The Fijian drua or Waqa Tabu (sacred canoe) was the largest and finest sea-going vessel ever designed and built by natives of Oceania.
The Pacific is a mighty ocean
Over the past 6,000 years Pacific seafarers mastered the science of sailing on the Earths greatest Ocean. The Pacific double-hulled sailing ships were increasingly perfected in design; the fast downwind Tahitian Vaka, the speed merchant Popo from Yap, the awesomely powerful Fijian Drua, the elegant Taumako Te Puke of the Solomon Islands. Fearless sailors with comprehensive navigational knowledge, they charted and populated the many far flung islands across nearly half the globe. Pacific sailors are acknowledged as the innovators of the first true bluewater fleets in the world. Mastery in sailing and ship design and building is arguably the greatest heritage legacy of this, the Pacific Ocean.
“Pacific sailors are acknowledged as the innovators of the first true bluewater fleets in the world.”
The battleship of choice for any central Oceanian naval commander, drua reached lengths up to 36 metres, capable of carrying over 200 warriors to windward at speeds of up to 15 knots.
Over a century ago, such vessels were commonplace in Fiji’s waters and throughout central Oceania, underpinning a vibrant trading network between island communities. Sadly, none of size have been built for over 100 years.
Fortunately, a fine example has been preserved in the Fiji Museum which is in Suva on Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. The Ratu Finau was built in 1913 in Vulaga in the southern Lau. Small by traditional standards she measures 13.4 metres. This drua was built at the command of Ratu Alifereti Finau, the eleventh Roko Sau of Lau and the fifth Tui Nayau. He was the son of Ratu Tevita Uluilakeba II and Adi Asenaca Kakua Vuikaba, daughter of Ratu Seru Epenisa Cakobau and a member of the noble household Matailakeba.
The Ratu Finau was made for collector J.B. Turner and sailed to Suva for delivery. Before going into storage it sailed for a time around Suva harbour and beat all comers in races against local yachts - it is said to have made better than 17 knots in ideal conditions. The Turner family generously gifted Ratu Finau to the Museum and the people of Fiji in 1981.
Ratu Finau is the only full double-hulled sailing canoe artefact in existence but is now in a deteriorating condition and requires urgent preservation work.
“Sailing for Sustainability has been working voluntarily with Fiji Museum to mobilise international expertise to assist Fiji preserve this priceless heritage legacy.”
In 2014 Sailing for Sustainability organised the second International Sustainable Sea Transport Talanoa at the University of the South Pacific. This conference brought together voyaging experts from across the Pacific. It was identified that the Ratu Finau was in poor condition. In discussion with the Fiji Museum Director and staff it was agreed to ‘lift the lines’ off the Ratu Finau so that a replica could be built. This was the genesis of Drua Experience. We wanted to find a way that drua could live again in its natural environment – the wasawasa, great Ocean.
In the fading light of 2014, Sailing for Sustainability set to work. It would be over two years until our vision and dream were realised on the muddy banks of the Navua River.
In 2016, i Vola Sigavou, New Rising Star was launched. Under full commercial survey she was deemed sea worthy and a triumph of traditional Fijian maritime technology.
i Vola Sigavou has been operating in Suva waters for the past two years educating tourists and locals alike. With the help of IUCN and the Spanish Government we have recently completed a training programme for youth between the ages of 10 to 20 years in the techniques of how to sail, maintain and navigate on the vessel which is the symbol of their culture and have passed on the essential knowledge to the next generation.
In early 2019 we moved to Nadi waters and are now based out of Vuda Marina to continue this legacy of making history relevant.