Ulacake teaches youths canoe craft

Resident boat builder Samuela Ulacake preparing to sail. Picture: SUPPLIED

“You do not choose the canoe, the canoe chooses you” – this is the motto Samuela Ulacake lives by.

Originally from Nasaqa Village in Macuata with maternal links to Taveuni, the 30-year-old started building traditional canoes since 2018. But he doesn’t build them for himself – he teaches young people in maritime villages to build their own.

Ulacake is a residential boatbuilder with the Uto Ni Yalo Trust, a non-profitable organisation promoting sustainable sea transport, cleaner oceans and environment stewardship in Fiji.

In 2019, the trust introduced an initiative called the Canoe Project where its members were tasked to take the traditional knowledge of sailing and building canoes across the country.

It was designed to bring back the forgotten knowledge of sailing and canoe building given to Fijians by the country’s ancestors.

“Sailing and canoe building has always been an important part of Fiji’s history but had been forgotten by many Fijians due to westernisation. “The project focused on bringing back that rich traditional knowledge.”

Before joining the trust, Ulacake was a sports photographer and graphic designer with different media firms in Fiji.

It wasn’t until 2015, when he was hired as a consultant by the trust to document the effects of climate change, that he saw the true impact of ocean trash in coastal villages.

It was during this time he watched various canoe building training sessions with the trust and Drua Marketing, one of the trust’s major partners, and then learnt how to build them.

“Three years later after volunteering in different projects they implemented, I was finally offered a position at the trust.”

Ulacake said he wasted no time in joining the Uto Ni Yalo crew. He knew that this was his calling.

The canoes were built at a workshop in Navua using imported materials before they would sail with the Uto Ni Yalo to the islands where the project was conducted to show the villagers how they were made.

Moturiki and Beqa were the first islands introduced to the project. Altogether, a total of 20 villages were visited by the trust where more than 70 canoes were gifted to them.

“Since most of the villagers on these two islands would travel frequently by boat, most of them were 100 per cent reliant on using fossil fuels for engine powered boats.

“At this, we hope to impart to them the impression of being more conscious of the environment they live in.”


Fibreglass boats with engines rely on premix fuel, with even short trips costing money and having an impact on the environment. Boat motors that use fuel pollute by emitting gasses and carbon dioxide.

According to Wilson Hazelman, an environmental student with the University of the South Pacific, engine powered boats spill fuel into the ocean from time to time.

“This reduces level of oxygen over time and this affects coral growth,” he says.

This in turn affects other marine organisms that rely on the coral. Since premix fuel (two-stroke) is cheaper, this is what most villagers use for their engines.

“It is however less efficient thus has regular spill into the ocean and the emission it produces it harmful to the environment.”

The Canoe Project is hailed as an important step in making Fijians think about different ways they can reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, a main cause of climate change.

Back on the island

Meanwhile at Nasesara Village on Moturiki, villager Penijameni Masara said seeing the youths of the village take part in the Canoe Project left tears in the eyes of their village elders.

“It was emotional for them to see their grandchildren learning how to sail and build canoes,” he shared.

This also showed the youths how important it was to protect the environment and their traditions.

“To see people come from afar and teach us this just showed them how important it was.

“The land and ocean is our vanua and our heritage, it is our responsibility to safeguard it.”

Masara said it was a blessing to have the project introduced to their village.


Funding has been one of the trust’s major challenges but through the support of different partners, they wereable to conduct projects like these.

Over the years, the trust has partnered with the European Union, Leleuvia Island Resort, Drua Marketing, Pacifi c Conference of Churches and the University of the South Pacific when conducting projects.

Stories to tell

Ulacake described his journey with the Uto Ni Yalo Trust as a very fulfilling one with many adventures and stories to tell.

He also shared with The Fiji Times team that he was ready and excited to take on whatever new projects assigned to them by the trust in promoting better lifestyles Fijians can live by.

“This project has shown us we can continue to live a much better life by doing things the right way – the natural way.”

  •  The Fiji Times would like to thank ABC International Development and the Australia Pacific Climate Partnership for their support for this story.

More Stories