After the visit of the ‘Uto ni Yalo’ to Dravuni (see previous posting), regular Fiji Times correspondent, Aisake Delai, (believed to be from Buliya village), wrote to the daily to remind the whole of Fiji that the visit was not only historic but of special significance and an acknowledgement of Dravuni’s claim to fame for having won the ‘takia’: canoe race to celebrate HM Queen Elizabeth’s visit to Fiji during the Coronation Tour in 1953.
Dravuni’s selection to join the flotilla of ‘takias’ to welcome the royal visitor in Suva Harbour in December 1953, was an after-thought. Tui Ono’s choice was for a ‘takia’ from Buliya, crewed by the Buliya people, to represent the Yavusa Natusara. Tui Ono had directly approached the people of Buliya, who acquiesced to the request. Roko Tui Kadavu at the time realized that there was a breach of protocol when the request was not directed at the Ramalo, the chief of the Yavusa Natusara, comprising both Dravuni and Buliya. Roko Tui Kadavu stepped in to redress the situation.
He approached the Ramalo and offered his ‘takia’ to be crewed by representatives of the Yavusa Natusara. It was decided that the Yavusa Natusara crew would comprise Tomu, the Ramalo, his ‘mata-ni-vanua’ Saiasi Vunakece, Timoci the Vunivalu of Buliya and his ‘mata-ni-vanua’ Sireli Navu. However, on sighting the ‘takia’ and realizing that it was somewhat small in size, both the Ramalo and the Vunivalu decided to opt out but retained their blessing on the ‘takia’. To replace the two chiefs, Marika Koroivui, was co-opted to join the crew.
Marika Koroivui, Dravuni’s spokesperson at the 1931 ‘veitarogivanua’ (see History page), was 49 years old and considered to be one of the best handlers of ‘takias’, and one you could trust to perform on big occasions. He was made captain of the ‘takia’.
In late November 1953, all the Kadavu ‘takias’ overnighted on Dravuni before they sailed together to Suva. HM Queen Elizabeth was expected in early December. As part of the events to celebrate the Coronation Tour, all the ‘takias’ gathered in the Suva Harbour participated in a ‘takia’ race. On the last lap sailing from Lami-side of the harbor towards Suva Point, Captain Marika noted a change in the wind direction. Instead of south-easterly, it was becoming more easterly. He sussed out the situation quickly and steered his ‘takia’ further out to sea instead of maintaining a straighter shorter course towards the finishing line. The trick worked wonders when his ‘takia’ crossed the line first. The rest of the flotilla was still becalmed near the King’s Wharf where a large cargo boat was blocking the easterly wind that was blowing from the land side of the wharf.
The victory however had already been foreseen on Dravuni itself. 73 year old Rusiate Qirivabea of Vunivasa ‘yavu’ had dreamt the previous night the victorious return of the ‘takia’, sailing into the Vanuakula passage and on its mast fluttered the victory flag. An historic victory to mark an historic occasion when a first ever reigning British monarch visited Fiji, still 17 years away from being an independent country.
Eye-witnessing the sail from Dravuni
I was 7 and in the village when all the Kadavu ‘takias’ were sailing in to overnight before they sailed to Suva the next day. I can’t recall how and why I was in the village and not at school at Naqara Primary School on Ono Island. The only reasonable explanation was that the school had an early break to allow those who wanted to travel to Suva for the royal visit to be able to do so.
My recollection of that night was sneaking into a ‘bure’ with a fellow accomplice and helping ourselves to roasted pork and ‘dalo’: taro when the feasting and merry making were going on. My recollection the next morning, however, is still vivid in my mind as if it was only yesterday.
The day was perfect. The sea in front of the village, with Vanuakula Island in the background, had come alive with the greatest number of ‘takias’ I had ever seen; their sails were well-billowed by the south easterly wind that was going to ensure a safe passage to Suva. The sails were all of uniform – off-cream canvas colour. The sea and the sky were blue. Had it been captured on canvas by an artist, it would have been a masterpiece. Later, I did see a photograph of that moment. If only I can get my hand on a copy of that enrapturing picture!
The ‘takia’ that took part in the race would be similar to this. This Dravuni takia is heading for Vanuakula and the Solo Reefs, most likely on a fishing trip. Two of its occupants, Taqa (topless) and Osea (steering) – both deceased, were Ramalos. Timoci, sitting in the front, was the Vunivalu of Buliya. Joji, sitting in white t-shirt and Marika, standing next to the mast, are brothers of Saiasi who participated in the royal ‘takia’ race. The young lad must remain an unidentified passenger. But he is learning the ropes, literally. He controls the rope: ‘sila’, connected to the sail, and thus the speed, direction and tacking of the ‘takia’ on the instructions of Captain Osea, in this case.
The group of villagers enjoying looking out to sea under the shade of a coconut tree. Two ‘takias’, with masts and sails stashed away temporarily until the next sail, lie in wait nearby.