Tell us about yourselves and your work.
Setareki: I am from Fulaga (Vulaga) Island in Lau Province in Fiji and I started sailing when I was very young. My great, great grand-uncle was involved with the construction of the drua, the Ratu Finau, which was built back in 1913 and is currently being housed at the Fiji museum.
I moved to the capital, Suva, to study engineering at university and I lived with my uncle just outside the city. He still built his own traditional canoes and my cousin and I used to go sailing in them for fun. One day, the Uto Ni Yalo, a double-masted traditional Polynesian sailing canoe built by the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea, came alongside and told us about their mission to promote traditional knowledge in the Pacific, and so I decided to become a volunteer.
With Okeanos, and now Drua Experience, I’ve sailed 80,000 sea miles around the Pacific in traditional sailing ships trying to revitalize the traditional Fijian sailing culture in Fiji waters.
Alison: Our family first sailed to Fiji in 2002, and as sailors we discovered that some of the communities we visited were restricted because of the lack of sustainable sea transport. This led us to look into sea transport for all facets of life in remote island communities, whether it be access to healthcare and education, trade and markets, or simply family connectivity.
We decided to set up the Drua Experience as an experiment to prove that there was value in looking at the cultural heritage of seafaring in Fiji, and the Pacific more broadly, for future livelihoods in a zero-carbon world. We also began working with the Fiji Museum on how to preserve the one remaining drua, the Ratu Finau, built by Setareki’s great, great grand uncle. As the only complete example of a drua, the Ratu Finau provided us with a template to build a modern replica that could operate commercially, the I Vola Sigavou (New Rising Star), which we launched in 2016.
What drives you to do this work?
Setareki: I come from a long line of boat builders. My great, great forefathers and even my father, they are all traditional boat builders. That's one of the passions that I have – carrying on the legacy of my forefathers and finding solutions for the next generation, because they want to live the same life as we're living now, in harmony with the ocean.
Alison: As sailors living aboard a small sailing boat for the past few decades, we, my partner and I, have an intimate relationship with the ocean. It is interesting when people discuss and contemplate our oceans, but they are not also talking about boats. Our personal connection to the ocean is what binds us with all the Pacific islanders we meet. Supporting Fijian traditional seafarers and canoe builders to protect their incredible knowledge and cultural heritage provides them with sustainable jobs. That’s what drives us.