Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Playing golf in Labasa and elsewhere

From Peceli

When I was young the Labasa Golf Club was for the European people such as the staff of the Labasa Sugar Mill and was hilly with a few cows and goats roaming across. It was nearly always very dry, really babasiga kind of land. Some of us boys used to caddy after school. One was Bharat who lived close to the Golf Course made his own stick out of a guava tree root. Five years later I saw his name in one of the Fiji papers and he had won competitions and was now a junior pro.

Nowadays every Tomu, Dike and Ari can play golf as long as you can afford to pay the green fee and get hold of some sticks! I play at the Labasa course sometimes when I am up there with my family at Vatuadova.

Of course we all know about Vijay Singh and his successes! He came from the Nadi area. Fiji golf courses are listed here.

Anyway, I took up golf in Australia when I was a minister at Hopetoun. I had a few coaching lessons that set me on the way and I became very keen, going not only to the local golf course but also to Warracknabeal. I played with men from the parish, the Catholic priest Connor Sullivan, and made many new friends such as Carl Muller, who only died a few months ago aged about 98! I enjoyed the fellowship with the players, at the 19th Hole, the clubhouse.

There were often golf jokes such as this one.

A funeral procession was passing by the road near the 4th tee. A man stood in attentive silence and bowed his head towards the procession.

His golfing companion commented, ‘Your attention is commendable. Did you know the deceased?’

‘Yes. She was a faithful worker and a good companion for more than forty-six years. My wife.’

He picked up his stick, and bashed the next shot.

Wendy never took up golf, said it took five hours to zigzag across paddocks, not much fun. She’d rather read a book. These days I play golf about three or four times a week, at the Barwon Valley Golf Club in Geelong, and win a few $10 vouchers or golf balls.
from Wendy
I actually HAVE played golf, at Huntingdale in Melbourne where the championships are played!!!! But only when I was eighteen. That was enough!

Monday, February 27, 2006

String Band song about Vorovoro

from Wendy

Peceli is always singing around the house, in the car, in the garden. One of his favourite songs is 'Vorovoro, Malau kei Vuo' about the island of the Mali chief, the port and a village near Labasa. It's a song from about the 1940s because the women in the song were the same age as Peceli's mother. It's the kind of song sung around the kava bowl or by the crew on the ships that go around the islands.

Vorovoro Malau kei Vuo

Vorovoro Malau kei Vuo
Vanua oqori eda dau domona lo
Nisa qai lutu mai na Buto
Lelaleka tu na sala kei Vuo.

Cava cava tale me ganita
Na veiqaravi ena vale nei Rusila
I Alumeci meda mai ciba
Kua na kana vei Torika
O Tabeti Tavoi kei Sereima.

Vei boqi niu gadi ki vanua
kuvuraka tu nai boi ni salusalu
Na vono salele e sa lele tu e baravi
Ciri yawa tu na vakanananu.

Kerekere noqu sere mera tini
O Malau nai kelekele ni Mere
Dua mada noqu kerekere
Kovana meu bau lele
O Kavetani e besebese sara ni tasere.

Sometimes links don't work, so testing!

First one Fiji Times

Second one Fijilive

Third one Pacific Islander

Fourth one Promoting Suva

and then US Babasiga

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Koalas in Brisbane Ranges

adapted from ABC Ballarat
Battle to save koalas in the wake of bushfires
1 February 2006
Reporter: Jarrod Watt

In the wake of bushfires in the Grampians and the Brisbane Ranges volunteers work to save koalas suffering severe injuries and trauma. It was just one week after Rolf Schlagloth and his colleagues from the Australian Koala Foundation had finished mapping the koala habitats of Steiglitz, in the western hills of the Brisbane Ranges, that a massive bushfire erupted, taking a week to bring under control.

He is now part of a small but dedicated team of volunteers, combing the burnt out areas looking for koalas trapped by the ferocious fire which burned more than 6,000 hectares of forest and farmland.

"Exact numbers are very difficult to determine... the fact remains around Anakie the losses are very high - the koala habitat is very good there. Last night I came back at midnight with an arborist who's a very good tree climber, and we rescued another two koalas. We've been out there six days and nights and rescued a dozen koalas and found 20 or 30 dead ones, and that's just the ones we've found. There are many other teams and helpers out there who collect them from the ground. We were just in one small area near Anakie - with a fire over 6,000 hectares in size you multiply that number out, it's a large number," he says, adding that it's not just the Brisbane Ranges which saw a massive destruction of koalas and their habitat, it's also the fires which continue to burn in the Grampians.

"Again, the numbers vary over the type of habitat, but definitely are - or I should say they probably were - because with the intensity of the fire, koalas have very little chance to survive. They are such an animal that if there is a fire they go up into the tallest part of the tree, and fire being fire it goes up like a chimney, and the koala is trapped up there, either burnt or severely injured. The few trees that don't get burned totally, there's very little leaves left, so even if they do survive, there is very little to eat for them."

"Koalas take only water from the leaves unless they're in disease status or there's a drought, and then they need to come on the ground. If they don't get water from the leaves, they have to come down onto the ground; with the fire being very hot they burn their paws, so most injuries we see apart from direct burns or smoke inhalation are burnt paws," he says, explaining more of the process volunteers undergo to provide aid to the injured animals.

"Every few hours they have to medicate their paws and put ointment on and so forth - but these are things that can be healed. Smoke inhalation is very bad, because you can't actually see it; the poor things get pneumonia and all sorts of eye infections and so forth. If they don't die from the fire directly their survival chances even after that are small."

After the bushfire in the Brisbane Ranges

Yesterday we drove from Geelong to Greendale via Ballan through the Brisbane Ranges which were devastated by bushfire five weeks ago. From the small township of Anakie all the way to the water storeage area the forest was blackened and looked dreadful. We drove for about 15 minutes before we saw a live tree. Koalas and kangaroos usually live in these forests.

Yet in five weeks the grass trees were starting to shoot and we saw hundreds of these on the forest floor, a kind of resurrection. In a few more months, leaves might start to shoot from the trunks of trees.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Eastern Beach Geelong

Yesterday after participating in the march and singing at Pako Festa our Fiji group adjourned to the Eastern Beach Geelong for a barbecue. We ate cassava, tinned corned mutton, chops and Maori bread amongst other things.

Geelong is a city of 600,000 people beside Corio Bay so in summer thousands of us go to the beach, whether the ocean beaches such as Bells, Torquay, or our local city beach. Free electric barbecues for our use. A swim for the children. And yachts in the bay. Touted as a tourist spot with a fine esplanade, rows of trees that look like iri masei palm trees, our Waterfront and Eastern Beach is there free for us in Geelong so we take it for granted I suppose. For nine years we lived within walking distance of the swimming enclosures here and could walk along the beach early morning. We now live about 3 k away from Eastern Beach but close to the salt factory and salt flats. If the sea rises we will be under!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Fijian Dancers at Pako

From Wendy

Here is a story I wrote that was published in ‘Many Voices’ a collection of multicultural poems and short stories.

Tevita leads the spear dance on the wooden stage. ‘Dua-rua-tolu. Meke!’ (One, two, thee. Dance!) Move to the beat of the lali and the rhythm of the singing group. Sing with them. Watch left and right and keep together. Then look up and smile t the audience. Exaggerate gestures for this audience. Thump the floor with bare feet. (A white light flashes as someone takes a photo.) Concentrate. The words tell us the movements. Leap, gesture, flash a fan, stretch, crouch, bend, jerk left, then right, stand still keep the fan and spear still. Ignore the clapping of the audience at the wrong times.

Listen to the singers first line, then shout. ‘Meke!’ Then repeat.
Sing ten verses, then sit on the floor and politely perform the formal clap to indicate that the dance has ended.

Tevita leaps down from the stage, his body streaming with sweat and coconut oil. An Australian man slaps him on the back. Tevita seems surprised by the familiarity when the Australian accidentally touches his bushy hair.

“Good on you mate. That was beaut. Was that your mob before doing the belly wobbling and shaking their backsides? That was the best.’

‘No. That’s the Cook Islanders,’ Tevita looks irritated.

