight on climate change, we must appreciate our traditional knowledge of voyaging and the use of sustainable sea transportation.

I am hopeful that after our Saturday’s sail, many of the new crew will join force to raise awareness of the importance of sustainable sea transportation, waste management and the need to revive traditional voyaging skills.

Traditional knowledge and voyaging are alive and I am happy to be part of the Uto Ni Yalo sailing family.

The hands on learning on deck are priceless. Before we disembarked, we said a prayer of thanksgiving for a safe journey and the gift of traditional wisdom.

As I disembarked Mama Uto, my heart was content; I admired the senior crew and how they take so much pride in keeping Mama Uto afloat and their ability to share their voyaging knowledge with the new crew.

Edited by Karalaini Waqanidrola


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