Friday, February 10, 2006

Once was our land in Labasa

From Peceli

On a trip to Labasa my son Andrew accompanied me and I showed him where I lived as a child. We had a house in the place where St Mary's hostel of the Anglican church was built. My father gave away our land in Labasa because he liked the two Anglican missionaries who were teachers. We walked past the Sikh temple and I said 'Today this land was once my father's land but now we have Vatuadova.'

The face of Naseakula changed because of the development of the township of Labasa over sixty years. The reclaimed mangrove areas close to our old houses in Valeniveilewai, Naseakula made it accessible for building new houses but caused an almost total loss of our indigenous food resources of fish, prawns, and crabs. The best breeding ground for mud crabs, small crabs such as kuka, and prawns was reclaimed as hundreds of truckloads of soil was poured in the swampy mangrove area. This is the area now of the Labasa market and fire station. Subrail Park was also reclaimed land. Many Fijians had to move away to let the development go ahead.

I talked to my son about the consequences of land alienation that affected the life of the Fijian landowners. The loss of good lands for planting yams and vegetable crops. Foreign foods such as rice, bread, tea and Indian curry which cost money, now changed the diet of the people.

We lost the use of medicine made from plants and trees. Many types of trees with medicinal value once grew close to the Labasa river. The pandanus for mat-making once grew wild in the delta close to Naodamu and Fijian women harvested the leaves but this area was leased out to farmers and was converted into cane fields. The masi trees for making bark-cloth out of its inner white bark gradually disappeared. Trees and reeds for building bures were close and handy until the clearing of the land and the forest for sugar development so now people usually build houses from cement brick.

So our people lost access to the river for fishing, our diets changed, we lost planting land and also the sacred sites were invaded by strangers. I told all these things to my so Andrew as we walked around Labasa during that holiday.

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