‘Oh. I thought that was Fijian too.’

Tevita shrugs, picks up his shoes and wanders off.

A male Aboriginal dancer, still marked with yellow, white and red ochre is standing near the stage. He gives a gently punch to Tevita’s shoulder and then grabs his hand. ‘Thank you brother. ’ That’s all he said.

An older Fijian woman has been watching the performance critically while she holds spare fans and jackets discarded by two dancers.

She recalls the dances from a distance in place and time.

The performance today is a brief, simple version of the complex meke which needs the space of a village grassed space. As the light breeze cools the audience under the shelters and mango trees, two hundred dancers in long lines spread out and dance in perfect unison. The dancing is part of a celebration with formal ceremonies, the announcements, speeches, presentations of gifts and feasts.
Ana recalls the rehearsal of the dances over months for the visit of the high chief of her place. There is strict decorum, respect, and exact costumes. The traditional choreographer has learnt his skill from his father, a skill passed down from generation to generation. When he dances, the people said. The vanua is dancing – the land is dancing!’

Here in this Australian city street, the men’s dance is a poor imitation with only five dancers where there should be two hundred. The costumes here are gaudy cotton and paper instead of vau and flowers. A wooden stage is used instead of a large grassy field.

The audience of men, women, and children from different cultures do not know the meaning of the dance. The people seem happy as they stand and clap. But they do not know the meaning, only the exaggerated movements. The performance takes ten minutes instead of two hours.

No one comes forward to reward the dancers with gifts in the correct way. However Ana knows that their leaders has been given a cheque to cover petrol costs. It is a different world, a vavalagi world.

Ana hands back the sports jackets to Tevita and Meli and she shuffles through the crowd, her vavalagi shoes clacking on the hard road.

Pako Festa

From Peceli

Tomorrow is Pako Festa Day the Geelong’s annual ethnic festival celebration and as usual one of the dance groups is from the Fijian community, this time from the Pascoe Vale Rd Fijian congregation.

For more than twenty years our Fijian migrant community has participated in Pako, often with a stall, craft display, and dance. This year there will be other Pacific Island dance groups such as the Cook Islanders and Maori group and a Tongan group from Canterbury. Channel Seven is one of the sponsors, and also Jetstar. About 100,000 people usually attend this free festival, watch the dances, join in workshops, eat delicacies from forty different ethnic groups.

The Geelong Ethnic Communities Council is now called Diversitat. Pako this year will be opened by the Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks who is of Lebanese background. He said, 'This year's theme - through the Art of Language promises to transcend language barriers through music, dance, food, costumes and art.'

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

From Melbourne to Fiji with a Choir

From Peceli

Before boarding the plane at midnight we were like a mob of sheep going through the final check. As the plane took off we saw the beautiful Melbourne's flickering lights for a few minutes before the dark clouds covered them all. The 767 Air Pacific plane was called the Island of Taveuni and we were on his way to Nadi, Fiji.

We had some problems with overweight languages and one woman had to pay more than a $1200 for her excess luggage. Her husband said it could have paid his fare, as he was left behind very unhappy! We were a group of eighteen Fijian adults and some children, and there were tourists also going to Fiji. The leader of our group was Jone Buadromo with the help of Sese, Seleima and Savaira. Drinks were served and then one hour later the food were served and while I was eating a slight turbulence rocked the plane and a friend who was half sleep said, 'What is this?' and I said, 'It's just an earthquake!' Then he swore at me!

The movie they screened in the plane was okay but we could choose to listen to Fijian or Indian songs in another channel. It was very good to see the smiling faces of the Fijian Girls working as hostesses in the plane.

We had to change our watches by two hours for Fiji time. Then I just slept and when I woke up day was breaking and I saw glimpses of the Yasawa Islands as the plane started to descend at the Nadi International Airport. The plane went from 20000 feet to 500 feet then the nose of the plane was trying for touch down and a few minutes later the plane stopped at the terminal and we were ready to disembark. Thanks goodness we were on the Fijian soil and safely landed thanks to the Captain and the Crew.

The winter cold weather in Geelong had been 7 degrees and I wore two winter shirts and a thick wool jumper and a jacket and two pairs of socks. When I got out of the plane in Fiji it was so hot as it was 28 degree and humid. I felt uncomfortable so I decided to take of my clothes one by one and when I reached the Custom I had a pile of clothes in my hand and my briefcase in the other.

We were met by Ravuama Vunivalu who was in Melbourne for seven years and then went to Fiji five years ago to join the Police special Branch to become assistant to Police Commissioner Romanu Tikotikoca . Ravuama had lived with us in Geelong for several years and was a bit of a rascal.

Ravuama had organised a forty-seater bus, but he had drunk kava the night before and came late and was very tired. We had to go Suva to stay in Pender Street at the Credit Union hostel. Our luggage half-filled the bus which had an Indian driver. The engine refused to start.

Savaira called out “What kind of transport is this? I would rather catch a taxi to Suva.”

Then the engine made a lot of noise and smoke filled the bus and we could smell the oil. The driver was very calm as if this happened every day and he probably thought we were a spoilt lot after living in Australia. By now everyone had changed into summer clothes.

Ravuama stood up and welcomed us officially, 'Welcome to Fiji. I apologise for this worn out bus. This is the only one left in the garage. All the good buses were gone.'

'Are you picking this Bus from the Mac Wrecker ?' said Savaira.

Ravuama answered politely, 'There is only the Western Wrecker .in Fiji. Usually when the buses break down passengers just have to wait and wait for another bus.'

We travelled through Nadi town and noticed the beautiful South Indian temple, then we headed for Sigatoka and saw the new Mellrose Bridge which replaced the one damaged in the flood. In Sigatoka Sairusi and others went to buy some Indian gulagula and a cup of tea and I went with Buadromo to the market to buy one kilo of kava for our sevusevu in Suva. It was $16 a kilo whereas in Melbourne it cost $50 dollars.

I saw a man from Navosa who was sitting on a vendor's chair with his friend and he called out my name Peceli. I turned back and looked at him. He was an old friend, once the Steward in my first church in Fiji. I had not seen him for over thirty years.

We reached Suva safely and people gathered to welcome us ready for a fortnight of singing in the Methodist Conference Choir Competition. We were tired but really happy to be in Suva.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Doing a search for 'Labasa'

From Wendy

There may be a few thousands sites when doing a search for 'Labasa' but but when I googled for 'Labasa' (the primary focus of this blog site which we call Babasiga which means the dry land of the Friendly North of Fiji), I found that the tourist resort of Nukubati gets all the priority spots! Many times over and over. Most of the material is just tourism! Nukubati is an excellent resort but quite a distance west of Labasa town.

One of the tourism sites had this text- 'Things to do' and when I clicked on it, the answer was 'There is none' Sobosobo! Nothing to do for tourists in Labasa? Not correct. As Peceli wrote in the last two posts, there are two places to visit of interest, the Snake God Stone at Matailabasa and the Wasavulu historical site. And the beach on Vorovoro island is lovely! We will write later about the hot springs at Nakama and Tabia. Tourism is undeveloped in Labasa, that's for sure, but the potential is there and backpackers and other visitors DO find their way to Labasa often.

The Stones of Wasavulu

From Peceli

When we were children we fetched coconuts in a place called Wasavulu (wasa means the deep ocean, vulu means a special place for the god). It is a walking distance from the main village of Nasekula where I lived from aged eight to sixteen. Wasavulu was originally a village but was abandoned. Then there only remained many large stones, some fallen, some standing. As children we had no fear of this place and just played there and fetched coconuts.

Many years later when I revisited the place, after learning of its meaning, there was a very different feeling for me, a kind of awe, a sense of this place being important. We call this mana, a kind of spiritual power in the land. This is now considered a historical site and under the National Trust of Fiji as a site of archaelogical value.

It is about two kilometres out of Labasa near a grove of banyan trees and the Korotari Road. The large stones are still there, some upright, some fallen. It used to be tabu to women, although today the tabu has been lifted and occasionally tourists interested in anthropology or Fijian history go there. One story of Wasavulu says that two female gods brought the stones over the mountains of Vanua Levu to this place. The stones are set into a rectangular shape on a platform. Whether it was a place for a temple and rites to do with fertility of the land, or whether it was about training warriors, we do no know.

