The traditional double-hulled voyaging vessels of Fiji are known as the drua or waqa tabu (sacred boat). An art almost extinct, the origins of traditional Fijian boatbuilding are often disputed. Also called kalia in Tonga and ‘alia in Samoa, the double-hulled canoe was made from vesi loa (Intsia bijuga), a local hardwood found in the Southern Lau group of Fiji. This indicates that the craft of boatbuilding was central to the Lau region, with carpenters from Samoa and Tonga venturing west to the limestone islands of Lau for sources of hardwood.
The drua were constructed through old plank-building techniques. Hulls were constructed from multiple planks sewn together with magimagi, the coconut husk fibre cordage. Sails were triangular, resembling a crab claw, and made out of woven voivoi (pandanus).
Traditionally, there was not much decorative carving on the drua. The double-hulled canoes of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga are similar in design, but distinctively different from the other Polynesian sailing vessels of Tahiti and the Cook Islands.
In ancient times, a Fijian chief’s canoe was his most valuable asset. The vessel was used as much for trade as it was for war. The importance of communal relationships between the islands made seafaring a necessity, and therefore canoes are an essential commodity. The need for protection prompted the construction of naval battleships that would hold 200 warriors. With the death of the chief, it is believed that his canoe would be buried with him, resulting in sparse remains of any ancient canoes today.
Traditional boatbuilding as an art form is almost extinct, with only a number of communities constructing the smaller versions of these canoes, known as camakau, that are used for fishing. The Ratu Finau Mara canoe on display in the Fiji Museum is the last full artifact of an oceanic canoe. With extensive research, a revival has slowly come about with the introduction of the Drua Experience. Crewed and constructed by Moala Takouta, Kaiafa Ledua and Setareki Ledua of the Lau Islands, the Drua Experience has built smaller, seaworthy a replica of the Ratu Finau Mara canoe. The canoe conducts educational charters out of the Suva Harbor in Fiji’s capital city, Suva.