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Pacific Islanders communicated in their own different languages and understood each other despite their differences during the early days of traditional voyaging.
That is why the practice and preservation of our vernacular is important for Pacific island states for the future generations
In his presentation on navigation at the Inaugural Pacific Philosophy Conference in Suva, traditional navigator Manoa Rasigatale, who was part of the Pacific Voyagers on the Uto ni Yalo, on the inaugural historic voyage across the Pacific to Tahiti and Hawaii to prove wrong Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s 1947 Kon Tiki expedition theory that Pacific Islanders were drifters, said it was important that as Pacific islanders.
The 10,000 nautical mile (18,520km) voyage, undertaken by five Polynesian vaka, the Marumaru Atua (Aotearoa), Hine Moana (Tonga, Samoa and Vanuatu), Te Matau A Maui (Rarotonga) and Fa’afaite (Tahiti) and Uto ni Yalo (Fiji), was first undertaken from these islands in more than 100 years.
The journey into unchartered waters to Aotearoa Raivavae, Raiatea, Moorea, Tahiti, Rarotonga, Samoa, Tonga and back to Fiji rekindled old relationships forged by our forbearers.
Rasigatale said their experiences wherever they set foot on islands once visited by their ancestors showed similarities in cultures, traditions and languages.
He said the fleet of canoes, with 16 crew on each, relied on the moon, sun, stars, the currents, sails and other elements to direct their path.
Rasigatale said what they saw along these ancient travel routes was evidence that his people had been there before with what they left behind.
Speaking in vernacular to emphasise his point and reiterating the words of the keynote speaker, former Samoa head of State Tupua Tamasese Tupuola Tufuga Efi, they discovered that their ancestors’ daily rhythms were in tune with nature, guided by nature.
“Our ancestors’ image of earth is that all islands are afloat in the ocean. They believed that there was this great and powerful god that raised humans from the bottom of the sea and placed them inside this big dome, meaning the sky,” his translation stated.
“From there came the sun, the moon, the stars and other small planets floating along their path, the stars were steadily aligned, more than 150 of them, they rose from the East and set in the West.”
“Our ancestors believe that the sun and the moon are closely related. The sun shone during the day to help us in our daily chores and to keep the world warm in preparation for the next day. The moon gives light in the night and sleeps in the day. Both of them are said to rest beneath the world.
“The stars have their own paths to follow at night. They believe that there is an unseen force at the bottom of the world. The relationship between the sun, moon and the stars led to the creation of the Moon Calendar which guided our ancestors in their daily rhythms - when to plant and harvest, when to fish, etc., as well as knowing at what time the sun will rise from the East and when it will set in the West.
“When our ancestors sailed the ocean, they looked for signs in the sky.
“The warm air rising over an island creates cloud aggregation above the island and appear to be stationary. The lower cloud over the ocean is a sign of clouds being carried along by the trade winds.”
“The reflection from a reef will result in clean bright clouds above; while an island with thick vegetation will leave a dark impression on the base of the clouds.
The direction of the drifting debris indicates the direction at which land may be found.
“Birds foraging for food in the morning for their young are indication that land is nearby. Some birds would fly back to their nests to feed their young before returning, he said.
Many have asked, how are Pacific Islanders connected to one another?
“It is by the power of WORDS used by our ancestors, the seafarers, especially so were the direction of the ‘Mataisau’ or craftsman when building their magnificent canoes and the visions of the ‘Matua’ or elders of the clan in demanding harmony, that brought us together. The two were synergistic, with a strong and powerful speech of command. Their lives were in the ocean, of the ocean. There was no barrier to it. We owe them a lot,” said Rasigatale.
Fiji lies in an ocean that our ancestors called ‘VEIMUANA.’ This word was a command given to the voyagers on what they must do, ‘go where the bow of your canoe takes you.’ Today it is known as the Pacific Ocean. Another command that was given with it, and its words as sturdy as that of an outrigger, was that, ‘me tawa tale na veiyavu sa lala.’ Meaning to, ‘go forth and recreate the foundations of homes that are habitable.’ Simply put, they must go forth and bear children. For us who are believers today, this command is unacceptable, however, these were the links that our ancestors envisioned for us of the extensive Veimuana. Today, this link is consolidated by living blood relations.
Rasigatale said the Fijian double hulled canoe was the biggest, strongest and fastest canoe in all Oceania. The length of such vessels was 100ft and could carry more than 200 people.
“The canoe was made from the ironwood, ‘Vesi,’ the strongest and most durable timber in Fiji whilst in use. Apart from its use in canoe building, it was also used in the making of war clubs and other durable items. The building of such canoes using vesi was only possible through the use of stone adzes and giant clam shells; sap from the makita fruit, dilo and breadfruit were used with the sinnet (magimagi) to glue the joints of the canoe. The kind of joints used in the canoe was like stitching, it’s called the ‘TABETEBETE’.
The sail of the canoe was made from a particular pandanus leaf to beautify, give strength and speed to the canoe.
“Fiji was very fortunate that a particular pandanus that was ideal for sail making was available in Nanukuloa, Ra in days past. Because of its local weather, the pandanus grew well and was very flexible. Nanukuloa was known during that era as the ‘VOIVOI NI LACA.’ It was frequented by the canoe makers from Veimuana and Fiji, using the barter system called ‘veisa’ to trade. The saddest part is that the knowledge and the skills have gone and are probably lost. It is hoped that these can be revived again.”
The duration of the voyage was three months and covered more than 10,000 nautical miles across the Pacific.
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