Thursday, September 28, 2017
SEATED on the deck of Fiji's iconic traditional voyaging canoe, the Uto ni Yalo (Heart of the Spirit), as it clears the reef surrounding Matuku Island, Reverend Dr Tevita Nawadra Banivanua turns his gaze from the island we are leaving to the horizon, where in the distance, south-westwards is our final destination, Suva.
"This journey itself is an experience for those who have never had the opportunity to sail," he reflects.
"I have sailed once before, when I was much younger, growing up on Moala. The Bible Society yacht, the Dayspring, came to the island and they needed someone to guide them safely around the island so I volunteered and spent the trip up the mast looking out for coral heads and the reef. But this is my first time to really sail outside of the reef."
The last time Mr Banivanua, president of Fiji's largest and oldest faith community the Methodist Church in Fiji, and his wife visited Matuku and Totoya which along with Moala comprise what is known as the Yasayasa Moala, it was by a two-stroke outboard powered open fiberglass boat that provided little protection from the wind or the waves during the four-hour journey from Moala.
This time, on his way to induct the divisional superintendent of the Methodist Church's Matuku Division and share with the community on stewardship of the environment and the issue of climate change as part of Pillar #12 of the church's New Exodus and in support of Fiji's presidency of COP23, Mr Banivanua is attempting to accomplish a few objectives; reduce his and his team's carbon footprint, learn about the legacy of traditional voyaging, sustainable sea transport and care for the ocean of which the Uto ni Yalo is a living example, and seek to understand better the working of a traditional voyaging canoe, the image of which forms the symbol of the church's reorientation to be a community of faith journeying to an island of hope and peace — the Kingdom of God.
Uto ni Yalo as a metaphor
During the 24-hour voyage to Suva, Mr Banivanua tries out the uli (steering oar), a metaphor perhaps of the difficult task he has had these past three years to steer the "Methodist drua".
"It's not easy at all. Especially for first-timers at my age. You have to be physically fit and mentally alert. You need to pay attention to so many things; the ocean, the wind, the sails and of course where you are headed.
"As Fijians, we think we are all good sailors, even though in reality some of us may not be. But the Uto ni Yalo connects us to that dream of traditional voyaging that is a part of our ancestral identity and provides a legacy to the future.
"Ever since becoming the president of the Methodist Church in Fiji, I've been using the imagery of the drua and of voyaging to describe our Lako Yani Vou (New Exodus)," he shares, gazing up at the two cream coloured traditional sails, with a turtle boldly painted on each.
"I thought that before I finish as the navigator of the Methodist drua, I should at least try to actually sail on one. And as our symbol is the drua sailing out beyond the reef in the winds of change, the Uto ni Yalo was the logical option. I am very grateful to the Uto ni Yalo Trust (UNYT) that we could partner for this voyage and work together on the issue of care of the environment and look at future possible partnerships."
Mr Banivanua, his wife Bale, along with social anthropologist and lecturer at the University of the South Pacific Dr Jacqueline Ryle, joined the Uto ni Yalo on Moala after it completed its first leg of 52 hours sailing from Leleuvia to Naroi Village.
While at Naroi, the crew of the Uto ni Yalo were guest presenters at Yasayasa Moala College's Climate Change Week events (held ahead of the rest of the country because of exams) and then led the students in a beach clean-up which collected around 400 kilograms of rubbish, including over 40kg of plastic waste which was loaded on the drua for transport to Suva.
It is an eight-hour sail on the Uto ni Yalo from Naroi on Moala to Yaroi Village on Matuku. During the sail we are joined for a time by a small pod of humpback whales.
The people of Yaroi tell us of the significance of the visit of another pod of whales. A few months ago, four whales entered the bay in front of the village and stayed there for four days. The event heralded something important.
The divisional superintendent of the Wasewase ko Matuku was pondering that significance when he was informed that the president of the church would be sailing on a traditional canoe to the island, the first in the history of the church's autonomy, five decades ago. The significance is confirmed when the captain of the Uto ni Yalo decides to drop anchor in the exact sport where the whales had been.
I discuss climate change with Reverend Jope Navuki, talatala qase (superintendent minister) of the Matuku Division.
