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 apparent wind. 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 Ocean.
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, no drua are found sailing today. Sadly, none of size have been built for over 100 years.
Fortunately, a fine example has been preserved in the Fiji Museum. 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. It 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 genisis of The Drua Experience. We wanted to find a way that drua could live again in its natural environment – the Wasawasa.
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.
For further reading on drua try our publications