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Lesu Tale – the homecoming Voyage

Brief Description

Boats connect us to our ocean. They enable oceans to be our highway, connecting people from different islands and cultures, and giving us access to our marine resources. Boats are our lifeline – but today our boats are unsustainable.

In the past, Fiji’s remote Lau islands were the boatbuilding hub of Oceania. The last drua sailed to the capital 30 years ago in search of livelihoods in the modern world. As the next step in his dream to set up a Fijian canoe building and traditional navigation school in Fiji, Setareki Ledua (one of only 2 trained traditional navigators in Fiji and captain of the drua) will sail a modern drua to its, and his, ancestral home to share and collect knowledge, recording this homecoming and cultural re-association through e-talanoa and social media.

Rationale and objectives

Canoe culture underpins history, iconography, heritage and connectivity across Oceania. True canoe knowledge has faded over time with only a few communities holding the fragile remnants of these traditions. Simultaneously, these remote communities desperately seek new solutions to maritime transport, ones that are sustainable, affordable and support their vision for ocean stewardship.

Vulaga, over 200 miles by sea from Fiji’s bustling capital, is a limestone atoll with few natural resources. Yet for hundreds of years vesi loa, the premier boatbuilding timber found only on the islands of the Southern Lau, made this the epicentre of a thriving ship building industry. Setareki’s ancestors built giant sailing canoes, then the fastest ships on the planet, and exported them throughout central Oceania. These ships allowed for a prosperous connected Pacific, centuries before colonization. Today, Vulaga is among the most marginalised and isolated of Fiji’s communities. No drua have been built here in this generation.

Setareki’s goal for this homecoming voyage is to connect two research themes: 1. safeguarding traditional knowledge of boatbuilding and seafaring culture, and 2. employing traditional knowledge to create informational systems and advance ocean stewardship to develop sustainable low carbon maritime transport. He will achieve this by sailing a modern drua back to the Lau to engage with communities, raise awareness of traditional boatbuilding, and research solutions, reconnecting the most marginalised in society, elders, women and youth.

Through raising awareness of seafaring traditional knowledge, running youth drua training programmes, he will foster dialogue on future drua building to inform community decision-making on sea transport options.  Setareki and his crew of Fijian traditional sailors will record traditional knowledge on sail weaving and rope construction by women and youth (previously poorly researched). Finally, they will host an e-talanoa via social media and produce a documentary to raise awareness across Fiji and other small islands, revitalizing connectivity with their oceans through sustainable boatbuilding and seafaring practice.


Beneficiaries are villagers, especially elders, women and youth, on islands of Southern Lau, the wider Fijian community and beyond.  Villagers will be invited to participate in my sail-training programme, talanoa, and face-to-face interviews.  Broader engagement will be through social media and film.  The voyage itself, with young Fijian seafarers sailing a modern commercial drua back to its ancestral home, is key to exciting the imagination and highlighting the value of Fijian canoe heritage as an art form and cultural icon.  Existing connections within traditional seafaring revitalisation effort in the Pacific and beyond provide a network for targeted global engagement.

Engagement builds on past research and current initiatives intertwined with Setareki’s personal story returning on a modern drua to his home village. Preserving traditional knowledge associated with drua follows on from 2011 research, which focussed on hull construction, not on sail weaving and rope making (tasks traditionally undertaken by women and youth).  The successful drua sail-training programme already run on Viti Levu (funded by IUCN, Spain and US Embassy) will be offered to youth in each village.

The project is proposed by Setareki Ledua, sea captain and traditional sailor and navigator.  He comes from a long line of traditional canoe builders and grew up in Vulaga, and his ancestors built the drua which is housed in the Fiji Museum.  He will be responsible for sailing the drua, facilitating village talanoa, running the youth training programme, face-to-face interviews and project management.  Along with his drua crew, he will also be responsible for communications, organization and provisioning, social media and film production, and will liaise with village headmen from Vulaga, Kabara, Ogea and islands en-route. Volunteers, including photographers and cameramen, and international yachts will act as support boats and carry back up crew, equipment and provisions, and take footage.


The audiences mirror the beneficiaries, with outer island youth being a particular target audience for the sail-training programme.  This proven programme of 6 classes spread over several days, provides a mix of practical and theory classes.  The participants learn history of drua, trees and plants used in their construction, traditional navigation, rope handling and knots, as well as practical sailing on the drua.  This history and skill sets are not taught in Fiji’s schools.

