Monday, April 03, 2006
Logging in Fiji
This is an extract from something I am writing. The character, Ofa-Atu is an elderly Fijian woman, an expert in traditional medicine. I have placed her in Taveuni. She writes songs. An academic discussion on a similar topic can be found here.
Ofa-Atu remembered the time she wrote the song. Four foreign men had come with measuring sticks and paper titles and set up their camp on her clan land. They used chainsaws on the dakua, damanu, and kauvula trees that had been there since their ancestor god Degei and his grandsons settled the islands of Fiji. The new road cut away the medicine trees, the koka, dabe, dawa; to cut away the untidiness, they said. They slaughtered the forest, just as an animal was dismembered, until the bush and the satin-black silktail birds that nested on the ground and the little white-eyes in the upper canopy were silenced. Alas, the chiefs had consented because they were promised fine houses and new boats. But they were given weak, crooked, first-cut timber to build shacks and the boats drank up petrol week after week.
When heavy rains fell, the land started to slip. The riverbank sludge moved along the corrugations as the casuarinas wept. The good topsoil fell in and settled until mud oozed along the shore, the sea bilious with dead creatures. From the logging upstream, mud bled into the lagoon.
Twenty-two young Fijians and two Europeans came to protest and Ofa-Atu joined them, camping beside the largest tree as a group of white-eyes hovered overhead. They lost that battle. Others did not complain about it or heed the future, because they had joined a new church where their pastor foretold that the world would soon end and the saved would ascend directly into Heaven. They let the tangled plastic, the leftover pipes, can-rings, dead stumps be. When tourists came to this place they did not say, 'How intricately organized is the culture,' but 'How dirty the beach is!'
Ofa-Atu knew that the beautiful bay of her clan was formed by a mystical turtle stretching her long neck as she nibbled and sucked at the land. However Ro Vonu, the sacred turtle, no longer came to lay her eggs in the sand.