It was a lovely surprise to read the comment on the last posting and then to talk on the phone to Tui Mali. Salt of the earth, Fiji people like the Tui Mali. We feel respect and affection for him. Then I looked up the tribewanted website and found a recent interview from one of the eco-tourism guys. Fun to read, some things serious too. A lovely story. Then we remember back to the early days and our visits to Tacirua back in the 60s and the on-going adventures.
Here is the piece from tribewanted:
Interview with Tui Mali
By Jimbo, , Posted 11 days ago
Calling out across the Pacific waves to the Christmas massive, all the mulled wine drinkers and Jesus believers, all the tribe around the world… welcome to Hammock Society FM. For this special Crimbo edition I have gone straight to the top, some of you may have presented suvusevu to him, it is none other than the Chief of the Almighty Hammock Society, the one and only… Tui Mali.
Bula sia tribe.
Well Tui, here we are… me and you and a tanoa full of grog sitting on your veranda.
High tide for you Timoci, drink up… hehehehehehehe.
(Clap… gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp… clap, clap, clap) Ahhhhh, strong mix…
I used to work as a barman in Suva. I spent three years, three years in the bar… serving people, drinking beer and all. Make cocktails, everything there mmmm.
So after this bowl of grog we can fill it up with a mojito? Maybe a tequila sunrise?
Here, this a Malua Bus… high tide, drink up… hehehehehehehe.
(Clap… gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp… clap, clap, clap) I can see a pattern developing here.
After the bar, was working on the wharf and from there I joined the Cable & Wireless ship when they needed a crew in 1971. My first trip was going to Darwin, after those big hurricane that strike Darwin. After we came up to Darwin… ohhh… place was flat like a pancake… mmmm… knocked down by the big hurricane. I spent about 26 years in the ship… mmmm… start as a Deck Boy and finish as a Quarter Master.
Most sailors have tattoos, do you have any?
No, only memories and feelings tattooed on my brain… on my heart.
When did you get married?
I married before I joined Cable & Wireless, meet in Suva and that’s where we got married. You spend a lot of time away working on a ship, very hard.
Sound like you’re well travelled?
Well I visited many countries, many places… the UK… very cold place, stayed in Hawaii for 10 years, much hotter. We got two ships here, one stationed in Fiji and the other one in Hawaii. So you spend eight months here, four months off and eight months in Hawaii. Sail all over the world.
Did you encounter any pirates?
Mmmm…there are places where there are pirates… mmmm… near the Philippines, they know many boats have only few staff on, very easy to rob. We get ready with hose, ready to shoot water but no one come.
While you were sailing all over the world, did you ever think about your future, that you would take over and become the Tui Mali?
Well… when I was young I really don’t understand the chief thing. I only know I’m gonna look after myself. When I grow a bit older… my father telling me about staying in the village as chief of Mali. When he pass away… I was still in the ship, mmmm… so Poasa was holding the title for me. When I came back, he gave everything to me… so that’s when I’m holding it now.
One day a sailor, the next day a chief…
Oh yeah, that’s a very hard thing for me. After 26 years, when I went through a village and I hear people asking “who is this man, first time I see him?” The problem on my side too, I don’t know them. So we both use the same thing, sooooo…. I try something, so they can know me and I know them. So it take along time… one years… two years… three years… mmmm… I have to go through all villages… walk to Nakawaga, Ligulevu, Vesi, Matailabasa… get to know each other.
Was your wife happy to have you to herself after all those years?.
My wife still working in Suva Grammar School. Well I told her… Anna, I put in my resignation to the Captain. I want to go home, plant cassava hehehehehehehe. I told my wife… see, don’t hold me to long over here, make sure I go straight home… to Vorovoro. You stay, you carry on and do your job, I’m going. I left her in Suva after one week, I stayed in Vorovoro for about nine… ten months, no contact, no nothing. So… on December before the school break I went back to see her. She told me I’ve got a school in Labasa to go, she got a release letter from the Suva Grammar School. We arrange for our luggage from Suva to be brought over to Labasa, we got a big container truck and load everything inside and that’s where we are now. Talo!
(Clap… gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp… clap, clap, clap) I’ll drink and you talk… carry on…
Before Ben came over, I was around in Vorovoro and I was looking for a partner to help build Vorovoro up. I work with Tevita, build a backpackers something like that, you know, we ask the Government what to prepare to give us some help. I found out: it’s very hard, I don’t have that money. So we stop. One day Tevita told me “You look after your life, the world will be coming here sometime.” You know, it’s like a dream… days are gone, years are coming… when NLTB and Ulai came over and said “Uncle, what about if I put up a website to put Vorovoro in?”. Same time… NLTB put the island on the internet. Suddenly Ben came in. He brought on this idea of Tribewanted… and when he told me about the idea… mmmm… I don’t know, I said “OK Ben, first of all I receive it, you come, make sure you think of me, I think of you, don’t forget me!” Hehehehehehehehehe…
In the book ‘Paradise or Bust’, it claims you were approached shortly afterwards with a bigger deal…
Yeah, after Ben came, this American company come in, this TV show, what you call?…
Survivor…They come on the sea plane. They were looking for an island with beach facing north, the open sea.
Did they bring some kava and present a sevusevu?
They bring the money with them. They say… “you give your island, plenty money here to pay you”. I say the problem is… I already got somebody here, and he’s gone… and he’ll be back sometime, I cannot afford to say “yes” to you because I say “yes” to him.
So you turned down a lucrative deal based on a bundle of grog and a hand shake!?
Plenty of people in this world would take the bigger cash offer, after all, no contracts had been signed yet…
Hehehehehe… I want to show Ben… the real heart here, when I say it to you… yes, it means yes.
