Here's a story of a family from Labasa who has to move on when their lease was not renewed. There was a painful time, but eventually a good life was found through initiative and hard work. And with the way sugar is going, there's not much good news for those who stay on the cane farms anyway!
Memories for Abdul
By Theresa Ralogaivau
Friday, March 27, 2009
SOME of Abdul Shariff's most painful memories involve watching his home being reduced to rubble as the lease on his land expired and he had no choice but to move. Even now when he at last has found peace and security hundreds of miles away, the heart wrenching experience he has lived through can be more than a dull ache. He often faltered and became emotional as he shared the traumatic times hundreds of cane farmers within 10 cane farming sectors in Macuata went through when their leases expired 10 years ago.
Back then Abdul's family owned one of the biggest cane farms within the Vunimoli sector in Labasa, producing on average 2200 tonnes of cane a year. "The farm had been passed down to me by my grandfather and we had a good life and it never once occurred to me that one day I would have to leave," he said. "We had three big cane farms and ran a shop."
Idyllic life on his farm was abruptly disturbed on the day he received a notice from the Native Lands Trust Board telling him he had one year to leave. "I just couldn't accept it because this was my heritage, something passed down to me by my family. It was work that I had done practically all my life and I was good at cane farming.
"So I went to the mataqali and asked them to renew my lease. They wanted some goodwill payment and demanded I give them my tractor worth around $40,000," he said.
"Next they wanted me to give them my shop and in return they would renew my lease. I barely slept as I worried about my family's future and where we would go. But no matter what I offered them, and the running around I had to do everyday, begging for a renewal but after several months I knew that it just wasn't going to happen and I had to give up," he said.
"It was as if someone died in our family, maybe even worse when I told my family there was just nothing else I could do about it and that we had to leave," he said.
Several days later, the Shariff family set about dismantling the home and shop built over half a century. "It took us less than a month to tear down many years work and everyday we did it we just cried," he said.
"Because we couldn't take down our concrete home brick by brick, we just ran a bulldozer through it and I won't forget that day because we all stood around as a family and cried watching it fall apart," he said.
Shocked and feeling powerless to move on, the Shariff family packed their belongings into a van and drove away leaving behind a pile of concrete rubble marking the end of their life on a cane farm. Today he operates a hire truck service for villagers within the Wailevu West district in Cakaudrove. They all call him 'Baba' the man who transports their cargo of dalo and copra to and from the market. The transition from his cane farm in Naduna to Beula Estate in Savusavu where he had purchased a freehold land was not only difficult but also an eye opener. "All my life I had been doing cane farming and some days after I moved to Beula Estate I'd wake up early thinking that it was time to go and do some 'kudari' on the farm," he said. "And then it would hit me that my cane farming days are over," he said.
But every cloud has a silver lining and for Abdul it was realising there were more to life than cane farming. "When I moved to Beula, I realised I had been living in a well and never knew there was a life to be made beyond my cane farm," he said. "I make good money carrying cargo like copra, dalo, yaqona for the villagers, have cows and bullocks and a vegetable farm," he said. "Although it involves hard work it's not the tough kind that I knew on a cane farm," he said.
"And now with all the problems affecting the sugar industry I feel being evicted was a blessing in disguise and whatever happened is now just a bad memory."