Date: Sunday 28th May
Time: 1550 hours Tahiti Time (GMT – 10 hours)
Position: Avana Harbour, Rarotonga
Bula Viti kei Rotuma
Friday night was a busy night on the Uto ni Yalo with crew members from the other four canoes visiting us for kava and a sing-a-long session with the Tahitians and Fijians providing the music.
We were lucky to have Faafaite crew member, Punua (hope the spelling is correct) who is from the Tuamotu Islands in French Polynesia, on board to entertain us.
Punua has sailed on the Hokulea and is amazing on the guitar and ukulele. He has a huge repertoire of Tahitian and Cook Island songs.
The Customs and Bio Security Department were on board our canoe at 10.30am to clear us into the Cook Islands. They bought a beautiful banana cake along for each canoe that we demolished in no time at all.
By 11am we were setting sail for Avana harbour, 7 nautical miles to the East from the Edgewater Resort where we had anchored for the night.
The wind was light so it took us over 4 hours to sail to get to the narrow passage into Avana. We motor sailed into Avana Harbour through a 4 to 5 knot outgoing current.
On the shore we could see several Fiji flags waving vigorously in our direction. It was good to see there were Fijians ready to welcome us.
As we neared the shore to anchor behind Faafaite and Marumaru Atua, we could hear the drum beats pick up a couple of notches. We could see several tents set up close to a boat ramp with a big crowd gathered.
The Avana Land Owners representative stood on the shoreline to welcome us ashore using a public address system so he could be heard over the drums.
We quickly prepared to land with everyone dressing up in Traditional wear. Somehow I managed to get out of wearing a Traditional Costume as I concentrated to getting the boat moored safely so we could go ashore knowing the Uto ni Yalo was safe.
Once ashore, the Traditional Land Owners of Avana welcomed us. Further up the ramp we could see a group of over twenty Fijians sitting on the ground awaiting us.
Two long tents were set up on both sides of the ramp with dignitaries seated in the tent on our right and the crews of Faafaite and Marumaru Atua seated in the tent on our left.
The priest motioned us to proceed up the ramp towards the waiting Fijians and where we assembled on the ground a few metres from them.
On the programme, the local Fijian Community were given only ten minutes to welcome us so Kimi Narovu from Ra kneeled before to present us with a Tabua.
Ratu Manoa received the Tabua on our behalf then handed over to our mata ni vanua, Tukuna to acknowledge the presentation of the Tabua.
The whole time the ceremony was going on, I was worried about one thing. Would the presentation of a whales tooth be taken the wrong way by our fellow voyagers and our main sponsor, The Okeanos Foundation whose main goal is saving whales.
Whaling ceased in Fiji many years ago and today the much sort after Tabua is only collected from dead whales that happen to die or get trapped on the shoreline, an occasion that is very rare in Fiji.
Having said that, in the last twelve months, there have been reports of several dead sperm whales being found in Vanua Levu and stories about whales being saved by villagers after they got trapped inside the lagoon.
Once Tukana had completed his speech, we stood and embraced the Fijian group and then moved to be seated in the tent. I only realised how thirsty I was when a coconut (bu) was thrust into my hands.
On either side of the ramp, a small fire burned with ganibulu (coconut shells) as fuel. Everyone’s eyes burned with tears from the smoke. In a speech later, it was explained to us that the smoke was supposed to cleanse us and warm us after a long voyage.
We waited in the tent for the final two canoes, Hine Moana and Te Matau a Maui to arrive. The local Maori, Tongan, Vanuatu and Samoan community waited on the shore to welcome the final crews ashore.
The President of the Cook Island Fijian Community, Lavenia Rokoika introduced herself to me and briefed me on what their committee had planned for us.
As we had heard in Tahiti, they had been fundraising for our visit and had organised the St Joseph Parish hall in Avarua for the crew to stay in.
We were to be taken there by bus soon after the welcome ceremony to complete the Sevusevu Ceremony that was started on the ramp earlier.
The highlight of the afternoon was a powerful and uplifting speech by Sir Geoffrey Henry. He paid tribute to his former political rival, the late Sir Tom Davis (Papa Tom), designer of the Te au o Tonga. The Uto ni Yalo is a replica of the Te au o Tonga.
He talked about the ways of our ancestors and the thousands of years of knowledge that they had passed on from generation to generation.
He reminded us that when we went to sea, we would return as different people.
With our spirits lifted with Sir Geoffrey’s speech, we were about to have our bellies filled with wonderful island food, something we looked forward to at each welcoming ceremony.
The local priest blessed the food and we were digging into the food.
While we ate a meeting of the heads of each canoe decided that it was too late to move the canoes to Avatiu Harbour and that we would leave the canoes at Avana Harbour for the night.
We headed to the St Joseph hall to meet the Fijian Community. After the crew had assembled outside the hall, we entered together with Titaua our Raivavae friend joining us from the Faafaite.
Following the sevusevu and presentation of sulu’s from the Cook Islands Fijian Association, Ratu Manoa spoke about our voyage and introduced Johnathan and I. Each crew member introduced themselves with Titaua last to speak.
With his French accent and broken English, he said “My name is Titaua, I from Raivavae, my Fijian name Tevita”. Everyone cheered and applauded Tevita.
Next the Cook Island Fijians introduced themselves and then we intermingled and exchanged stories. There was a surprisingly large number of Lauan’s in the hall both from the crew and living in Rarotonga.
All of them were giving the Kai Rewa, Ratu Manoa a hard time and he was in fine form with his witty replies.
Soon it was time to eat and a large pot of Chicken Curry had been prepared for us. Vilisoni, Steven, Carson and I ate first so we could return to Avana to look after our mother, ‘Uto ni Yalo’.
The four of us headed to Avana at 10.30pm with Lavenia giving us a ride.
Colin/Uto ni Yalo
Report by Satellite Phone courtesy of DIGICEL