Friday, 20 July 2012


by Maria Rova 2012
Medium: Dyes and resist on silk
Size: 76 x 50 cm 

This painting was newly created as a tribute to the seven Pacific Voyager vaka or double hulled sailing canoes, which have just completed an epic journey across the Pacific Ocean.  Spearheaded by Okeanos – Foundation for the Sea, the vaka project has seen indigenous people from island nations across the Pacific collaborate to revive traditional navigation methods, while spawning new interest in the preservation of cultural practices and respect for our ocean environment.   Using the power of wind and sun to sail through the Pacific archipelagos and across to North America and back, our vaka sailing crews have become local heroes – bringing marine conservation, and pride in indigenous traditions, into the headlines of our mainstream media, and into the conversations of Pacific islanders across all generational and cultural divides...

As part of the celebrations marking the safe return of the seven vaka to Fiji in June 2012, a number of local artists participated in “Oceans Alive”, an exhibition of fine art held at the Fiji Museum in Suva.  “Tribute” was created especially for this event.  The initial ideas that I had for the painting led me on my own interesting voyage of discovery:  researching about the traditional navigation methods that enabled settlement and trade throughout the far flung islands of the Pacific – involving remarkable feats of endurance, skill, and a close, knowledgeable  affinity to the natural world.

“Tribute” features the key methods used by our voyaging ancestors – and by the vaka crews of today:  Charting the stars, observing the positions of sun and moon, noting the direction of prevailing winds, currents, and swells...  Watching for significant cloud formations, reading clues in the presence of plant debris floating by, observing the migration patterns of ocean wildlife, while drawing on the vast knowledge and guidance of sea-faring elders; these skills coupled with the self-reliance and survival skills still found in many of Fiji’s outer islands were the forerunners of modern day GPS...

The mesh of knotted sticks in the corner of “Tribute” represents a traditional Polynesian stick chart, used by sailors to show the direction of currents, wind, and waves.  Small shells fastened to the sticks represented the position of islands.

When a flock of Greater Frigate birds circled high over our home not long ago, their stark black, prehistoric-looking forms silhouetted against fast-moving clouds, my studio team exclaimed excitedly that there was bad weather on its way – the kasaqa would not be flying inland like this otherwise.  I was intrigued by this local form of weather forecasting (it proved true – this was the week of the huge floods we had here in Nadi last March!) – and delighted to discover when working on this painting that frigate birds were also important to ancient Pacific navigators:  remarkably, this species does not have the natural oil found in the feathers of most seabirds, meaning that they cannot land on water to rest mid-flight.  They therefore never venture more than about 50 kilometres away from land, in order to be able to return to solid ground before exhaustion sets in!  For this reason, traditional Pacific sailors used the sighting of frigate birds to guide them to land not yet visible beyond the horizon... I will definitely be painting more of these unusual birds in future compositions!

Last but not least, this painting includes the forms of seven vaka, their twin, triangular sails filled with wind.  Six of the canoes, each representing a specific island nation, have rust-coloured sails, while the sails of the seventh vessel, with its international, pan-Pacific crew, are white.  With the forces of nature portrayed with dynamic movement of shape and line, I have tried to reflect both the vulnerability of the vaka, and their sense of purpose as the spread their message of ocean conservation to the rest of the world.

For more information about the Pacific Voyagers project, visit

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