There are similar stones are in other parts of Fiji, such as Namosi in Viti Levu and also in India where they are called Naga stones and have something to do with snakes.

Now the Wasavulu village is being developed again. They have built a new church there which is very large. Gradually the descendants of people who once lived in this area are returning.

The Snake God in Labasa

From Peceli

When I was a child I spent some time with relatives from my mother's side, originally from Vesi in Mali, who had settled at Matailabasa, about 20 k. north-east of Labasa town. There was a river there and a narrow bridge without railings. One New Year the river was flooded and as we stood on the bridge someone pushed me in. I was about seven and could not swim well. I yelled and struggled in the flooded river until someone rescued me and pulled me out. I decided I must learn to swim after that!

Matailabasa village is built on the foot of a mountain range and sugar cane grows on the flat land with many Indian farmers. I remember as boy we used to climb up the rocks and fetch breadfruit and oranges

There are soft white volcanic large stones in that area. One stands out because it is shaped like a cobra snake. Over the years the Indians built a house there with a caretaker and the rock grew taller as the years went by and many Hindus came there to pray. Then the Temple of the Indian Snake God was built around it and become a focal point of the history of Labasa. The Hindus have daily worship there and put their garlands, marigolds, and broken coconuts there.

Traditionally snake is regarded as a totem taboo like in the Nakauvadra story of the Fijian snake god called Degei which is widely known by Fiji people and if people want to go up to the Kauvadra mountains they have to get permission of the priestly tribe of Vatukacevaceva village at the foot of the mountains.

There used to be many snakes in Fiji but the mongoose have got rid of most of them. Only occasionally do you see a small tree snake. Of course there are still many sea snakes which are black and white striped and they lie in the sun on the rocks such as at Vorovoro. People say they are poisonous but I have never heard of anyone being bitten.

The Indian Snake Rock is listed as one of the tourist sites in the Labasa area.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

PBs, Personal Bests and learning skills

from Wendy

We hear a lot about PBs from our athlete son, and then I think of my grandchildren in Suva and their classrooms with about fifty kids in each class, and I want to talk to their teachers about what we can learn from athletes. Instead of success being measured against other children, what about using the idea of personal bests as a measure of a student's progress?

Dr Andrew Martin of the University of Western Sydney writes, 'Sportspeople make wonderful use of personal bests to motivate athletes and improve their performance but there's hardly any usage of it in education. By using a personal best approach each time rather than aiming for a particular grade, you demand a little more personal excellence and that's uncompromising. Kids respond much better to it because it's much catchier than goal-setting. The personal best approach takes the sting out of an explicitly competitive environment in that you compete with yourself, but it retains the energising properties of competition.'


From Wendy

As the years go by, I am becoming more aware of the body's failings, a twitch, a sudden shooting pain in a finger, dry eyes, a list when standing up quickly, a little bump on the breast, a thirstiness, so I go to the internet and search for my 'condition'. And, of course I find a hundred diagnoses that tell me I have diabetes, rheumatism, cancer, high blood pressure, am anaemic, have illnesses with names that are unpronouncable!. Then a week later the symptoms are gone. At least I haven't spend an hour waiting to see a doctor and I may have worried through the dark nights without cause! I thought I had found out the truthful answers on the net!

I saw a new word today in The Age newspaper in the section for Year 12 students, entitled 'Trawling the Net' advising students, surfers beware, as so much is not truth but marketing. The new word to me is 'cybercondria, ' a tendency/mania to self-diagnosis an illness using a search on the net. But, not all sources are reliable, we are warned. Anybody can put anything on a web page purporting to be knowledgable!. And in searches, just how do the top ten get there? Maybe by hook or by crook, not by being the most reliable sites! Well, well! And I thought the truth would be in there.

Also the writer, Vikki Leone reminds us, that 'Critics also point to the cultural limitations of sourcing information on the internet, warning of the over-representation of American culture on the web.' So you're not likely to find a method of stopping a baby with hiccups by tearing a bit of 'Fiji Times' newspaper, licking it, and pasting it on the child's forehead - a Fijian method that works.

Now I have a slight itch in my ear. I had better look that up.

Winning and Losing

From Wendy

Two full days at the Victorian Athletics Championships at the Melbourne Cricket Ground has kept our family busy with one athlete in the javelin events. It was a marathon for me as we walked miles around the stadium to get close to events, walked up and down about 800 steps and 2 k to and from the car park twice!

Andrew had won two Golds, two Silvers, and one Bronze in the Vic Champs in previous years but has had little time to train this year. Anyway, he did make the cut in the preliminaries and went into the finals today. The competition was good because the winner threw 78 metres and instead of just having local athletes there were entries from some of the Commonwealth Games athletes. So our lad did not win though with each throw he gained one metre! He talked about it afterwards and acknowledged that you can't rely upon strength but there needs to be so much focus on technique to make the jav really fly. This is a loner's sport and quite different from his other love, rugby with training at a nearby Eastern Park with lots of guys, including five Fijians.

We really enjoyed watching the Victoria Championships for two days at the MCG (a trial run for security, volunteers, information, timing, etc. for the Commonwealth Games). The venue looks terrific. Names and results are automatically on screens, and measurements are no longer with tape measures but done electronically. We saw sprint and middle-distance races, shot put, javelin, and relays. The shot-put winner threw 19 metres and he trains with a ballet group for technique! The crowd was a few thousand today but in three weeks there will probably be 80,000 or more there for the opening of the Commonwealth Games. We have tickets for the rugby sevens so far.

It was nice to see Jone Delai there with four young sprinters from Fiji. I watched two of the boys race, and one won his heat, but in the final the Australian sprinters are just so fast. Australia seems to be a country of fit young people (some of them are) with a climate that is suitable for lots of training, plus we are a society where many children do have the opportunity to develop skills in a chosen sport.

It's good to have models and heroes like Cathy Freeman and Michael Jordan, of course. Winning is nice, but it isn't everything. Having a go is important, and parents perhaps need to realize that each child has unique skills. There's nothing worse than watching some parents at a mini football match carrying on as if the world is on fire!

We brought up three sons and the sports they were into included swimming, tennis, Australian-rules football, athletics, basketball, baseball, etc. More lately touch rugby and rugby. They won scores of trophies. But… I think that the experience of failure, of not even coming half-way in a race, is a lesson in life too because it just ain't gonna always be easy in life!

As for myself, I played tennis and hockey as a teenager, but really preferred to read a book or draw and paint. These days I like to walk in an Otways forest, walk along a Torquay beach, but end up mainly trailing around the suburban streets. My other half plays golf four or more days a week and wins golf-balls or $10 vouchers. Each to his or her own.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Beggars and street kids in Suva

from Wendy

Peceli's posting about the street kids in Suva reminds me of the last time I walked around Suva streets and Peceli just stopped and talked to these young men in Victoria Parade and from that time on, anytime I walked that way, they'd call out to me as the talatala's missus, want to polish my cream sandals with their black polish! I wasn't really comfortable because they are large fellows.

Probably a lot of people are a bit frightened of these kind of street kids and when I did a Google search I found many different attitudes to them - 'get 'em off the streets, send 'em back home to the village!' 'Let's pray for them, these lost kids!' 'Listen to their stories. They all have stories!", the moral danger of their lifestyle, and of course I found two academic papers on them in typical dense multi-syllabic language!

Anyway, the shoe-polish guys do work. But there are also street beggars in Suva and perhaps many of them are people with mental disabilities. The Indian woman I described in the fictional piece I posted is very real and I was appalled to see that little girl sitting on the cement clutching her mother's black handbag outside the Curry House.

One time when Peceli had a bag full of nice shirts and men's jackets(secondhand but very nice) to give to a relative, we were walking near the Westpac Bank and saw a middleaged Fijian man begging. Impulsively I opened Peceli's bag and took out a navy jacket, very smart with silver buttons, and gave it to the man, draped it over his shoulders. He didn't say a word as we moved on. I wonder what he did with it.

