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Fijian Drua Homecoming Journey

While sailing events around the world are getting canceled one after another due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an entirely new event is just getting underway in Fiji. Na Lesu Tale, which translates to The Homecoming, will take place in October. It will be the first time that a Fijian Drua has sailed back to the Lau Group of islands in modern recorded history. Owned and operated by the Drua Experience, the 40-ft-long Drua i Vola Sigavou — which means New Rising Star — will embark on this historic journey just after the nation of Fiji celebrates the 50th anniversary of its independence from England on October 10.

i Vola Sigavou in Vuda Point Marina
The Drua i Vola Sigavou at her home base in Vuda Point Marina. Fittingly, Vuda Point is recognized as the first landing place of the native Fijians.
© 2020 Ronnie Simpson

“Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s no tourists in Fiji. We are not expecting any international tourists in the next six months or so,” explains i Vola Sigavou skipper Setareki Corvus Ledua. “So we thought to ourselves, this could be the perfect time to go out to the Lau Group and do more research and collect all the evidence that is still available.” A Drua enthusiast and professional sailor in Fiji, Seta hails from the Lau Group of islands in eastern Fiji. The island group is the spiritual home of Fijian Drua, and where most of the knowledge of these traditional craft remains. When the few elders who still possess this knowledge pass away, so too will this last remaining link to a vital piece of Fijian culture and maritime history. Unless it is preserved.

Drone shot of drua sailing
Drone shot of i Vola Sigavou on a recent test sail. Though the breeze was very light when we went sailing with Seta and his crew, i Vola Sigavou is said to have a top speed of just over 15 knots.
© 2020 Ronnie Simpson

Allegedly growing to more than 120 feet in length and capable of carrying upwards of 200 Fijian warriors to windward at 15 knots, Drua were the most grand of all of the canoes of the Pacific — the first fleet of ocean-crossing bluewater boats in history. While many remember when the last remaining Drua sailed away from the Lau Group, there is no record of when a Drua last sailed back into the Lau Group. This Na Lesu Tale homecoming journey is an effort not only to revive and preserve traditional Fijian Drua culture, but to continue to build the Drua Experience’s program that teaches Fijian youth to both sail and build Drua.

Onboard the drua
Shot from the stern of i Vola Sigavou. This writer, formerly of San Francisco, but now living, sailing and working in Fiji, is hoping to join the journey to the Lau Group as a filmmaker and onboard journalist, though crew spots are understandably very limited.
© 2020 Ronnie Simpson

With Fiji’s borders closed and i Vola Sigavou’s normal tourism-based revenue stream having all but dried up, the Drua Experience is fundraising to make this journey a reality. They have a GoFundMe page set up, and we hope that Latitude Nation’s geographically diverse readership can pitch in a few bucks to help them reach their fundraising goal of $24,000.

Map of route in Fiji
The proposed route for the Na Lesu Tale journey would take the Drua up over the top of the main island of Viti Levu before visiting several islands en route to the Lau Group in Eastern Fiji.
© 2020 Ronnie Simpson

1 Comment

  1. joe mckeown 2 years ago

    Nice article Ronnie-we have crossed paths in the South Pacific for years. In 1990 my good friend Vince Beasley and his lady Elke spent a long time in Fulanga in the Lau group, building a 36 ft Chieftian’s drua. Long story but it was a difficult project and they had to start fresh after the first logs harvested and prepared for the amas were lost in a fire. They then sailed it around Fiji for a long spell and I believe donated it to the museum in Suva? We had all transited the Lau group on our various boats in 1983-4 with a lot of time spent in Totoya and Fulanga. Magical place….

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