Drua, Kalia, Alia
The drua of Fiji (Tonga–kalia, Samoa-`alia) is generally acknowledged as the finest sailing vessel ever built in Oceania, a technologically superior design that resulted as a cross cultural collaboration between Viti, Tonga, Samoa and Micronesia with linkages extending to New Caledonia, Tokelau, Niue, Rotuma, Futuna and Uvea. It is arguably the greatest technological legacy of these cultures and a central icon and motif of central Oceania.
Alden, (1870) borrowing from Anton (1840), describes drua as “a product of barbarian genius”, “fastest sailing boat in existence” and “capable of sailing nearer the wind than any European vessel”; Dodd, (1972) “the canoes of Tonga were, as far as we know, the largest of any built in Polynesia ... and their [Tongan] seamanship astonishing”; Clunie (1987) “[t]he massive drua or kalia made last century in Fiji is justly celebrated as the most remarkable voyaging canoe ever to ply the Pacific”; Hornell (1975) “[t]he Fijian double canoe (wangga ndrua) was the largest and finest sea-going vessel ever designed and built by the natives of Oceania before contact with Europeans”; Lewis (1980) described both drua and camakau vessels as “the pinnacle of Oceanic canoe technology”; Finney in Howe (2006) “[t]he kalia has been lavishly praised as a stunningly fast shunting hybrid made by joining the double ended hull form and pivoting Oceanic lateen sail rig of Micronesian flying proas to a pair of new hulls (though one was reduced in size to serve as a super outrigger float)”.
Drua achieved great size (up to 118 feet) and had a cruising speed in excess of 10 knots. Thomson (1908, 292) gives the speed of the ndrua as “from 10 to 15 knots with the wind on the quarter”; Hornell (1975, 327) “These canoes [drua] with a wind on the quarter could attain under favourable conditions a speed of about 12 miles an hour”; West (1865) describes undertaking a 38 NM trip on a drua in 3 hours and also notes that “they are highly adapted for sailing close upon a wind.... ...within even three points of the wind”. Other commentators contend that while capable of achieving such windward performance they didn't in practice. “Although it could lie remarkably close to the wind – within about three points of the wind as opposed to about six points for the English square-rigger of the day – the kalia through its shallow draft was driven down wind and could not head into heavy sea, which forced the hulls asunder. An expert crew could beat home to Tonga under even quite fresh conditions, but some idea of the difficulty can be gained from the 77 tacks Tu`ihalafatai is recorded as making on his last voyage from Fiji in the teeth of the Southeast Trades” (Clunie, 1987, 15). They certainly displayed greater windward ability than any other double hull Oceanic canoe, in particular the tongiaki they displaced in Tonga. Vesi loa, a toredo worm resistant iron wood and one of the finest ship building timbers, comes from the limestone belt of islands in the southern Lau group, and is considered superior to all other available materials for basal hull construction.
Drua had large load carrying ability. Williams (1848, 76), “[a] canoe in good condition makes very little water, and such as have just been described would safely convey 100 persons and several tons of goods over 1,000 miles of ocean”. Lawry (1850, 144) records on October 10, 1847, that “the fleet of Thakombau sailed out this morning with not less than 200 warriors on board each canoe”. Coppinger (1883, 163) describes a drua which he saw in Bau in 1880, as 72 feet long, with a depth of hold about 5 feet; it was intended to carry 250 men and “he entertained no doubt about the correctness of this number”. In a double canoe about 100 feet long (Wall, 1916, quoted in Haddon, 1975, 326), “the beam would be 6 to 8 feet” and “... a man could easily walk in the hold without touching the deck. A pig could be roasted whole in the open cooking place and the food and water were easily stowed away for long voyages. On one occasion a canoe carried 12 head of cattle in her holds from Natewa Bay in Vanua Levu to Levuka, a trip of 120 miles, and another carried on deck from Tailevu to Suva a cargo of bagged maize sufficient to load the Alarm ketch of 30 tons and the Xerifa of 20 tons burden”
Fleet sizes could also be large. “Fijian canoe fleets numbering scores and often a hundred or more vessels. An allied fleet which ran down William Lockerby (Imthurn & Wharton, 1925:39) in Wailea Bay in 1808 was composed of some 150 canoes, while a Bauan fleet in the Bau-Rewa wars of the mid century consisted of about 200, ‘counting together the double canoes, those with outriggers and sailing canoes ... when they sailed away, Laucala Bay was absolutely crowded with canoes’ (Tonganivalu, 1912). Another Bauan canoe fleet which took Charlie Savage, Paddy Connell and other beachcombers on a raid in 1809 (Turpin’s Narratives:94) was hardly less impressive, comprising 64 drua or double canoes, 36 large camakau outrigger sailing canoes, 26 tabilai fighting canoes; and 10 small takia sailing canoes; in all 136 canoes transporting some 2,700 men” Clunie (2003,35).
Camakau (the outrigger variation of the drua) are ranked first equal with the Micronesian “flying proa” as the finest outrigger sailing craft ever designed (Hornell 1936, 309). Also built to great scale (at least one 100 foot version is recorded by Wilkes (1845, Vol. 3, 57), “[t]he pace at which these magnificent canoes tear along with the wind on the quarter has evoked the enthusiastic admiration of all who have seen them. Eight and nine knots are ordinary speeds and they have been credited with considerably greater. ...its velocity was almost inconceivable”. There was also a Tongan version – practically identical in most respects to the Fijian design called vaka or hamatafua which were recorded as carrying large numbers on blue-water inter-island passages (Haddon, 1975, 262-3).
There has been intense debate over the years by academics as to whether the drua, kalia. `alia was a Fijian, Tongan or Samoan design. We’ve tried to find all available records of these remarkable ships and review the historical record. See the compendium and review attached below for more information. Any additional information will be gratefully received.
Only a few commentators on drua have been Fijians. In 2011 we were privileged to assist the Fijian Voyaging Society and Oceanic Centre for Art, Culture and Pacific Studies at USP in taking a research team of Fijian experts into the southern Lau to record the oral and cultural record of the Mataisau and Lemaki families still living there. That has resulted in an even greater understanding of these remarkable vessels and their builders. The report of this research is attached below (The Drua Files).
|Compendium of Literature pertaining to drua.pdf||731.26 KB|
|The drua files (compressed).pdf||1.58 MB|