The Streets of Suva - from a novel-in-progress

from Wendy
Here's an excerpt showing an American guy, Brad, walking around the streets of Suva, early morning, May 19 2000.

Brad decides that Suva is an amazing place: a city on a peninsular, with about a hundred thousand people. The city area is a mix of colonial style wooden buildings, high rise offices of cement block and glass, small shops crammed with goods and lights that pedestrians rarely obey. The city was not built tidily using a grid. It just seemed to have grown in an ad hoc manner. Traffic is chaotic, many drivers obsessively toot horns, call out as the vehicles crawl. Some streets twist around with single-fronted shops, mainly Indian, some Chinese, on each side, selling clothing, crafts, jewelry, cell-phones. Signage is in Hindi, Fijian, English Chinese. The shops seem to glow from within, full of trinkets from Asia. It's a little India for sure.

The shopkeepers seem pushy. 'Sir, come and buy. Bargains, all bargains. We'll do a special…' 'Bula' 'Oy, mate!' 'Come in sir!' Their voices rattle with a staccato consonant attack that makes the speakers sound argumentative.

A white woman with thin legs peers into a doorway as a trader entices her inside. Though she is dressed like a teenager in logo T-shirt and multi-coloured baggy pants, Brad guesses she is over forty. She leans forward, fingering the cheap cloth, and the trader uses a hooked pole to pull down gaudy shirts and dresses for closer inspection. They do not haggle over prices because she accepts the first dress offered. She leaves the shop smiling at Brad who is kin, because he is also a foreigner.

A woman in a grubby pink blouse and black skirt squats on the cement with a little girl with earrings, lipstick, and shiny ribbons in her hair. A dirty cloth is spread out with half a dozen coins of the lowest tender. The woman stands up and lurches into a curry shop leaving the girl clutching a black handbag as if it is the most important thing in life. A surge of disgust rises in Brad. The child’s eyes are as fierce as the mother’s eyes.

After purchasing a savoury cake made with split peas and dark green leaves, Brad realises too late that chillies burn his mouth! A 50-cent tepid glass of cordial settles his palate a little. He cannot finish it because it's too sweet. He remembers he has his own drink bottle, so finds a seat amongst Islander women selling grass skirts. As he sits on a rough stool a shoeshine boy polishes his sandals for 50 cents. A white man dressed in a crinkled khaki shirt and shorts, knee socks and sandals watches the procedure. The stranger's beard is speckled with what looks like remnants of breakfast. When he speaks he sounds like a cultured Englishman, using short clipped sentences. He is reciting Shakespeare.
Brad says, 'I'm looking for the Flea Market.'

The gentleman gestures in an S loop so Brad heads off. It is opposite the main market. Va had told him this was a good place to buy souvenir items, clothing, handicrafts. He buys four packets of Coconut Crème Soap, nicely enclosed in a kind of bark-cloth tied up with fibre, four 'cannibal' forks which will amuse his brothers, and a blue and white floral sulu for his sister.

A smiling girl murmurs, 'Nice tats! Where'd you get them done?'
One drunken weekend, back home, Brad and his mates had undergone a type of tribal marking, getting identical tattoos of zigzags, scrolls, cruel-eyed eagles, though they were nothing to do with their lives, just dyed skin that wouldn't come off. When Brad asks the girl how tats are done here, she explains that students do them with Chinese ink in black, red, or blue using a sewing needle. Names or little geometric designs, nothing fancy.

‘Permanent?’ asks Brad.

The girl says, ‘If you don’t like them, then you can use milk to make them fade a little. Would you like some new ones? My cousin can do one for a dollar.’
‘Uh uh! No thanks.’

Brad crosses with a mob of people at traffic lights, rushing across when there is a gap rather than watching for the lit-up green man. Cooked fish and boiled cassava are on sale but Brad is suspicious of salmonella and instead purchases a parcel of vakalolo wrapped in banana leaves made from pounded taro, sugar and coconut. He tucks it into his backpack for later. Taro is fine, but Brad does not like the white root cassava, manihot exculenta, because it is just starch and even contains poisonous compounds when uncooked. He has said so to Va, but she just smiled.

(to be continued)

Street Kids in Suva

Donation-in-Kind containers to Fiji

From Peceli

Street Kids in Suva

Next month we are sending a container to Fiji from our Donation-in-kind depot in Geelong, half for the Street Kids in Suva and half for Mali Island school and Community Centre project.

Last year I visited a boarding house in Rewa Street for the street kids in Suva. The manager told me that about thirty street kids stay there and some casuals come just to sleep in the night and leave in the early morning ( the shoe-shine boys.) This three story brick house uses the basement for the casuals with mattresses and the second floor for the permanent and on the third floor for the manager. On the side there is a workshop of welding and car repairs. The 'permanent' street kids attend welding classes and furniture making and computer learning. I talked to some of the shoe-shine boys about their future, encouraging them to go back to study.

Who are these street kids who haven't got homes of their own? Like many countries, young people from the rural areas go to the cities for education or work and many don't find work. Girls and boys. In Suva the church groups help look after girls in this situation and boys aged from about fourteen to twenty-five may find themselves at the Street Kids house in Rewa Street.

We sent a container a couple of years ago for this project in Suva, with beds, mattresses, books, clothing etc.

Mali Island District School Labasa

The remote Mali Island District School is near Labasa my home town. I happened to visit the Mali Island villages and the District School last year and they have requested school-books, tables, chairs, beds, computers for the school, and sewing machines etc. for the Community Centre. So in March half the container will go to these projects.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

If at first you don't succeed...

try, try, try again, like the little steam engine going up a hill! This is my second attempt to make a link, so I am suggesting a link to a site that promotes Suva so here goes. This is another Fiji blog site.
And a website for daily news from Fiji is Fijilive.

Fiji Blogs

When Fiji Blogs come to Town to drink Fiji grog
Says 'Bula Fiji' in the Kava Saloon, the tanoa is full.
Fiji Blogs say 'Bula' to the chief 'Stuck in Mud.'
Who replies 'Taki mada!'
The kava is flowing with 'Really' as he nets the fish,
Babasiga is requesting permission to join the Fiji Blogs Club.

We're not listed on any Fiji blogs so who is reading our web-log?

I know there’s a gaggle of Googlers out there, millions of them, so what do they read?

There’s some Fiji blogs I read – Really, Bulafiji, sometimes Stuck in Mud though he does get his political knickers in a knot at times. You can find these links here.

Now we two bloggers at Babasiga do go on a bit about the northern part of Fiji, obsessively, but that’s in the fine print for us – not to save the whole world.

Act local,
think global,
thanks to Google.

Testing - how do I make a link?

from Wendy
Now I am very very naive about stuff like this, just learning as I go along. I tried to get into a web design class but the time doesn't suit. I tried to make a link but I really got into trouble. Lost all the links on the right hand side of the page for a starter, and can't even delete this! A friend dabbled with my compouter half an hour ago and mabye did something!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Inside a Fijian chief's house - from Jane's excellent Fiji post cards

from Wendy

Browsing through Jane's excellent Fiji post cards I found two of interest that were taken inside a chief's house. One is possibly from Bau Island, and the other looks like it is 120 years old, taken inside a huge bure, either a chief's house or the traditional mens' communal house. Notice the bou, the great kingpost that I referred to in an earlier posting about building a chiefs house in Naduri village.

Athletics at the MCG

From Peceli

Normally the MCG is a venue for international cricket or Aussie Rules Football. The biggest sports complex in the southern hemisphere and it holds more than 120,000 people and is a real land mark in Victoria. This time there will be no cricket nor football! There will be athletics at the MCG, the Melbourne Cricket Ground. We are counting down for the Commonwealth Games of course and the athletics track will have its first try out next Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the Victorian Championships, prior to the Commonwealth Games athletics events at this venue. This is a try-out of the venue for the times, movement of athletes, and results.

A member of our family is a javelin thrower so he will be there on Saturday for the prelims and Sunday for the finals in his event. Usually the medal winners at this level throw 60s and 70s but this time 38 young guys have entered to compete there this year. Usually there are only about ten.