He tells me of extreme weather in the form of drought on the island leading to water rationing, an hour in the morning and one in the afternoon.
He also points out evidence of sea level rise in the form of coastal erosion. Coconut trees on the leeward side of the island, where Yaroi is, are now on the edge of the shore while on the windward side, they are now actually in the ocean.
Nurse practitioner at the Matuku Hospital (Fiji's oldest), Asenaca Rika highlights the health implications of climate change in terms of virus outbreaks coinciding with extreme and rapid weather changes.
Mr Banivanua uses the pulpit and following talanoa sessions to create more awareness on what we can do to address climate change and promote environmental stewardship. Preaching during the induction, he called for all members of the division to do their part to reduce the impact of climate change being experienced by Matuku islanders as part of their Christian responsibility.
He also called for support for Fiji's presidency of COP23 and for prayers and climate change mitigation activities by church members in the lead up to the COP23 meeting in Bonn in November.
"Fiji, as part of the crew of those voyaging to take this world to a safe port, is now preparing to hold the uli of the Conference of Parties in Bonn in November.
"The navigators and the hand on the uli will need to be in synchronicity to negotiate the potential reefs and sandbars. One eye will be on the horizon, focused on where we are headed and the other on the sails, paying attention to the direction of the wind."
The teamwork he witnessed on board led Mr Banivanua to reflect on the need for teamwork not only in the church but between the church, community and Government to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change.
He is heartened to hear plans from Mr Navuki to plant mangrove trees to support carbon reduction during Climate Change Week.
Back on board the Uto ni Yalo he reflects: "From the little things we do, as a faith community, as civil societies, as a voyaging community such as the Uto ni Yalo Trust, committed to care of our oceans as key to care for this planet, those on Moala, those on Matuku, all of us, in our own little ways are trying to care for this world.
"This world is the only world we have, if only we all care for it. The little we do will make a difference, small at first but as each person does what they can it will build up to something significant.
"At the heart of the problem is that we all assume that this world will be here forever and so we don't take care of it. We need to understand and help others understand that while we look to the future, our world, the only world we have, can one day go. And that is a serious matter for all of us."
Sustainable sea transport
Mr Banivanua was shocked to learn from UNYT president and voyage sailmaster, Colin Philp, that there is significant CO2 emissions from the islanders because of their reliance on fosil-fuelled outboard motors.
According to Swedish research institute KIMO International, the high emissions from traditional two-stroke engines are caused by the design of the motor.
Twenty to 30 per cent of the fuel and the added oil these two-strokes use are emitted unburned directly into the water. At low speeds, up to 40 per cent of the fuel entering a cylinder might escape unburned while at the most efficient operating range 8 per cent of the fuel is expelled as exhaust.
A one-hour ride on a boat with a 10-horsepower traditional two-stroke engine emits the same amount of hydrocarbon pollution as driving a modern automobile 40,000km (25,000 miles).
During his sermon he shared that one 40-horsepower two-stroke outboard engine has the equivalent carbon emission of 500 cars and called for the congregation to make an effort to reclaim the traditional skills of sailing and for the Yasayasa Moala to explore the benefits of sustainable sea transport along with other learnings from his time on board the the Uto ni Yalo such as electric or solar powered outboard motors.
Mr Banivanua is hopeful that one day the Methodist Church, or perhaps even the Fiji Council of Churches collaboratively, could have a boat like the Uto ni Yalo in terms of sustainable sea-transport with a low carbon footprint.
"The church has talked about boats a few times. I hope that if we do go further down that road we will use the example of the Uto ni Yalo as the ideal, because it is not only promotes low carbon sea transport, it acts it out, promoting stewardship of creation while practically providing transport and cargo services in our mission.
"Even from a business point of view as we are heading to do business through our Lako Yani Management Company to help fund the work of the church, the goal of our business is to promote the ideals of the kingdom.
"As one of the ideals of the ideals of the kingdom is the care of creation, if the church does go into providing some sort of maritime service, it should not just be profit-oriented, business as usual. It must be part and parcel of our 'gospelling'. It must be part of our care of creation, a business model designed to support and promote sustainable sea transport."
* Reverend James Bhagwan is an ordained Methodist minister and a citizen journalist. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Methodist Church in Fiji or this newspaper.