Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Living with the "Heart of the Spirit"

Published in the Fiji Times 15 January, 2014

In late November 2009 I led a short devotion and prayer at the launching of a new vessel, a canoe that was a fusion of traditional central Pacific canoe design utilizing modern boat-building materials and technologies. The vaka/canoe was named the Uto ni Yalo. Little did I realize that my presence and actions that Saturday morning would be the first chapter of my five-year association with the Uto ni Yalo, her guardians, crew and supporters as her chaplain.

Over the past 5 years, although I did not sail on either of the Uto Ni Yalo’s two epic voyages, I accompanied her and her crew spiritually, seeking divine blessings and guidance and giving thanks for safe returns. Last Sunday, I travelled to Lautoka to once again give thanks and ask for blessing and guidance – for a different adventure – the new chapter of the Uto Ni Yalo as a truly Fijian vessel. The Uto Ni Yalo was gifted by Oceanic Sustainability Research Ltd to the Uto ni Yalo Trust on behalf of the people of Fiji.

The Uto ni Yalo Trust (formerly known as Fiji Islands Voyaging Society) is part of a Pacific Renaissance seeking to recapture knowledge, traditions and values of our rich maritime history. This charitable trust was established with the primary objectives of reviving ancient cultural skills of navigation and canoeing.  The Uto ni Yalo, has worked extensively with communities in Fiji and through the region to highlight the importance of culture and its roles in sustainable conservation, community building and achieving this by uniting people with a similar vision in the Pacific. 

The Trust aims to celebrate this unique Fijian spirit in reverence and preservation of our cultural and natural heritage. The focus of the Trust is to revive and sustain traditional Fijian canoe building, sailing and navigational knowledge, skills and customs. It also aims to undertake research into all aspects of Fijian and Rotuman seafaring culture, including the sustainable use of sailing for future sea transport for the benefit of current and future generations, both locally and internationally.  The Uto ni Yalo has become an important part of achieving these goals After two Pacific wide voyages his gifting of the Uto ni Yalo so that she remains with Fiji and means that she is  able to continue her cultural, environmental, educational and community work. 

Fiji has benefited directly from the work of the Uto ni Yalo over the past 5 years as one of the lead canoes of the voyages that undertaken. Its impact on communities throughout Fiji and the world has seen the Uto ni Yalo contribute to Fiji’s cultural and environmental tourism campaigns. The importation into Fiji of this vessel will further promote the interests of Fiji in tourism and also in Fiji’s Foreign Policy on the protection of the environment and mitigation on the rising sea levels, and its stand on pollution and global warming.

However before she can truly give of herself to Fiji, the Uto ni Yalo is in dire need of help.

Months at a time at sea, encountering the elements on these massive ocean voyages, have taken their toll on the vaka. The Uto ni Yalo is in urgent need of repairs and maintenance. New sails are needs, new lashings, paint etc to make her seaworthy again. It has been estimated that at least $30,000 Fijian dollars (at least!)  will be required. Yet in terms of the contribution will make to the communities, the environment and the nation of Fiji, it is a small price to pay.

If you feel that you are able to contribute, to become part of the Uto ni Yalo’s legacy, to be part of the family with which she is making her new home, contact the Uto ni Yalo Trust Secretary ( with your offer of support.

As I sat on the deck of the Uto ni Yalo, joining in the celebration of this historic occasion, I recalled my childhood in Lautoka. Sitting on this vaka, berthed at the Lautoka wharf, I recalled standing at attention in my cub-scout uniform as Queen Elizabeth II disembarked on a visit to Lautoka, going aboard a visiting British submarine and countless trips to the islands of the Mamanuca and Yasawa groups. Voyages of personal discovery and growth, adventures in the real world that unlike virtual games to today require sweat, tears and, even at times, blood.

Glancing around at those onboard: the Uto ni Yalo’s original skipper and my childhood friend, Captain Johnathan Smith and her current skipper, Angelo Smith; members of the crew from both voyages and family members, friends and supporters – all recounting their adventures and eagerly discussing the future - my thoughts drifted on the waves to members of the crew, founding members of the original Fiji Islands Voyaging Society who were absent. Each of these people, whether present or there in spirit were people who had experienced out on the ocean the humbling reality that we are only part of creation and the life-affirming comunitas of men and women working on a common task, a common vision and a common destination.

The gifting of the Uto ni Yalo at the beginning of this year is symbolic of the journey this nation faces in the next few months. She and her crew are living testimony that we of Fiji can sail the rough seas beyond the lagoon of apathy and complacency; a testimony the traditional values and symbols, ancient truths that have been interpreted by modernity can be our guiding stars and moral compasses on this journey and that working together to hold the steering oar steady, we can reach our destination – the place where each Fijian can experience the Uto ni Yalo, “the Heart of the Spirit.”

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”

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