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Plan to restore Fiji’s only original drua

Monday 4 April 2016 | Published in Regional

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FIJI – A group of conservators from New Zealand’s Te Papa Mueum is in Fiji to advise on the restoration of one of Fiji’s oldest and last remaining double-hull sailing canoes, the Ratu Finau.

According to Mereia Lesi from the Suva Museum, the canoe has been an exhibit in the museum since 1981.

“The New Zealand group will be here from Monday and they’ll make an assessment report on this iconic canoe and hopefully from there, we will work on finding funds to restore the canoe, which is considered to be Fiji’s national treasure,” sai Lesi.

The Ratu Finau is the only surviving complete doubled-hull canoe – known as a drua – from its era and has been in a deteriorating condition for a long time.

The 103-year-old canoe was built by the late Tui Nayau, in 1913.

According to researcher Peter Nuttall, the drua were once the pinnacle of the Pacific’s boat building prowess.

“Sometimes reaching sizes of 36 metres these magnificent battleships were fast, strong and capable of carrying vast loads,” he said.

New Zealand High Commissioner Mark Ramsden will be chief guest at a presentation on the drua on Thursday at the Fiji Museum.

The commissioner was primarily involved in getting the experts from New Zealand to work with the local museum staff members and other world experts in preserving the national treasure.

Dr Nuttal, a research associate with the Sustainable Shipping Research Program of the University of the South Pacific, believes there is a dire need to revive the drua as a national identity so that the young Fijians can understand how their ancestors lived and enjoyed their lives.

“The magnificent account of the drua and its significance to the native Fijians is something that has come a long way in the Fijian history.

“Although we no longer see them where they belong they can be seen everywhere in the county,” he said in an interview with the Fiji Times last year.

“Drua can be seen all over Fiji – on the policeman’s uniform, when you come through customs there is drua, a drua on people’s shirts, but we do not see them where they belong and I would love to see fleets of drua sailing again.”

According to Dr Nuttall, the canoe which has been the central exhibit at the Fiji Museum since it was generously given to the people of Fiji by the Turner family in 1981 was originally built on the instruction of Ratu Finau Mara by his mataisau, or hereditary boatbuilders, on Fulaga Island in the southern Lau group, and launched in 1913.

“The Pacific, unlike any other region in the world, is a maritime region and the Pacific ancestors were the masters of sailing,” Dr Nuttal said.

“There were no other people in the world who could build ships that were as amazing as the Fijian ancestors’ ships.”

He said the drua could go 12 to 15 knots and were the most prized possession that a chief could own and hundreds, or even thousands, were built in the Southern Lau and then exported right across central Oceania as far as Tokelau.

At that time there was a continuous trade going on by Fijians using their own drua in the forms of timber, tanoa and other goods.

Dr Nuttal, who has been in Fiji since the 1990s, said for a whole range of complicated reasons, around the start of the 1900s the drua began disappearing.

Today, the Ratu Finau at the Fiji Museum is the only full scale original artefact that exist sin the world, he said.

“So this is the only artefact and the greatest heritage and if we lose that drua we lose something very important.”

The Fiji Museum is currently undergoing major renovations and as a result, the Ratu Finau will be moved from its original place at the museum.

Hence the reason the Fiji Museum had invited experts from Te Papa to seek appropriate advice for its restoration.

“When I heard that the museum was to move the drua I became really concerned because every time I go and see it, it’s getting more and more decayed and the thing is starting to crumble,” Dr Nuttall said.

Dr Nuttal said the process of moving the Ratu Finau was not an easy one and – with it being the only one of its kind left in the world – the exercise needed the input from international experts.

- PNC sources