From 5 – 9 June, the United Nations Ocean Conference is underway at the UN Headquarters in New York, bringing the world together to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water. In commemoration of this event we bring you this special celebrating Women Ocean Leaders of Samoa.
Fealofani Bruun is captain of Gaualofa, a Samoan traditional double-hull canoe which is looked after by the Aiga Folau o Samoa - Samoa Voyaging Society (SVS). The Society was established in 2009 when the people of Samoa received Gaualofa from Okeanos Foundation for the Sea, which remains a significant partner of SVS.
Gaualofa is a 22 metre long double-hulled voyaging canoe built in the traditional shape but out of modern materials. SVS’s main goals are to promote the revival of Samoan cultural traditions related to ocean sailing and navigation and the wise stewardship of the Pacific, encouraging conservation, protection, awareness, and preservation of the Pacific Ocean and island environments.
This is her story.
“I train crew and look after Samoa’s traditional voyaging canoe, Gaualofa. These traditional voyaging canoes have not been seen in Samoa for over 100 years. For us Samoans, a lot of our traditional voyaging knowledge and techniques were stored on the traditional voyaging canoe: the canoe was a knowledge space for recording our star map, our oceanic waterways, and much other knowledge about being Samoan.
So the renaissance of traditional Polynesian voyaging and navigation that started in Hawai‘i in the 1970s was the cue for us to revive the knowledge for the sake of cultural restoration. It was also perfectly timed for the growing awareness of climate, environment change and the need to protect our oceans and waterways better, and more responsibly.
I got my start when I was in the Cook Islands about eight years ago, and I caught sight of their traditional voyaging canoe, Te Au o Tonga, their first in over 100 years as well, that they constructed in the 1990s to be a part of the journey from Tahiti to Hawai‘i. That voyage involved six canoes from New Zealand, Cook Islands, Tahiti and Hawai‘i.
I was hooked! Te Au o Tonga looked beautiful. She captivated me. I knew then that I needed to be involved. I was also very fortunate that both my parents were supportive. There was no turning back after that!
The more I learnt about traditional navigation, the more I wanted to learn. And as I did, I discovered more and more what it meant to be Samoan, what it meant to be Me. As I have embraced my Samoan-ness, I have come to see the beauty of my culture, the beauty of parents, the beauty of my roots and ancestors, and the treasure and importance of preserving this for my children’s children.
Because of our ‘canoe culture’, and the messages of equality and equity embedded into the canoe, we in the Pacific are more open to female leaders and female leadership than other countries. There are several female navigators and captains in the entire Pacific fleet: the very first Samoan captain - navigators (in the renaissance) are both female; the very first Tongan captain - navigator is a female. This equality is a cultural imperative, and it is embedded in our canoe culture.
I would like young girls and women to join us or other voyaging societies and their canoes to learn about voyaging and the ocean and then to bring this message back to the communities. I think we women are best suited for this. We have an innate care, protective quality and nurturing quality about us, and at this time, I believe the ocean, the earth, needs us to be that for her, right now. The ocean needs us women to stand for up her, to speak up for her, to cause our men and other women to take better care of our ocean, to look after the ocean better.”
The Gaualofa crew is working closely with the government to implement grassroots programs in Samoa. It has just completed a voyage around Samoa to raise awareness about coastal and marine protection and traditional voyaging. In this they were joined by two ministries, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries. – Women Ocean Leaders at the UN Ocean Conference/SPREP To read about more Pacific Woman Ocean Leaders, go to bit.ly/2qaceHB online.