Eternal love ... Sofia Maleti and her son Filimone at their home
The story of two babies accidentally switched at birth in the Labasa hospital several years ago is here updated. The first time I read about this story was in Maiviti and I posted it in this babasiga blog some time ago. The situation raises many questions to ponder about identity and race in Fiji.
Raising the other boy
By THERESA RALOGAIVAU
Saturday, June 27, 2009
WHEN fate or gross human error dealt Sofia Maleti a cruel blow giving her a baby that was not her natural born child, the 33-year-old Matalolo villager stuck up her chin and faced the music to protect her son.
"They would stare at my son Filimone and whisper or even say to his face that he was not a 'kaiviti'," she said. "It hurt me, not because I knew it was true, but because it was not our fault," she added.
On the 1st of August 1994 Mrs Maleti gave birth to a healthy baby boy at the Labasa hospital. She was elated with her new bundle of joy who was also her first-born. A few days later she was discharged but with a different child; with the son of an Indo-Fijian woman from Seaqaqa. "I really didn't notice anything until people started talking and they questioned my faithfulness to my husband," she said. "Some said I had committed adultery and already cheap talk started making waves in the village."
"To make matters worse my son was from a different race and had wavy hair and looked like no one else in the family," she said. "Everywhere we went they stared, talked and pointed and it was a very hard time for us as a family," she said. "I used to fight for him, protect him like a mother hen because I loved him dearly."
Sometimes in 1995 Mrs Maleti stumbled upon the truth while visiting in Seaqaqa. "Someone told my husband that there was a boy who looked like a 'kaiviti' growing up in a Muslim family in the area."
"When I walked up to the family, and I saw some of the children run out and I saw the striking resemblance they had with 'Mone' I knew in my heart that this was his natural family," she said.
"Then I saw the baby 'Mone's' natural mother was carrying and knew he was mine," she said. "We both cried for all the misery and pain that we had gone through as mothers whose babies were switched at birth."
Both families decided on a switchback date some months later but when the day did arrive it wasn't as easy as planned.
"I couldn't give him up, I wanted my natural son back but at the same time I couldn't give up 'Filimone'," she said. "Even though I knew for certain he was not my natural born child that didn't make a dent on how I felt or cared for him because I had breast fed him and raised him as I would my own."
"And he just didn't want to go."
The stares, the criticism and the pointed fingers did not end there and many times racial slurs reduced Mrs Maleti to bitter tears. "They questioned my decision to raise a boy from another race as my own, why didn't I just give him up now that I knew he was not my natural born."
"Since he is my eldest child he is expected to take over the leadership of our mataqali when my husband passes on but already there is opposition because of his race."
"When I look at him I only see a son, not a boy from another race. I'm telling him to study hard because I worry about his future here in this village. Already he gets caught up in punch ups because they call him racist names and he doesn't like it. He often tells me that even though he looks like an Indian, he feels like a Fijian. I worry about him a lot but I know I have the strength to carry on because I love him no matter what."