In the entire history of our planet, there is only one culture that defies the logic of their expansion and development. That is the culture of Polynesia, and it defies logic for one very simple reason. At a time when man was supposed to possess only the crudest of vessels with which to ply the world’s oceans, the Polynesians populated and established vital trade in an area equal to one fifth of the earth’s surface and they did it without a compass or charts and by sailing against the wind.
Until the mid-19th century, European vessels were limited to being pushed around by the winds. The sailing technology and technique relied on the wind’s natural direction to drive the lumbering boats from place to place. The Polynesians, on the other hand had developed an incredibly simple and efficient method of using the resources at hand and harnessing the wind to sail their boats with speed and accuracy over the entire Pacific.
The technology the Polynesians developed is epitomized by an efficient sailing craft known by various names throughout the Pacific such as Proa of Micronesia, Drua of Fiji, Alia of Samoa, and for the Tongan people, the great “Kalia”. These vessels are different as they “shunt” rather than “tack”. Shunting is a form of tacking where the vessel moves its’ rig from one end of the vessel to the other merely changing ends and zig zags its’ way against the wind and waves. So, in other words, each end is a bow and each end is also a stern. These vessels have a long hull and a shorter hull. The shorter hull is known as a “Hama” or an “Ama”. The “ama” is always to windward. Far from being just another sailboat, the Kalia instills the very essence of a culture reliant on the sea. The Kalia leans its’ sail into the wind and uses the wind to lift the craft making it move quickly and efficiently. Every part of the Kalia has special significance. The very act of sailing the Kalia is a part of the Tongan heritage. The Kalia was a vital part of the cultivation of Tonga’s cultural heritage and many of Tonga’s performing arts, craftsmanship and the stratification of the Tongan society all find their origins in the Kalia. Several noble and chiefly titles were derived from the Kalia, and many of the titles are directly associated with specific responsibilities on board. In short, the Kalia is a physical representation of the Polynesian culture. More precisely, we believe that the Tongan people, with their great Kalias and navigational skills, were responsible for the great migration of the Polynesian people.
The doubled-hulled (outrigger) voyaging canoe is the hallmark of the maritime history of the Tongan people. The fastest and largest of all of the Pacific canoes of its class, the Kalia was a highly regarded and a much admired vessel. The superior navigational skills and daring seamanship of the Tongans were unmatched in the South Pacific, and led to the foundation of the Tongan Empire, which at its peak extended to an area covering most of its neighboring island countries and beyond.
The Kalia is the culmination of hundreds of years of evolution in canoe design and construction. At its’ peak in the 19th century the Kalia enjoyed the reputation of being the fastest and most reliable of all of ocean going canoes in the South Pacific. Today the Kalia is widely recognized as ‘the Jewel in the Crown’ of all of the Polynesian voyaging canoes.
The use of the Kalia came to an end when the Europeans introduced engine driven vessels. The age of the Kalia was over, but it left behind a legacy of a supreme vessel that has dominated South Seas maritime history.
In 1997 His Majesty King Taufa’ ahau Tupou IV initiated a project to build a replica of the Kalia. This Kalia was called “The Millennium Kalia”. The Millenium Kalia is the King’s Kalia, a 109 foot long, beautifully built example of the ancient art of shunting vessels such as the Proa, Drua, Alia and Kalia. The aim of the project was to make the Kingdom of Tonga “known” to the world as a cultural nation, to revive Tonga’s national historical seafaring heritage as well as being able to utilize this fact so that Tonga could have a stronger touristic presence.
With the Millennium Kalia as the centerpiece of its’ organization, the Kalia Foundation will strive to preserve and expand the art and technology of this type of shunting vessel. By taking modern high technologies and combining the ancient craft and art of this shunting craft, the Kalia Foundation can show the world and the Polynesians that the Kalia is the sailing craft not just of history but of the future.