Cultural Items at COP23
Drua – Fijian Double-Hulled Sailing Canoe
For 3,000 years Pacific Islanders explored the Pacific Ocean in sailing canoes, settling islands are far apart as Hawai’i, Rapanui (Easter Island) and Aotearoa (New Zealand). The 19th-century Fijian double-hulled drua is known as the finest ocean-going vessel ever built by any peoples of the Pacific. Some were over 30 metres long and could carry more than 100 people.
As a symbol of Fiji’s Presidency, the drua is a reminder to the entire world that we are all in the same canoe when it comes to climate change. No-one is immune to its impact. We are all vulnerable and we all must act. At COP23, we must fill the sail of this canoe with a collective determination to move the climate action agenda forward.
As we sail together in our canoe, we are also challenging our reliance on engines and fossil fuels and instead taking pride in traditional skill and ingenuity. Recently, there has been a revival in ocean-going voyaging in Hawai’i, drua building and knowledge exchange in Fiji, and the creation of pan-Pacific vaka moana, canoes that use traditional design but are built with modern materials and propelled by fossil fuel-free technologies.
This beautiful 8-metre long drua, named Adi Yeta, was built in Fiji in 2014-15 from local renewable resources – wood, fibre and leaves. After sailing in Fiji’s 2015 Hibiscus Festival canoe races, she was displayed in the 2016-17 exhibition Fiji: Art & Life in the Pacific at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in the UK.
Adi Yeta now belongs to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, and will be permanently displayed in their new Pacific Encounters gallery from late 2018.
The Yaqona or “Kava” Ceremony
The Yaqona or Kava Ceremony is an important and a hallowed component of the seven ceremonies that form the traditional Fijian welcome rituals. Accorded to Chiefs, Tribal Leaders, and high dignitaries, the presentation and the drinking of Kava signifies the highest respect and deepest reverence for the Chief, for his or her people and the land (“vanua”) from whence they hail. The completion of the kava ceremony marks the occasion when the visitor and the visited become one people, striving for the same purpose.
The “Kava” Plant
The Yaqona or Kava (piper methysticum) is a plant shrub native to most of the islands in the Pacific. The root and stems are pounded, mixed with water and made into a mildly narcotic, non-alcoholic, psychoactive beverage that has been used socially and ceremonially in that part of world for hundreds of years.
Kava is mixed in a wooden bowl called “Tanoa” carved from a hardwood “Vesi” (intsia bijuga). Attached to the front end of the Tanoa is a string made of coconut husks fibers with white cowrie shell(s) tied at its end. This string is called the “Sau”. When the Sau is rolled out, it signifies that the commencement of the ceremony and when rolled back, it marks the end of the kava ceremony. The honored guest is seated directly in front of the Sau.
Kava is served in a coconut shell called a “Bilo” carried around by the cup/bilo bearer – the “Tu Yaqona”. When presented, the recipient drinker must clap his/her hands three times, take the bilo and drink the Kava until empty in one gulp. The tu yaqona will proclaim “maca” (pronounced- mother) to signal the emptying of the bilo. Everybody will clap their hands.
Kava is usually served in pairs, the first cup is for the chief guest, the second is drunk by his/her “Matanivanua” (Herald) on behalf of the people. The herald is known in some Pacific cultures as the “talking chief”. The matanivanua decides the strength of the kava mix and the number of people to drink.
Fijian kava ceremonies and other traditional protocols are presented and observed in silence. Silence is observed by everyone all throughout the ceremony, accept for the “Matanivanua” who directs the ceremony and acts as the link between the people and the chief.
Barkcloth, called masi or tapa in Fiji, is made by women from the inner bark of the paper mulberry tree (Broussonetia papyrifera). To make sheets of varying size and thickness, the inner bark is beaten on a wooden anvil using a wooden mallet. As the beating process is done, the bark takes on a papery or cloth like form, its fibres expanding and felting together.
While barkcloth is made all over the Pacific and other areas of the world such as Africa, Fijian masi is unique because of the beautiful design motifs applied to it. There are 3 different decoration techniques in Fiji: stencilling, rubbing using a relief board and hand painting. Stencilling is only found in Fiji and certain design motifs are often associated with different regions of Fiji.
Masi is an integral part of iTaukei culture as well as a visual symbol Fiji’s national identity. Masi is used in all ceremonial presentations such as in chiefly gatherings and solevu (gift exchanges), weddings, funerals and birthday celebrations. Historically only worn by men, it is now ceremonial dress for both men and women. As it is made in all sizes and shapes, along with being presented as gifts it is also used as decoration for special events. Additionally, it is being used in innovative and creative ways in urban areas such as couture fashion.
Mats, called ibe, can be made from pandanus leaf (voivoi) or sedge (kuta). The process of plaiting the mats is called talitali and mats are made for many different occasions. Varying in size and depending on the ceremonial occasion, mats can have intricate design motifs plaited into them using dyed fibre or acrylic wool, as well as having a colourful or fringed border. The finest mats in Fiji, which are very intricately plaited, come from Ono-i-Lau the southernmost island in the Lau Group.
Mats are not the only things made from fibre. Baskets, fans, decorative items, ceremonial attire and more are made out of voivoi, kuta and vau, which is hibiscus fibre.
In Fiji, there has been continuous pottery making activity for over 3000 years. Most of the historical pottery is called Lapita pottery, named after the first site found of pottery made by a highly mobile group of people who came to Fiji from a westward direction bringing with them this distinctive pottery tradition.
Pottery styles have changed today but the methods and techniques of pottery making have largely remained the same. All pottery in Fiji is hand thrown and is shaped using wooden paddles and spatulas; a wheel is not used. The pots are then fired on an open flame, not in a kiln as in other places. Unlike many other parts of the Pacific where pottery making skills have vanished, Fijian pottery making remains strong in certain areas of Fiji and is a skill passed down from mother to daughter.