Maritime Gallery Pt 2
Maritime Gallery Part Two
1643. Europe first learned of Fiji’s existence in 1643, when the Dutch East Indies yacht Heemskercq commanded by Abel Tasman, and the flute Zeehaen blundered across the north-eastern reefs and islands. Plagued by storm, Tasman could not land, his ships miraculously escaping wreck on the Nanuku Reef [or Heemskercq Shoals] before winning clear. Tasman’s risky encounter with the Fiji reef mazes scared off other mariners, and more than 130 years passed before European vessels again braved the perilous waters of what he called the Prins Wyllems Islands.
The second European navigator to venture into Fiji water was Captain James Cook. Cook seemed reluctant to risk Resolution, and Adventure here, perhaps after hearing about Fiji’s notorious reputation from the Tongans. Voyaging from Tonga to the New Hebrides [Vanuatu], he sighted Vatoa [Turtle Island]. Fijians seen on the shore fled when a boat from a ship landed, Cook sailed off to the south-west and saw no further Fijian Islands. A lasting legacy of Cook has been the name Feegee or Fiji, based on the Tongan pronunciation of Fiji, “Viti”.
In April 1789, the crew of the H.M. armed transport Bounty mutinied off Tofua in the Tongan Islands. Lieutenant Bligh was the first European to appreciate the extent and complexity of the Fiji Islands. In 1797 the London Missionary Society ship Duff, sailing from Tonga to China, entered Fiji waters and was nearly wrecked on a reef, Captain Wilson noted the positions of various islands in the Northern Lau and sighted Taveuni and parts of Vanua Levu.
The development of Australia as a colony, led to an increase in shipping in the southwest Pacific and some merchant ships inevitably strayed to Fiji. In 1794 the ships Arthur approached from the west and escaped after beating off a canoe with gunfire. Fiji’s last western visitor in the eighteenth century was the American merchant ship Ann and Hope from which Beqa, Vatulele, south west Viti Levu and the Mamanuca’s were sighted in 1799.
1800-1860. Many foreign sailors were wrecked, marooned or deserted from ships in Fiji in the early 1800’s. Some settled among the Fijian attaching themselves to chiefly households as mercenaries, carpenters and gunsmiths, and acting as intermediaries between chiefs and trading ships.
The crews of merchantmen plying the Pacific were usually racially mixed, and this reflected in beachcomber ranks. Among those stranded in Fiji were, apart from Americans and Europeans, Bengali Lascars, Chinese, African-Americans, Native Americans, Manila-men and various Polynesians, especially Tahitians, Hawaiians and Māoris. Some were skilled wood carvers and left their distinctive decoration on Fijian clubs.
We then moved over to the other side of the gallery and learned about the various types of fishing. The men in boats, the ladies from the shore.
Different styles of fishing boat.
Hulls were planked by a Samoan method, apparently introduced to Fiji by Tongan sponsored Samoan specialist – the Lemaki. The outside of the planks was smooth, but flanges were left upstanding about their inside margins. Converging holes were gouged through the flanges of the opposed planks, so that they met within the wood, cord being passed through these to lash the planks tightly together. Before being lashed, strips of barkcloth smeared with heated breadfruit gum were sandwiched between the planks to seal the joints.
Mass netting using a scareline or yavirau, several hundred metres long to encircle the fish. This method is carried out in various parts of Fiji. The fish are trapped within the constricting circle of the scareline.
Stingray skin rasp. Lawa ni Vonu or coir sinnet turtle net with stone sinkers and vau [hibiscus] floats. Turtles are also taken by spearing. Coconut fibre cordage used for fishing lines and canoe lashings.
Fishing nets made of two ply twine of yaka vine and baskets.
Duva or fish poison. The roots of the duva or derris are pounded then placed in the water to stun the fish, one of many poisons used in Fiji before they became illegal.
Lawa sua or mangrove crab trap, which is hung from a branch and baited with kuka [crab meat]. Waggling of the reed shows a crab is in the trap.
Perhaps the most jaw-dropping display was the final one before the door to the shop and beyond into the next gallery. The rudder of HMS Bounty.
In April 1789, the crew of Her Majesty’s armed transport Bounty mutinied off Tofua in the Tongan Islands. Lieutenant Bligh and eighteen loyal men were cast adrift in an open boat just twenty three feet long. Unable to sail to Tahiti, which would put them against the South East Trade winds, Bligh decided to head to Timor in the former Dutch East Indies [now Indonesia], three thousand six hundred miles away. This decision had a profound impact on Fiji’s history, the islands that lay unavoidably across Bligh’s path.
Bligh was the first European [apart from Abel Tasman who first sighted the northern tip of Vanaulevu] to appreciate the extent and complexity of the Fijian archipelago. Sailing through the heart of the group from south east to north west, and charting the positions of the islands with remarkable accuracy.
The Bounty rudder was raised from the Bounty Bay of Pitcairn Island in 1932. Going back to 1789, after the mutiny, the ship sailed for Tahiti where some of the mutineers stayed, only to end up being tracked by the British Navy. The rest sailed on with the ship to remote Pitcairn, where they stripped and burnt her.
In 1932, the rudder [all that remained of the Bounty] was stored in Pitcairn’s post office awaiting shipment out to Fiji, in its waiting period many souvenir seekers stripped bits of this famous rudder, leaving only this part that you see in front of you. Despite terrible reflections on the glass we hope the picture below gives a feel of the effort the museum has gone to to show off this famous exhibit, a really good wall painting behind the excellent display case.
ALL IN ALL FASCINATING