Andrew Tavusa wants to have a last throw this year at the MCG then hang up his jav boot then go to Fiji to set up his farm in Labasa. He is a thrower is in the Deakin Athletics Club and has won numerous medals over the years including State Title. He has also represented Fiji in Tahiti, Tonga, Guam, American Samoa in the Fiji Squad. So there is no kava drinking this week, just fitness training. His best throws were some time ago around the 70 metres mark, so we will see what happens this time!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Historical photos of Fiji

I accidentally came across (and that's the beauty of Googling) a website that includes historical photos of Fiji. Jane's pics.
Go to her numerous photos which are mainly very old postcards or drawings going back over a hundred years even. What is the protocol for publishing some-one else's pics? Acknowledge the source? Is that enough?

Anyway here is one from Jane's pics that is not very old - though most visitors to Fiji would not see a village with traditional thatched bures these days.

Jane's web-site is a welcome change from the hundreds of tourist-orientated sites which write about traditional Fijian bures for tourist accommodation but they are rather different from 'real' bures.

Traffic signs at Speed

You blink and you've passed it, but there is a little place called Speed north of Hopetoun. People were always stealing the traffic signs - Please slow down, Stop, etc. so the town's name was also often missing. It's probably the slowest kind of place on earth. Maybe there is still one shop there.

Church celebration in Hopetoun

From Peceli

Next weekend there is a church celebration in Hopetoun, a small Mallee country town where we lived some time ago and we were invited to attend. However I had to turn down the invitation because of another commitment. It is the 20 years celebration of the development of the Co-operative Parish of the Uniting Church and the Baptist Union which is an unusual mix of churches. Due to depopulation in the area one minister now looks after three towns - Hopetoun, Rainbow and the rural area of Speed.

I regard Hopetoun as a special place because I was a minister there for six good years. Our family then consisted of Wendy, and the three boys and a dog called Suzie. Wendy involved herself in the community life such as teaching Religious Education, CWA, music and the boys went to the Primary School and enthusiastically played tennis and football and because it was so hot in summer, we all swam nearly every day in the local pool.

I worked as a pastor to the wheat farming community and the town. I joined the Rotary Club where members are supposed to have different job classifications but almost everyone was a wheat farmer, so they had to juggle that a bit.

I still remember in my first service in the Church on Sunday and they told me that most men of the town were playing golf on Sunday. From there I started to learn to play golf and join the club. I have now regretted learning golf because I can't get it out of my system and now I play four times a week in Geelong.

We can't forget Hopetoun and our special friends there.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Big flood at Vatuadova, Labasa

From Peceli

This morning I received an e-mail from my daughter Ateca regarding the big flood at Vatuadova that caused much damage last week. She said that it was the biggest flood since the family started the settlement in the 1960s.

It came through the night and took away two pigs from the piggery beside the river, half of Ateca's sugar cane plantation on the other side of the river and a newly planted citrus orchid of lemon, mandarin and orange trees. The houses of the Vatuadova village is on a rise so was not reached by the flooded river.

Vatuadova river comes from the mountains and is shaped like a snake when viewed from an aeroplane. It is a narrow, shallow river most of the time. This time the water was so high that no vehicles could cross the bridge in front of the village.

The loss and damages will need to be assessed by some government authority and perhaps the Agriculture Department may give some replacement citrus trees. The main thing is of course that no-one was hurt because there are so many young children at the village.

Indonesian guest-workers in Australia

from Wendy
There was a strange news item on the radio this morning which I might update if there is more information. A group of Indonesian guest-workers in Australia are being paid $40 a day to dig ditches in the desert, now that's way under the normal pay here. But listen to this; they are working for Halburton, that gross American company! So who gaved permission and organised this? The current immigration policy is not to have guest workers from places like Fiji or Tonga but apparently it's okay for Indonesians to come over. Very strange. And that American company, well, the mind boggles? And this news compells me to bloggle I guess!

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.

Building a chief's house in Naduri

From Peceli

One day we visited our elderly relative Sakaria in Naseakula village and he told us about the little bird in the forest near Naduri and he sang two versions of a song about Ra Qiqi and the building of a chief's house in Naduri.

During the 1940s Sakaria was part of a house-building project to build a new house for the high chief in Naduri down the coast from Labasa. They went into the forest to find the most suitable timber and only when the little forest bird, the white-eye, called, they knew that they had found the right tree. The men cut down the tree and chanted as they hauled the logs. The fine chief's house was builtd and named Bolatagane which means 'The House of the Strong'. Naduri is the village of the chief of Macuata

Traditionally the the duru or bou, the king post, has to have a human sacrifice. A man is buried with the king post. While they were building they chanted as they placed the kingpost in the hole and a man Epeli was thrown down. Luckily a young chief Kini Jioji from Labasa growled at them and he pulled the man out just before the king post was pushed down. Kini Jioji said, 'Sa gauna na Lotu!' This means we are Christians. No more human sacrifice!

In the Fiji Museum in Suva are two door posts carved as a man and a woman and the sign says they come from a chief's house in Naduri. The photo Wendy took of them did not come out. Today in Naduri the remains of the chief's house are left undisturbed and this is a tabu site.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Ra Qiqi the white-eye bird

from Wendy

Sing to me softly Ra Qiqi, a lullaby lightness,
not the guttural of men. Your wings tremble
amidst silver-leafed saplings, despite obscenities below.
Ia ia.

Beware of loggers' teeth ripping the forest apart,
severing the canopy. You panic and zigzag away,
your habitat stricken, the rape explicit.
Ia ia.

Here was a moment to lament, your song ignored,
Once, you signalled a season, timely and right,
your wing flashed, sacred white-eye.
Ia ia.

Your song flutters a message, one ironwood tree,
opening the canopy once in a decade
to build the Big House for the chief.
Ia ia.

Your full-throated cry dissolves to a lament
for the stolen land, the broken forests.
Isa oilei, isa oilei.

Rainforest and a gold dove

from Fijian Forests
Wildlife Conservation Society

Our expeditions into Fiji’s forested areas revealed that small-scale logging was occurring in remote areas, much of it in violation of Fiji’s National Code of Logging Practices and not in accordance with Fiji’s Forest Function zones based on a Forestry Department effort several years ago to delineate forest ‘reserves’ and guide licensing decisions. Existing maps of logging roads greatly underestimated the reality on the ground.

Fiji’s fauna, mainly birds, invertebrates and certain palms, have been severely impacted by the introduction of rats. Other threats include low levels of economic development in the local communities, numerous illegal or poorly managed logging operations, and several proposed mining and hydropower schemes.

Malau Port and Timber

From Peceli

Before Labasa was even a town, Malau was a port and even nearby Vuo had a hospital. Overseas ships came in to load sugar and today there also a Shell depot there, and storeage for sugar from the Labasa Mill. Malau is still one of the major ports in Fiji. Malau is really a rocky point and houses of staff are built up the hillsides above the mill.

In the early 70s I had a bit to do with the timber mill there, Fiji Forest Industries, which we were told was based in Australia. I had a logging contract as part of our family development projects. We had a 7 ton truck and a concession to log timber at Matana mountain. The timber was dakua and kauvula species. We encountered problems of heavy rainfall, having to make the roads ourselves so we had to hire bulldozers etc.

Today, the mill produces sawn timber and decorative plywood for overseas markets. Some of my relatives work there including men from Mali Island. One good result is that timber from Malau is used for many building projects in the villages and Labasa town.

However everything is not perfect there. Even though the mills gives employment, we can see with our own eyes that the mill leaves so much rubbish around, floating in the sea and lying along the coastline. The other question is cutting the timber and what effects that has on erosion and spoiling several rivers, Dreketi, Tabia, Wailevu and Labasa. Some of the landowners in Macuata are not happy because of the timber concessions, promises not fulfilled, and a perception of exploitation.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Nangama from Vuo

From Peceli


When I visited Vuo village near Malau Timber Mill I was eating in a house when an Indian woman came to the door with a plastic bag to collect left-over kora ni niu grated coconut. . The people spoke to one another in Fijian and Hindustani. After she left they told me that Nangama came to the village every day about midday and visited every Fijian house. Usually the left-over coconut after squeezing out the juice is fed to the chickens or put in the rubbish bin.

