VAKA VOYAGING A HIGHLIGHT OF ARTS FESTIVAL

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By Lisa Williams

NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (October 24, 2000 - SPC)---She came through a week of wind, rain, rough waves, and sleepless nights to get to the 8th Festival of Pacific Arts. For Cook Islander Tu Raa, witnessing the color and spectacle of the welcoming ceremonies for ocean voyaging canoes at the first day of the Festival could not beat the moment when she won her place on the Cook Islands vaka "Te au o Tonga."

The 25-year-old New Zealand-based radio presenter smiles at the memory of long nights without sleep, working alternating shifts of six hours with a crew of 13 men and one other woman, 50 year old Esta Proctor.

"Te au o Tonga," a veteran of many ocean voyages using traditional navigation techniques left Auckland on Friday, October 13, arriving in Nouméa on Sunday the 19th to their most uneventful and quiet welcome ever. Far from the fuss and drumbeats welcoming them this morning, the only moment of excitement for the arriving crew was when they had to rescue a wind surfer who collided with the vaka as it cruised into its Nouméa marina!

Raa says the journey, completed just as the region enters its rough weather season, has highlighted the need to get back to the basics in order to appreciate what we have.

"After nine days without a shower, it felt good to have little things like soap and shampoo; or little things that we tend to take for granted," she says.

She waved her hand around at the exotic spectacle and clamor of the event. "Now that I am here, all this seems like an anti-climax. I feel like I’ve taken a journey to another planet, and it feels really strange; I don’t know what to think of all this."

City life and her job as a media personality for radio station 531PI had done little to prepare Raa for her first shot at ocean voyaging. She lobbied for the chance to join the crew headed by navigator Paiao Pirake with watch captains Te Aturangi Nepia Clamp and Tura ‘Ninja’ Koronui.

For Esta Proctor, the voyage to Nouméa was rough but not as long as the journey to the Cook Islands in 1996. Many of the crew is sailing for a second or third time, coming from all walks of life - Terry Joseph, formerly of Aitutaki, now lives in Austin, Texas. There are a large number of Atiu islanders and New Zealand Maori crew on board, and the chef for the journey is a leading corporate lawyer back in the Cook Islands. For Raa, the journey has been a source of stories for her programs and a personal awakening.

"I absolutely had to do it, and now that I’m here the festival feels like an anti-climax even though it’s only the first day," says Raa. "It’s my first time on the vaka - and it made me wonder what it would be like to have a crew of women travel on an ocean journey."

Is that likely to be a future project?

"Well, we have to build our vaka first!" she laughs.

Lisa Leilani Williams Communications Officer Pacific Women's Resource Bureau Secretariat of the Pacific Community BP D5 -- 98848 Noumea Cedex New Caledonia Telephone: 687--26.20.00 Facsimile: 687--26.38.18 Direct Line: 687--26.01.57 E-mail: LisaW@spc.int  Internet: http://www.spc.int/women 

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