It is easy to pronounce M-a-l-i. In the western side of Viti Levu their dialogue 'mali' means to laugh or to smile. A visitor from an African country I met in the State League athletics in Melbourne wore a badge 'Mali' and she said to me they are from the big Mali in Africa. I had not known there was another Mali!
Mali Island is well known in some of the Fiji folk songs "Rau tivari rau tivari cina livaliva o Vesi O Mali". It means electricity had been used there, although it hadn't! It is a song of the 1950s. Mali Island is close to the Port of Malau where the sugar boats come and go. Half of the Mali population these days live outside Mali in order to get wages, such as in the timber mill at Malau, in Labasa, Suva, Lautoka and even Australia.
Mali has three main villages Vesi, Nakawaqa and Ligaulevu which is in the centre with Primary School up to class 8 and the Resident Methodist minister. My mother comes from Vesi and we are related to the chiefly family. People live a subsistence economy and the women are known of their good crafts and mat making. In village life young men are trained to be fisherman by their elders catching turtles and big fish for traditional uses. The reefs and sandbars nearby are rich in food resources.
My most recent visit to Mali was to attend the funeral of Penioni Taluva who was in his mid sixties, a traditional elder fisherman in Mali and Kia Island. He had a stroke for six months because of deep sea diving without proper equipment. After the funeral they took me to see the latest development in Vorovoro Island just off the west side of Mali. Two grass and bamboo huts had been built for backpackers or day picnics for the people of the Labasa area. That day the people had just caught hundreds of daniva, a type of sardines, with nets, so we ate that for lunch and also for tea.
Vorovoro means broken into pieces. Our tradition tells us that it refers to when the Kaunitoni canoe of our ancestor, Lutunasobasoba and his tribe came here, the shell tied in front of the canoe was broken. The captain stayed on in Mali and his descendants live there today.
Vorovoro Island is on the tourist map because for many years backpackers have found their way to Vorovoro beach to camp, with the generosity of the landowner, the Tui Mali, the chief. Now there is a new possibility of large-scale development as the Native Land Trust Board have a tourism section and have promoted Vorovoro for any interested investors.