This woman was a widow and lived up on the rocky hillside above the mangroves. Each day she took her plastic bags back to her house to squeeze the coconut fragments again and again to make more coconut cream. Then she boiled this to make oil. She bottled the oil to sell back to the village.

As her small piece of land was so rocky she had to get a truckload of soil so she could plant vegetables next to her tin-walled hut. She grew eggplant, cabbage, chillies and other vegetables and sold them around the village to support her two children.

This story amazed me that a woman with so little could be so resourceful.
This was a lesson to the Fijian villagers about patience and hard work and shows that the Indian people can flourish in Fiji. This is the hard but persistent life of Nangama a descendent of indentured Indians who came to Fiji in the 1870s to work in the sugar-cane fields. Many of the girmit descendants are now successful farmers or businessmen but there are also widows like Gangama who have to survive by their wits and hard work.

Tips for tourists in Fiji

From Wendy

A friend is going to Fiji on a guided tour soon and she asked me for tips. The schedule for ten days is very full, most meals paid for, and extremely busy for a group of over 60s. Anyway I decided to just give her some tips about manners, health, and customs that may be useful. Not that I have ever been a tourist! Just a know-all that doesn't know when to say when!

1. If you are invited into a home and a group of Fijians are sitting on a mat, don't stand about but sit on the floor - if you can!
2. Ask before taking photographs of people.
3 Dress modestly in a village - ie. a skirt rather than shorts for women.
4. Most people are friendly so say 'Bula' and don't spend all your time with other tourists.
5. If you have to walk in front of someone, the word for 'Excuse me' is 'Tilou'.
6. HOWEVER if you meet someone - probably a guy - who seems to be asking personal questions and you are suspicious of his motives, tell your tour guide. There are guys who take advantage of female tourists - so tell 'em you're married and unavailable.

1. Use bottled water, though most water is fine in Fiji. The weather is likely to be hot and humid and you need to drink a lot.
2. Have a first aid kit for tummy aches, constipation and the opposite, mosquito bites and scratches.
3. Eat lots of tropical fruits rather than heavy meals.
4. Don't sit under a coconut tree - the nuts might fall!

1. Treat the children as you would your own, rather than as novelties. Don't give lollies to children - bad for their teeth.
2. Gifts in a village may include second-hand clothes - light-weight dresses, skirts and tops, shirts, children's clothes (neat, clean op-shop clothes are fine) or children's books for the local school. You are allowed 20k in luggage so allow for a few parcels of clothes to give away.
3. When there is a dance presentation it is the Fijian custom to give gifts to one or more of the dancers - a scarf, something like that. Ask someone to explain the custom of 'fakawela' and you will surprise the dancers with your knowledge!
5. When you attend church, join in the singing. It isn't difficult. Share a hymn book with a local person.


Monday, February 06, 2006

American Peace Corp volunteer in Labasa

from Wendy
I was interested to find a posting by a vavalagi (European - beige-coloured person) who spent time working in the Labasa Commissioner's Office. She wrote it on a Peace Corp site so I hope that copyright isn't a problem for me to put it here! But it does give a different view of my husband's home town.
From a Peace Corp volunteer in Labasa
Janessa Stream aged 23 a 2003 graduate of Barnard College.

Copyright © 2004 The Hoopeston Chronicle
308 E. Main Street, Hoopeston, Ill. 60942-0190

Ten months of Fiji - on Fiji Time.

Life in Fiji is by no means easy. I find my present life in Labasa starkly different than I had expected when I came to Fiji last September. Having spent the formative months, the first half year, of my Fiji days in a village on Viti Levu and splitting time on the island of Taveuni between a government outpost and more remote villages, Labasa, with its dusty streets swelling on Saturdays as Fijians ride in on the buses for buying, selling, and socializing, seems like a foreign land. I work in an office. I can't see the sea. Some days it's a wonder that this is Fiji at all.

I find myself thinking that I don't know what this place was like for volunteers of Fiji past. Peace Crops left Fiji in 1998, deeming the country "graduated" from the program. Then the coup in 2000, and things changed. The country fell apart. Peace Corps is back.

I don't know what Fiji meant to former volunteers. I see Fiji today as strung out on the line between in the past, whatever that means, and the development it hopes will come. My job is to try and help bridge this gap... And that between rich and poor. Between rural and urban. And young and old, and Indian and Fijians.

I have guesses at who they are. Which village they lived in. How excellent their Hindustani for Fijian was (is?). I've heard the stories about them. Who repairs cars and rides horses and taught math and was the fastest man in Labasa and drank grog like a fish (and even liked it). some days, I feel the vestiges of that Peace Crops past lingering in the Fijian consciousness. I'm saddened that the tradition was severed. I wonder what Fiji was because I only see what it is. I imagine that my life - living and working in a degree of modernity - is different than their experience.

Some days have gone so quickly and I fall into bed amazed at what I have accomplished. More often, though, I itch to continue with the day, to achieve something, to have a product to show for all of my work. In some ways, this article is a product of what I have been doing. In some ways, the itching is just bed bugs.

Some days I come to work at 8:00 a.m., on time. At the Office of the Commissioner Northern Division on Labasa, I have my own office, set aside for disaster preparedness and mitigation. That's my job, to prepare the people of the Northern Division for disasters, and teach them how to manage them.

Often, however, my job is on hold for lack of some "necessary" component: computer, data, funding, interest groups. While waiting for whatever obstacle to end the roadblock of my progress, I apply for grants to obtain funding for a disaster management program in the North. I also run workshops for various ministries. Last week it was a three-day program for the Volunteer Youth Corps at the Ministry of Youth, Employment Opportunities and Sports.

Some days I come to work later, around 11:00 a.m. These are days I have meetings with the Labasa Town Council, Public Works Department, the Ministry of Health or Education. I have only been in Labasa for three months, because I moved from my original placement, in Taveuni, after three months at site. I am therefore in high-gear networking and trying to assemble information and resources for disaster work or secondary projects.

Two or three days a week, with another volunteer in Labasa, I coach the Labasa Town Swim Team, which we formed in June. Two dozen swimmers. Tireless high schoolers. Half Indo-Fijian and half Fijian, half girls and half boys. We lack lane lines, goggles, suits, any and all equipment, but the swimmers are excited and motivated. The team shows great promise. I spend a good deal of my free time writing sponsorship letters to corporations and designing "exciting" practices for kids who have never swam competitively.

Some days I wonder why I even stay here. Those are the days I question my purpose in Fiji. My job. Integration. Cross-cultural exchange. Some days I doubt my language skills. Those are the days I chose to remain silent. Some days, meetings happen four hours late (Fiji time!), disaster management takes second priority to sugarcane roads and cement mixers. There are days when I think I can no longer tolerate the heat, the curry, the waiting, the cold showers, the bugs.

Some days, the sun shines so clearly in the sky. It's not so hot. I get a phone call from a contact requesting a workshop. The $0.60 roti parcel actually tastes good (and fresh!). The friendly Bulas and Ramrams on the street, at work, or in the market, make me smile widely - both outwardly and inwardly.

Some days, it all lines up.

I hope today is some day.

And... how the other half live!

I found this from a Google search of 'Kia' about yachties sailing around the north of Vanua Levu and they visited Kia Island. So around Kia there are small local boats, yachts by Americans and Canadians and also deep-sea fishing boats call in to get bait!
The cruising life has been very kind to us… While we were in Labasa we tried to take some 20 lbs. of our freshly caught yellowfin tuna to Canadian friends on yachts Peregrinata and Incognita which we heard were anchored across the island at Savusavu…

We sailed on to beautiful Kia Island and met some very nice Fijians in a small village on the leeward side, snorkelled around one of the passes with friends, Barb and Bjarne, on Freya, who were visiting the same village and hiked to the top of the island the day they left. An exhausting climb but a wonderful view and the unexpected bonus was to get very close to the fruit bats’ tree where there were at least 200 of these rather large ‘flying foxes’ hanging upside down or flying around nearby. After we had taken lots of pictures, we climbed down closer and got to see the whole flock take to the air when they became alarmed by our proximity. We gave our Fijian friends some kava and some clothes we had brought for that purpose and shared a few bowls of kava with Joseph, the chief, and his entourage while taking lots of pictures and promising to send prints once we arrived at a town with a photo processing store and a post office.