When, I was sill working in Suva as a barman… my father he retired from work and he asked me “OK, I’m going home, I want to build a house… plant… I want to go by myself with Poasa. Can you look after you mother, two brother and sister here?” I said yes. For five years, he left home… no contact, no nothing. After that five years, he came back one day and he say “OK, thank you very much for looking after your mother, your sister, your bother. Well, I built and I plant and everything is ready, now I’m coming to take your mother with me.” When he about to leave me he told me a story about what he found in Vorovoro… “You know, there’s treasure but I’m too old too get it, if I was younger like you I could get it. You go and work when you’re young, then come home to find the treasure.” Hehehehehehe…
Cool, a treasure hunt… it feels like The Goonies movie…
When I finished my work in the ship, I come to Vorovoro and look up and down for the money. So I start to weed the place, I cut all the place, I plant anything that can grow looking for treasure… but now I think I found the treasure…
A giant treasure chest packed full of rubies, chalices ‘n’ gold!
It’s people from around the world that come to visit this place. My tribe, that is the treasure my father talked of. People often equate money to richness, but there are different types of richness… I feel very proud of my tribe. You know, it’s not easy nowadays to see people of different colours and cultures live together but in Vorovoro people all over the world do this. There are no lines between visitor and Fijian, everybody is the same here, one tribe, one family in Vorovoro. Hehehehehehehe…
And usually, on Tuesdays, you visit Vorovoro and we have a traditional Fijian ceremony where the new arrivals present their kava to you…
When you present sevusevu to me, I welcome you in to my family, I receive you to be a member… of my family. When people ask me… “Tui Mali what about your hotels and your resorts?” Oh no, I don’t have any hotels or resorts. “What about all the kavalagi (white) people who live on Vorovoro?” Ohhhhh, they are my family. There are no visitors there. Timoci, I think you need a drink… talo!
(Clap… gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp… clap, clap, clap) You make me drink, next you’ll be making me meke…
Hehehehehehehehe… I feel proud when people see the tribe perform the meke… when the Fijians sing… you know where to put your hands, your arms, your head to the Fijian words. Well… people all over are asking me now for the tribe to come and meke. They want to see it with their own eyes. The Prison Officer saw the tribe meke in All Saints Secondary School, and he told me “Oh Tui Mali, if I knew from the first your tribe could do the meke, I would of sent you with all your tribe to meke in Suva” I told him… the tribe is there anytime, you want us, we come.
We certainly will. I hear on the coconut wireless that chiefs from other regions now refer to you as the ‘Chief of the World’ because of the Tribewanted project?
Hehehehehehehe… maybe it’s true, I don’t know.
Is it true that you’re part of the Great Council of Chiefs?
Yes. There are about 14 provinces… in Fiji. You’ve got be elected in the provincial council. If you are elected there then you can go in. There are three in each province… what’s that… 42 or something and four people elected by the Prime Minister.
Fiji is currently being run by the military… Commodore Bainimarama or ‘Bananaman’ as he’s more commonly known…
Bainimarama, when he came in… he cancelled the Great Council of Chiefs. He put himself at the top. On December 2006 just after the coup, we were called to Suva, the Great Council of Chiefs… we were all together to send the motion to Bainimarama to come for the meeting. He announced he wasn’t going to come… he said “it’s better for them to go and have a bucket of home-brew and drink it under the mango tree”… hehehehehehehehe… And now, last month, he sends an invitation letter to come for a meeting, he pay for a ticket… I think it’s better for me to drink some home-brew under the mango tree… hehehehehehehehe. I don’t want to go, thank you very much.
Fiji has a history of political instability, the last coup almost ended Tribewanted in its first year. What are your feelings regarding the future for Fiji?
Hmmmm, well… at the moment you know… people know plenty things but the basic thing is that people have to come down, go low, try to start from the bottom. Right down to the ground here, we talk, we build, we build, we build… maybe we build something good. If you start from the top, it’s very hard.
That makes sense to me. But what doesn’t make sense Tui Mali is the punishment I received back in July, alongside fellow Hammock Society members: Ben Titley and Sosi… for the alleged ‘Frog Bombings!’ There was no evidence that we placed frogs in girl’s beds but were found guilty by the tribe in a Mickey Mouse court and handed over to you, Chief of the Hammock Society… and what did you do…
Did you do it Timoci?...
Eeeeeeer…. you know I can’t lie to you Tui Mali. I eeeeeerrrr, yeah, I did it.
Talo! Here’s a big bilo, drink up hehehehehehehehe…
(Clap… gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp… clap, clap, clap)
Well, the punishment I gave was big, maybe very heavy…
Yep, carrying a giant, wooden telephone pole to your home, digging a hole and erecting was a touch heavy on the shoulders.
I was thinking, this was a good time to bring everyone together. All Team Fiji were there to help you, give hands, the rest of the tribe helped in my gardens… it was a good day for us eh? The post is still standing, you are still standing hehehehehehe…
If you need any more heavy work done by the tribe, just let me know and I’ll put some more frogs in people’s beds!
Well, my mouth has gone numb from all the grog, I’m feeling woozy… do you have a final message for tribe?
Well, the Christmas season in Fiji… we are looking at a family time. So… the message from me, to all the members wherever you are: make sure you bring all the family together… so when you are together there, and we are here… we are beginning to build a big family all over the world. Hold hands, be strong, move together as one. Vina’a va’a levu. Happy Christmas. Talo Timoci!
Merry Crimbo everybody… all the tribe family. Go Hammocks! (Clap… gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp, gulp… clap, clap, clap) The frogs are coming, the frogs are coming, the frogs are coming…