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Na Waqa Drua: A Fijian project to link the past and the present

model of the Na Waqa Drua
Source: RNZ Pacific

Nadi, FIJI — The Na Waqa Drua is planned to become the largest double-hull canoe of its kind.

The Na Waqa Drua is an exciting story that had been retold over the years, especially amongst our Pacific Islanders.

Stories of the voyaging across the seas on "giant canoes" led to movies and documentaries in the past.

All trying to prove or disapprove what the tales said.

But a Fiji based group have taken it upon themselves to test the stories and the theories by building a canoe and testing it themselves.

That's one side of the focus.

The other, and a critical part, is ensuring that keeping traditional canoe building skills and traditional navigation art for years to come.

Measuring over 100 feet in size, the canoe is expected to be ready for launching in November.

Na Waqa Drua representative Carson Young and traditional builder/navigator Kaiafa Ledua spoke to RNZ Pacific and said there's a lot of reasons why they are getting involved in the project.

Young, an artist and designer, has worked on the Drua design, incorporating what he and the team have learned from their research in the past four years.

He said keeping traditional canoe building and navigational skills alive were inspiration for the group members.

"We started with the fact we were lamenting over covid that a lot of the skills that we've acquired over the years wasn't really put to use," he said.

"And a lot of what we know is slowly slipping into fables, only because the literature isn't conclusive as to the performance of Waqa Drua. Some say it could carry 300, some 100 or 200. It is something for us to recapture in terms of heritage knowledge embedded in these vessels.

"But it's also again, doing something for the country. Strangely enough, it feels there's nothing personal about it. It seems like a responsibility right from the word go."

Ledua said the opportunity to keep traditional wayfinding skills alive inspires him to be part of building "what no one has ever built or ever seen" in the last 180 years or so.

The Na Waqa Drua project team have a grant of FJ$420,000 given to them by the Pacific African Caribbean Pacific-European Union (ACP-EU) Cultural and Creative Industries grant scheme, which aims to support the national/regional development priorities in the areas of culture and creative industries.

They are working with the Pacific Community on the project, expected to be launched in six months time.

Editor’s Note: The Samoan tatatau tattoo design is said to be a part of the legend of the "giant canoes" — told in oral tradition of the Samoa islands. There is no written records as such.