We continued cruising along the north coast of Vanua Levu, stopping again with Barb and Bjarne at the island resort of Nukubati, where Bob and Laurie on ‘Shearwater’ caught up to us. After receiving a huge chunk of frozen walu and some water from the very generous manager at the resort, we sailed west admiring the beautiful coast and islands while carefully navigating towards a safe anchorage for the night. We tucked ourselves between the reef and the shore on the north side of Yagaga (Yanganga) Island with Shearwater & Freya and watched the setting sun light up the beaches, cliffs and volcanic outcroppings behind us – a wild, spectacular anchorage. Next day Cookie Cutter and Freya were off to our dream diving location – a beautiful bay on the west (leeward) side of Yadua (Yandua) Island in Bligh Waters. This area turned out to be a world class diving area – we spent 6 days there and went scuba diving on 4 of them – the hard & soft corals, the colourful fish and reef creatures and the incredible clarity of the water made it so wonderful we wanted to stay rather than continue to the Yasawas.

We were delighted when Bob and Laurie arrived, especially since they have a compressor and Bob was kind enough to fill all our tanks, the nearest dive shop being a day sail away on Vanua Levu! We dove, wined and dined with them and Barb and Bjarne and were all very sad when we left to go our separate ways – this cruising lifestyle is an odd one: always saying “hello” …

A woman from Kia

A woman from Kia Island

Kia is not only a car! It's a small island north west of Labasa. Pronounced Ki-ah. Kia can mean a war-club but these people are a fisherman tribe closely related to Vorovoro and Mali people. These days they supply fish for the Labasa market, caught by spear or line or nets. This is not deep-sea or large-scale fishing like the Chinese boats, but local family units in their small boats. Many Kia people live away from the island, in Labasa or Suva, in order to provide education for their children and find jobs. Here is a story of a Kia woman and her struggle to look after her family. I found this story on www.adb.org/Documents/Reports/Priorities and it was entitled Priorities of the People: Hardship in the Fiji Island ADB.org.

Single Mother, 32 Years Old

I began my education at St. Mary’s Primary School in Labasa in 1977 at Class 1 and left at Form 4 in 1987. I returned to the village to look after my grandparents for 12 years until their death. I stayed on my own until I had my first child in 1991. I reared my child alone for 5 years before I had my second child in 1994. I sent both my children to school here on Kia Island whilst raising them alone. I had no proper source of income, but I managed to see my daughter through primary school by fishing, gathering seashells, and selling them in Labasa market.

There is no male in my household. I therefore am finding it very hard to meet all the obligations demanded of me by the village, churches, and the school. I am receiving F$65 per month from the Department of Social Welfare but I hardly get by with this amount. For other income I go diving for fish three times a fortnight. I sell my fish at the Labasa market and pay F$10 per trip from Kia Island where I live. I have to prepare about F$150 every two weeks to see to my family’s needs and survival. I work hard keeping my house clean and raising my children properly and hope to do better in the years to come. My main concern is that my children get a better education and hopefully they will be able to find employment and have a better lifestyle for themselves.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Living in a river delta

The consequences of building houses in a flood-prone area mean that every five years or more there is moderate flooding in some parts of Labasa. There are three rivers that often get flooded - Labasa, Qawa and Wailevu. During the past two weeks heavy rain has caused some landslides and flooding in the area. Here are news items from today's Fiji Sun. Maybe it's good to clean the pollution from the Qawa river caused by the Fiji Sugar Corporation. One time I went with relatives from Cawaira and saw many dead fish as a result of the pollution.

Family saved from floods


Quick decision by a farmer saved his family’s lives. Keshu Chand told the Fiji Sun yesterday he never regretted the decision to move his family to a Fijian neighbour as floodwaters rose around them. Hours later, the house, located on a river bank, was swept away. “It was raining heavily on Saturday afternoon when I decided that it was time for me to move my family to safety,” he said. The heavy downpour flooded the river and by Saturday night, the strong currents swept away his house. “We were lucky that we took heed of the warning and I made the right decision to move away to my Fijian neighbour.”
Duavata resident Jieni Burekama said it had been raining heavily in Labasa the last two days. “We were fortunate that there was no flood at Duavata as at the Naodamu Housing Estate at the Block 10 area,” she said. Heavy rain forced the closure of the roads at Seaqaqa, Bulileka and several places within the district. Meanwhile, traffic between Labasa and Savusavu has been affected since the landslide on Monday last week ripped off portion of the Hibiscus Highway near Lomaloma Village. Bus driver Shameem Kumar said the problem would not have happened if the Public Works Department had been consitent in its road repair programme.
“I’ve been driving for 12 years and in the past eight years, I’ve noticed the problem because I drive my bus almost every day,” he said. Lomaloma elder Sitiveni Mavoa said the problem was that PWD workers only fixed the road if the Prime Minister or a government minister was about to make a visit.

Villagers swim to visit hospital

Soasoa villagers had to swim 3.5 kilometres to visit their loved ones at the Labasa Hospital yesterday morning. Housewife Valeria Ralulu said her daughter and nieces swam to the hospital to visit their relative. “It was raining heavily so we decided to send my niece, Akeneta Boselekaleka, who was due to deliver at the maternity ward,” she said. “This morning (yesterday), the flood was there so some of the children had to swim to hospital to take some food for her.
“This is surely one of the worst floods to hit Labasa especially in the Soasoa and Vunivau areas.” Meanwhile, the polluted Qawa River burst its banks, resulting in flooding at the ground level of the Fiji Sugar Mill and the All Saints Secondary School ground. Resident Nitend Sabad said the mill was closed and there was water inside. “Areas close to the Qawa River are underwater from the heavy rain,” he said.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Relationships with neighbours

From Peceli
Many people ask me if the Fijians in Labasa get along with their Indian neighbours and I always say - well, we call our place the Friendly North! These examples demonstrate the relationship between some tenant Indian families and the Fijian landowning family.

I. My eldest brother, Laisenia and his family lived at one time at Nukutatava and he was head of our clan, respected by the neighbours. Because of his calm and stable nature, the Indian farmers approached him to solved some of their problems, particularly disputes within their own families. The men involved would go to Laisenia's house and he would mix a bowl of yaqona. The men would sit together and discuss their differences until a settlement was negotiated. This was the Pacific way in action, to come to a consensus through patient discussion. After the 1987 military coups the tenant farmers felt their future in Fiji was insecure. A group of men from Vatuadova and from Labasa town came to Laisenia and shared their fears with him. He said the local tenants in Vatuadova could stay and be his family. When Laisenia died in 1992 the funeral was held at Nukutatava and many hundreds of Fijian and Indian men and women came. To accommodate them all, a large shelter had to be built and the neighbours brought the corrugated iron and put this up. At times of crisis and rites of passage such as weddings and funerals the neighbours give and take according to their skills.

II. My youngest brother Irimaia had three small dwellings on his property. Due to family mobility, one house became empty so Irimaia gave this house and some gardening land to a homeless young Muslim couple and their three children. They were very poor and alienated from their relatives. Irimaia invited them to alive at Vatuadova and the man assisted on the cane farm but was given access to the fruit trees such as the coconut trees to make oil to sell.

III. My daughter Ulamila and her husband lived on a small cane farm before moving to the developing village. She has had secondary education and a course in women's craftwork but many of the neighbours have had only minimal schooling. Three of the Indian neighbours need help with their financial records and bookwork about their sugarcane payments so they ask Mila for assistance and entrust her with their bankbooks and financial transactions. Ulamila's land is used b by neighbours for agistment for their cattle.

From Wendy
These stories are not unusual in sugar-cane areas and the ordinary people cannot understand the unrest and suspicion and the politics that go on in Suva city! In Labasa many people speak some Fijian, some Hindi and some English.

