Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
photo credit: Simon Cross
The canoe is a talismanic part of the identity of not just Fijians but of people from across Oceania – water not only separates the islands and their peoples, it connects them too.
The development of the canoe allowed people and goods to move across the sea – some carried dozens of people, with an outrigger and a triangular sail they could move relatively easily across large bodies of water.
It remains common to hear someone say of their island home ‘it is two days away by sailboat,’ before adding something like, ‘but just two hours by plane.’
Images of the sailing canoe, known in Fijian as a ‘Drua’ can be found all over the place, such is its place in cementing the identity of what it is to be an island people.
Today the canoe has largely been replaced by fibreglass boats for subsistence fishermen, but still to get to some of the more inaccessible villages you may find yourself taking a dugout, or else swimming, across a river.
“My village is a long way from the roads,” an Itaukei (indigenous Fijian) woman explained. “To get there you have to go by horse, or by boat.”
The infrastructure that provides high speed broadband and air-conditioning to expensive hotels, office blocks and houses in parts of the Fijian archipelago seems a long way off reaching the quieter ends of the islands.
The constant reference back to the canoe, though, points to something important about the Fijian way of thinking: newer and faster is not necessarily better.
Efforts are underway to include indigenous knowledge in the development of Fiji, utilising age-old technologies to combat the effects of climate change, for example.
Wisdom doesn’t always come in looking forward – we should look back too. “…ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies…”
When wisdom is covered in cobwebs, let us not be distracted by that which dazzles. When goodness is cloaked in quiet, let us not listen to the boastful babbling. When love is hidden in the hedgerows, let us not run down the road. Instead: May our minds attend and our hearts turn to the lure of God. Amen.
Dr Simon Cross is a 3rd year student at Westminster College training for the Ministry of Word and Sacraments. He is a member of Grimsby URC in North East Lincolnshire.