Tokelau’s Minister of Energy Foua Toloa once travelled on a canoe from Tonga to Fiji in 1983 just to prove that it could be done in the modern era.
Toloa, who is a hulking specimen of a person, said it was during this voyage, which lasted eight days and covered over 8000 kilometres, that he started to learn to use the stars to guide them through the journey on a three-metre long canoe named Kiri 2.
The two-member crew, which included a gentleman by the name of Bob Gillet, eventually reached Fiji but then it did not come without surprises.
While sailing in between the two island nations, Toloa’s wife apparently gave birth to a baby boy in Samoa.
So to mark the significance of the occasion, the young father named the boy Toji, after the first and last two letters in the Tonga and Fiji names.
“What was I thinking,” quipped Toloa jokingly, as he reminisced about the trip, although there isn’t any doubt he would do it all again.
I met up with this gentleman as he mingled with other participants during the Sustainable Sea Transport in the Pacific talanoa in Suva.
Toloa, who also played rugby for the Manu Samoa national team in the early days, recalls an incident during a match with Fiji during the South Pacific Games in Suva in 1979. He required 16 stitches to his head after colliding with someone’s fists in an era of extremely physical encounters between the two nations that bordered on inter-island warfare.
“All I can recall is a Fijian player, I think he was a lock forward, falling on me and after that I blacked out,” he said.
The former University of the South Pacific scholar later became a part of efforts to showcase a certain outrigger canoe design.
“That canoe came from the fisheries department and was a regional project between the UNDP (United Nations Development Program) and FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation).
“They built the canoe after going through many different designs across the Pacific. That canoe design is what they came up with.”
The 59-year-old believes there is a place for traditional styled ocean-going canoes in modern Pacific societies.
“That’s the way to go. I mean it was there, it was working and it was very efficient,” said Toloa, who is also Minister for Transport and Telecommunications.
“It will require a lot of hard work but it will make you healthier and more muscular.”
Toloa has been working hard to ensure his country maintains sustainability in terms of generation of energy.
“Technology now has actually improved so much but it doesn’t mean throwing away the knowledge that our ancestors perfected.”
The energy minister said he was privileged to be able to carry on the long-held skills of using the stars to navigating ocean-going vessels having gained some knowledge of this as a child growing up in the islands surrounded by older men who were keen to pass on this valuable skill to younger generations.
“I know the South, East, North and West. I think that’s all you need to know,” said the native of Fakaofa Village.
Tokelau was recently named winner of the 2014 EECA Renewable Energy Award for its switch from diesel-generated electricity to clean, renewable solar energy.
Up until last year, Tokelau’s three atolls relied on diesel generation for their electricity supply which was both costly and polluting the environment,
The Tokelau Renewable Energy Project which was established in 2010 and completed last year involved the installation of three big photovoltaic (solar) arrays on each of the three atolls.
This is in effect supplying 90 per cent of Tokelau’s electricity requirements — making it one of the world’s top nations in renewably-sourced electricity — and the first to run almost exclusively on solar-generated power.
The islanders’ electricity supply was normally disrupted by bad weather when fuel shipments failed to arrive at the islands.
The project is saving NZ$900,000 in diesel costs every year and has cut annual CO2 emissions by more than 1,300 tonnes.
Toloa said if a tiny island nation like Tokelau could achieve this, there isn’t any reason why larger more industrialised countries cannot follow suit.
“We are trying to send a message to the world that if we, one of the smallest countries in the world, can be sustainable, then why are other larger nations not doing anything about lowering their carbon emmissions and abiding by the requirement set forward by the Kyoto Protocol.”
“Whatever small contribution we can make will surely make a difference. Without a cent you cannot make a dollar.”
Suva (Fiji Times)