Unfortunately the coup in 2000 did a lot of damage to relationships even in the so-called Friendly North because there was a soldiers' mutiny in the barracks there and in July 2000 there was a lot of fear among the people at that time. Let's hope that now relationships are back to normal with kindness and accepting one another!

Sugar mill

Sugar cane in Labasa

The climate is perfect in babasiga land for growing sugar so that hs been the prime industry in the northern part of Vanua Levu. Many members of our family have samll cane leases, about ten acres per person and at different times in the year other relatives come to the village and form cane-gangs to harvest the crops by hand. I think the canecutters get about $1 an hour - if they are lucky! Rather pathetic for the hard work. However, without sugar, Labasa would be a very different town. In earlier days it was of course the Colonial Sugar Refinery. I"ll try and post some pics of the mill in earlier days and today. Some of the downside of sugar is that native trees, plants, even medicine trees were cut down and also there is often pollution in the rivers, such as the Qawa near All Saints Secondary School not far from the mill.

The future of the sugar industry is problematic with the price going down. Also many of Labasa's Indian tenants have relocated to other places when their leases ran out. Some moved to near Navua to become vegetable farmers.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Fijian Dancers

Every year our city hosts one of the biggest ethnic festivals in Australia. It's called the Pako Festival because it is based in Pakington Street Geelong West. Nearly every year for the past twenty years our Fijian community has participated, mainly with performances of dance and song. About fifty other ethnic groups perform dances, display crafts, have food stalls, and join in a street procession. It will be on again this year on February 25th and a group of Fijians are busy preparing dances.

Here is a photo of a dance a couple of years ago when some boys performed their first meke.

Fiji migrants

One of the strengths of Pacific Islanders who migrate is to maintain our customs and networks. In our Geelong area there are about ten Fijian families who normally come to our Friday night functions for fellowship and food such as fish, tapioca, rice and curry.

Last night there were three young couples, a new baby, a little girl, an older couple, two other Fijian guys, Sione and Kesa, a Tongan couple over from Auckland for a wedding here. They were part of our parties and network last year. Sometimes we have a lovo, an underground oven, in the backyard. The young Fijians in our group met one another through rugby training with the Rams.

While sitting around the Kava bowl on pandanus mats, stories flow non-stop. These are about fishing, pig-hunting, a village funeral, the New Year celebration in a Nadroga village where the men wore women's clothes. I liked the pig-hunting story by a man from Nadroga and now his girl-friend is an Australian. We had a powerpoint picture show going of a trip to Fiji by a local woman and a tape of old Fijian music.

The difference in groups when Islanders migrate seems to be that that the network is broader. In Fiji we mostly sit with relatives or kin from our own province and talk in our own dialect. But when overseas, because there are fewer Fijians around, the network includes people from many different parts of Fiji and also other Pacific Islanders - often met through rugby or church functions. For example last night we had people from Ono-i-lau, Namosi, Nadroga, Labasa, Tailevu, Auckland and our own city in Australia. So there are no longer conversations in dialect and we converse in a mixture of English and Fijian. There still is a passion for news of the home country, for joking, laughing, and story-telling.

One of the weaknesses of such gatherings is that mainly men sit around the kava bowl and dominate the conversations and the women are left out, especially those who do not speak Fijian - the Australian wives and girlfriends. However it is a time for mutual support of one another and we all enjoy having children with us.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Sunrise at Nukutatava

From Wendy
Our time at Nukutavava with three little boys was one of the best periods in our lives. We had three bures and a niece aged about nine lived with us. I wrote this poem about the quietness of living there.


A mango plops on the wet grass,
I collect a handful to pare and slice.
Parrot mangoes coloured sunrise.
I hear Rinieta singing
as she strolls towards the spring
where water drips like plucked strings.
This is the day, this is the day
that the Lord has made.

Still steeped in kava dreams
I hear piano cadences of Peer Gynt's Morning
And the sad contralto of Solvieg's Song
Whispers from my distant land.

I lick my lips, taste salt and sweat;
it will be another stunner today.
Light catches the plaits of bamboo
as I sit on the doorstep,
cannot speak for the sheer wonder of it
as the soft scarf of the sky
floats with seeping dyes
and islands hang on the skyline.

The colours die into a bland talcum day:
The baby will wake in an hour.

Nukutatava beach

From Peceli

Nukutatava means the place to roast or barbecue fish or meat. This beach property probably goes back to the days of beche-de-mer trading when mainly American sailing ships used the coast of Macuata in the early 1800s to collect the sea cucumbers to sell in China. Nukutatava was probably one of the places where there were smoking sheds.

The chief at that time was Ritova and stories about him are told in books such as the narrative by Mrs Wallis, the wife of a trader, or the story of Cannibal Jack.

It seems that this area was later used for planting cotton and managed by a European who bought the land I have been told - for a gun and rum! There is a grave on top of the hill, marked with the name of Joy but I have not found out their story.

In recent years this land was leased to an Indian cane-farmer and by 1972 the lease ran out and I was able to claim the land back for our tribe. That was not easy as I had to prove I was poorer than the Indian. I was - I took three years leave from the Methodist Church and moved to Labasa.

I went to numerous Land Tribunals on behalf of our family and we won time after time but our opposition found new grounds for argument. The final court sitting was in Lautoka and at last we won our land back.

Let me describe my first visit to this beach property. We drove down as far as the road went then walked over hills amidst sugarcane farms until we came to the beach, a curved strip of white sand, and grassland sloping up a hillside with several mango and coconut trees. There were no houses at all.

Two fallen coconut tree trunks lay in the clear water and on one of them were two dakudakulaci - striped seasnakes, the Mali Island totem, sunning themselves. It was such a quiet, peaceful place. e explored along the beach and found a natural spring coming out of a cliff, feeding clean water into a pool. There were signs of some Indian ritual there because we saw some garlands and broken coconut shells.

As we looked at the land, now reclaimed as ours by the Land Tribunal Court, I felt very happy and saw the possibilities of the place for picnics for the local people, some houses for our families of for tourists and a boat tied up to take people to Vorovoro Island or Mali. Then we saw a huge rainbow over the hillside and that confirmed our happiness.

We did build three bamboo huts, for backpacker tourists but were rather naïve and only charged about $4 a day to them! Then we moved in and our family lived there for a time.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

pic of Vorovoro

Investing in Fiji Island

from the Native Land Trust Board tourism survey

JVOROVORO ISLAND Vorovoro is an island on its own and is adjacent to Mali Island. The subject site for development has a long stretch of white sandy beach frontage overlooking the crystal clear blue sea. When entering the island, the ocean seabed is visible as you can take a glimpse of the colorful starfish and little fishes . The island is also rocky and a walk around the island can be adventurous as you see the differenct formation of the cliffs and rocks on the island. The two edges of the island is rocky which is ideal for fishing. The island is ideal for activities such as game fishing, relaxing and sunbathing. It is an added bonus that the island is away from the busyness of life where you can relax, rejuvenate and enjoy your privacy. jLOCATION The actual journey begins from Labasa Airport to Malau Jetty. You will be able to get a glimpse of Labasa Town and the sugar cane fields on your way to Malau Jetty. The car ride from Labasa Airport will take approximately 20 - 25 minutes to Malau Jetty and then onto a fibre boat from Malau Jetty to Vorovoro Island which will take approximately 15 minutes. A speedboat ride will take about 5 minutes to Vorovoro Island. APROPOSED TERMS AND CONDITIONS (MINIMUM FIGURES)
Area - 10 acres (subject to survey);
Term - 50 to 99 years;
Premium - minimum of $10,000 .00 (FJD) per acre (payable at the commencement of lease);
Minimum 10% non-liquidable shares to be given free to the landowning unit;
Education fund - minimum of $10,000.00(FJD) to be paid annually to the Mataqali to assist the landowners with their education and subject to review after every 5 to 10 years (Subject to negotiations);
Village project - Lessee to assist in improving the village water and electricity supply. Lessee to also assist in financing the construction of their village hall and to provide a long fibre boat with a 60 horse power motor;
Stamp Duty - Will be payable in accordance with the Stamp Duty Act;
Crop Compensation - Will be payable after the crop count is conducted and in accordance with the Ministry of Agriculture rates.