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Uto Ni Yalo- Heart of the Spirit

Setareki Ledua is from Naividamu village, on Fulaga Island in the Lau archipelago. "When I was sailing around the Suva Harbour on my camakau [outrigger canoe] when I saw the Uto Ni Yalo berthed at the harbour and I sailed up to her,’ he said.

The seventy-two foot double hulled vessel, Uto ni Yalo (which translates to ‘Heart of the Spirit’), is being used to revive and sustain traditional Fijian canoe building, sailing and navigational knowledge, skills, and customs. The Uto Ni Yalo is one of nine traditionally designed sailing canoes.

Being a crew member of the Uto Ni Yalo is not just about sailing from one country to another, but also learning about who we really are as an indigenous people, as stewards of the earth and most importantly knowing more about our tradition and culture.

Aboard the boat, the crew sees and feels firsthand the effects of climate change and the extensive threats to the ocean. Life aboard the boat is a microcosm of life in Pacific Islands, including the lack of a margin for error. But the threats and limitations also suggest possibilities and a course set for sustainability, with a greater respect and sense of stewardship - encouraging better solutions for a healthy ocean.

"It’s all about understanding the natural environment and utilising the elements that surround us every day. Our ancestors knew this and lived by a reciprocal relationship with nature"

To promote the sustainable, reciprocal relationship with nature, the Uto Ni Yalo is encouraging solutions for a healthy ocean – and gathering trash on the remote islands it visits.

The Uto Ni Yalo’s formal and symbolic uses - attending events, performing, inspiring, proving carbon free travel is possible – are complemented by utilitarian functions, such as taking relief supplies to islands after tropical cyclones.

Following Tropical Cyclone Keni in April of 2018, the Uto Ni Yalo was used to deliver relief supplies to a province that suffered nine deaths, as well as the complete destruction of whole villages, plantations, and boats.

The Uto Ni Yalo is also designed to demonstrate that the shipping routes that were previously thought to be economically non-viable can be re-established, thereby reviving access to these islands, restoring their importance, and providing opportunities for the youth living there. Uto Ni Yalo serves to showcase low carbon wind-powered ocean transport – supplemented with solar power generation facilities that power its twin propulsion system – and provide proof of concept. Around the world ≈90% of all goods and raw materials are transported by sea using vessels powered by fossil fuels. Uto ni Yalo is demonstrating how low carbon sea transport can offset Fiji’s fossil fuel reliance and become a viable option for cargo transfer from remote maritime islands.

To further increase the utility of the ship’s island visits, the Uto Ni Yalo Trust has committed to collecting data on waste found on village foreshores.

At each stop, the 16-18 member voyaging crew conducts beach clean-up along the shoreline in order to understand the types and quantities of non-biodegradable waste found, and present this information back to the community with options for safe disposal. Given that the highest densities of plastic pollution on earth are found in the Pacific, with serious consequences for wildlife, ecosystems, economies, and human health, it is an urgent problem requiring both local and international efforts.

While the boat itself is profoundly practical, it is also a tool for reviving handicrafts and celebrating traditional art forms - both on the boat and in the communities it visits.

Traditional ingenuity and knowledge remain clearly visible, with the twin hulls cunningly connected by wooden beams and lashed only with rope. Each vaka is finished with intricate traditional designs, and carved by a third-generation carver.

Story by Andrea Egan and UNDP GEF-SGP team

Story Information:

Country: Fiji

Topic: Oceans

Photo or video credit: Andrea Egan, Biu Kacimaiwai, and Uto Ni Yalo Trust

Text Credit: Setareki Ledua

Date : 29 June 2023

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