Waqa Tabu-sacred ships: the Fijian drua

Peter Nuttall, Paul D'Arcy, Colin Philip

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    The Fijian drua (also called kalia in Tonga and 'alia in Samoa) are arguably the apex of Pacific naval architectural design and performance, built without metals, some over 100' long, carrying complements of more than 200, capable of speeds of around fifteen knots and of sailing within four points of the wind. There is currently no single literature source for drua and the discourse on central Oceania's sailing heritage has been overshadowed in recent decades by intensive research into eastern Polynesia vessels and voyaging. Amongst the scattered literature there is disagreement between authors as to the historical and pre-historical extent, ability and source of Fijian sailing culture. We collate and assess the known literature for drua, drawing out areas of commonalty and discord to place this within the context of culture, with canoe as focal point. We examine the unique role of the vesi loa (Intsia bijuga) growing on the limestone islands of the southern Lau Group, a boat-building material described as the titanium of the Pacific, as a magnet for master craftsman from Samoa, Tonga and Fiji and the resultant cross-cultural exchange that produced a craft that was arguably the finest performance hulled ship of her day. No great drua has been built in over a century. We conclude that the nature of the drua culture described requires a more generous assessment of Fijian voyaging ability and history than currently exists in the literature. Regardless of its design origin, the drua in its finished form was the product of a unique and indigenous cross-cultural collaboration that includes at least the societies of central and northern Oceania.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)427-450
    JournalInternational journal of maritime history
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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