Traditional Fijian Canoe Delivers Cyclone Relief Supplies
Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i
The Uto Ni Yalo brings tonnes of supplies to Levuka
By Bruce Hill and Girish Sawlani
MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, March 31, 2016) – A traditional Fijian voyaging canoe — the Uto Ni Yalo — has carried tonnes of cyclone relief supplies to the country's old capital, Levuka, which was devastated by a category five storm in February.
Cyclone Winston, the most powerful storm to make landfall in the southern hemisphere, killed more than 40 people when it ravaged the Pacific nation.
The Uto Ni Yalo Trust, which owns the traditional canoe, sailed into Levuka where houses, schools and roads were destroyed.
"Levuka was one of the worst-hit maritime communities in the Fiji group post Cyclone Winston," Uto Ni Yalo Trust secretary Dwaii Qalovaki said.
"Our task was to carry two tonnes of relief supplies to the community of Baba."
The Uto Ni Yalo, which uses large sails to navigate the seas, was part of a fleet of traditional canoes that embarked on a voyage from Cook Islands to Sydney to highlight the threat of climate change in 2014.
Much like that epic voyage, the Uto Ni Yalo encountered difficulties with low wind conditions while sailing towards Levuka.
But the sailors were prepared for such contingencies.
"The Uto Ni Yalo is powered by nature, therefore we're a wind sail vessel," Mr Qalovaki said.
"We had optimal sailing conditions right through until Friday morning, when we hit a bit of a dull spot out at sea, so we dropped our solar-powered propellers and motored into Levuka."
Mr Qalovaki said the presence of the Uto Ni Yalo, which holds strong social capital in Fiji, gave victims an opportunity to come on board and share their experiences.
"A lot of the people that came through were very honest and their stories were really heartbreaking," he said.
The Uto Ni Yalo Trust, which works to advance sustainable sea transportation by rejuvenating traditional boat building, navigation and voyaging, is keen to play a role in future disaster relief efforts.
"We have extended our communication to the [United Nations] as well as the Red Cross and other international donor agencies that are here in Fiji coordinating relief supply efforts," Mr Qalovaki said.
"We have taken every opportunity to let them know that the Uto Ni Yalo is on standby and we are ready to assist in whichever shape or form we can."
"We have deployed out assets in the past like our satellite phones to Koroi [in Fiji] and some of the other affected maritime communities to uphold the communications in the islands until the infrastructure is restored."