Women are also a key target audience, both in terms of recording any remaining traditional knowledge of sail weaving and rope making, but also to share the little knowledge we already have of the role of women in drua culture.  Villagers at all levels are the intended audience for talanoa focussed on the potential for drua and other Fijian canoes for future sea transport for outer island communities.  Village-based talanoa and face-to-face interviews will be used to share and record discussions in local dialect.  Being able to see and experience sailing on a commercially operating drua compliant with today’s maritime requirements using modern day construction methods and materials, will be used to inspire and catalyse these outer island communities to develop their own sustainable sea transport solutions.

The broader audience is the wider Fiji and Pacific communities, and coastal and island communities around the world.  Engagement with this audience is through social media and e-talanoa during the voyage, and making of a documentary of the voyage to be streamed online after the voyage is complete. Setareki wants people to be aware of their heritage and connection with the ocean and to be inspired to guard and nurture our oceans and seafaring heritage.  For the Pacific, canoe is motif, the primary symbol connecting culture and community to its ocean home. Literally, canoes bring people together.


This voyage achieves four main outcomes: 1. Preservation of traditional knowledge of sail weaving and rope making for future generations; 2. Fostering integrated knowledge for outer-island youth to increase their understanding and participation in ocean stewardship through drua sailing and heritage; 3. Outer-island communities engaged in dialogue about ocean transport options to understand the connectivity between traditional and modern ocean transport; and 4. Fijians and Pacific Islanders are engaged with better information on drua heritage/culture and its potential for sustainable engagement with the ocean. 

Setareki seeks to be catalyst for a shift to more sustainable village-based sea transport enabling connectivity with our ocean; increased awareness of the importance of traditional seafaring culture and its future applicability for outer island communities; and protection of cultural knowledge, particularly sail weaving and rope making.

Changes come from empowered individuals and communities having better skills and knowledge, and who are able to sustainably use and manage their ocean by having access to sustainable shipping. Focusing on weavers, they will tell the untold story of women and youths’ critical contribution to our sailing history, to inspire and empower these most vulnerable members of our community to be involved in decision-making. 

Success will be measured by the number of certificates issued to youth disaggregated by gender and age in outer island villages, as an indicator of those who have gained a basic understanding of drua culture and practice.  Recording knowledge held by women weavers of sail construction and of youth’s role in rope making will be measured by presence of a publicly available record. Success of the overall voyage in inspiring others will be measured by number of social media engagements and views of the documentary film.



Budget Estimate1



Honorariums (boat and shore crews, cultural advisor, project management team)


Catering (food for crew and village workshops)


Fuel (for drua and support boats) in case needed (only to be used if no wind or unsafe to sail)


Communications (phone, internet, media, advertising)


Venue hire (office space for film production)


Materials/consumables (sevusevu, sport equipment gifts for villagers, voivoi and magimagi for youth training, printing, office stationery)


Equipment (RE generator for recharging cameras and phones, go-pro camera)


Drua costs (maintenance, insurance, etc.)3


Film production/editing/translation


Travel costs (local public transport, e.g. bus, taxi)


Taxes and cruising permit fees




In-Kind Contributions

1.     Sailing for Sustainability (Fiji) Ltd (drua owner) is contributing use of the drua at no charge for the asset. I Vola Sigavou is a Fijian commercial registered vessel, insured to a value of $150,000 and fully equipped with all required safety equipment.

2.     A local Fijian businessman involved in the sailing sector has offered to provide mentoring to Seta to undertake this voyage, as well as provision of all safety equipment needed, including offering to find other in-kind contributions from local businesses to reduce the voyage costs (i.e. items listed in budget above).

3.     Several visiting international yachts have volunteered use of their vessels and crews as support boats. No asset charge has been budgeted but costs for fuel, food rations and other on-board consumables have been included. A nominal daily rate has been used to estimate in-kind contribution.

4.     Two visiting international filmmakers, stranded in Fiji due to the covid-19 pandemic have volunteered to assist our Fijian crew with mentoring and technical support for the voyage and film production activities. A nominal daily rate has been used to estimate in-kind contribution.

5.     The same volunteers are offering free use of their specialised equipment for underwater photography, etc. A nominal daily rate has been used to estimate in-kind contribution.


This is a 6-month project involving a planning phase (2 months), the voyage (1 month to allow for best weather windows etc.), and a post-voyage film production and reporting phase (3 months). The voyage would be during October – November to avoid tropical cyclone activity and minimise likelihood of adverse weather. Key milestones are: 1. Finalized Voyage Plan and Preparations (GoFundMe page established, boats provisioned, crew assembled and ready for departure), 2. Voyage, 3. Documentary film to be screened in Fiji and virtually.


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