Sunday, June 14, 2009

Everyone has a story

As in Max Ehrman's Desiderata:- speak your truth quietly.
A different kind of life
Sunday, June 14, 2009 Fiji Times

Sitting from left: Catherine Smith-Johansen, Tom Smith, Maryanne Smith. Standing from left: Mere Siriivalu, Robert Johansen with baby Everlyne Johansen, Charles Siriivalu and Maikeli Hooper at home at Naisaumua Village.

TOM Smith willingly let life lead him. He had two different sets of names - one given to him by his mother, the other by the father Robert Smith - the man he never knew.

It didn't matter until he reached 18 where as fate would have it, the name bestowed on him by his father would help further his career in the mining industry.

Returning some 41 years later to roost, he has since resumed his original name - Sakiusa Siri'ivalu.

Tom Smith aka Sakiusa Siri'ivalu was born in the old Naisaumua Village, Tailevu in 1930. His father was an Australian who settled in Fiji in the post independence era. But Mr Smith does not speak much of his parents. His childhood was shaped by the early years of his life spent as his grandfather's "tauraki".

"I never went to school. My mother's siblings were all with good jobs. But no matter what they'd tell my grandfather of the need for me to go to school, he wouldn't have it.

"He would argue that he needed me to accompany him to the farm, to send me on errands. He would tell them - "who knows, he might turn out better than you".

"It was like music to my ears because I didn't want to go to school. I saw the children in the village get up every morning and go to school, and I knew it wasn't for me. I wanted to stay at home with my grandfather," he said.

Mr Smith made friends with a truant student of the same village.

"He'd go half way to school, turn around and come back and we'd spend the day together. Life was hard. No toothbrush, no toothpaste, no towel, no pillow. No alcohol, no smoke, no grog. That's how I knew I could fit in anywhere," he said.

At 18, he and his friend picked and sold mandarins. Their ultimate goal was a job at the gold mines of Vatukoula. With 15 shillings between them, the duo caught the bus down to Vatukoula where they soon found jobs at the mines.

His employers were surprised with his name which in those days was obviously awkward if you were fair skinned, he said.

"They'd look at the color of my skin - I was fair and my name - which was Fijian, after my grandfather," Mr Smith said.

But he worked as a plumber for a while before he was shipped off to Gau where he learnt to read, write and speak English.

"Sure, some words I pronounced were not clear, but that's their language, not mine. They always spoke to me in English and I, in Fijian even though they spoke better Fijian than me. They spoke to me in English because they knew who I was, they knew my father. They were friends of my father," he said upon returning to Vatukoula for the second time to resume a job at the mines under the name Tom Smith.

"When I got to Gau, the first thing they told me was that my name would be changed to Tom Smith - the name my father gave me. And they told me not to speak to them in Fijian," he said.

On his return to Vatukoula, he won the respect of the white men after he not only changed his name, but also learnt to speak, read and write in English.

"Before that, they would look us up and down and say "You want yorp(job)? Go back to village, eating plenty tavioka and come back next year," Mr Smith said.

He rose through the ranks and ended his career as shaft foreman in 1989 when he returned to his village to build what is today fondly referred to as The Castle by villagers of Naisamua.

His daughter Maryanne Smith says the house was built from remnants of old homes that were dismantled in Vatukoula.

Their home is known as Delailoloma, after an area near the Smith shaft in Vatukoula. And true to form, the house does stand out like a castle in the middle of a rice paddy in Naisaumua.

If it's true that the eyes are the gateway to the soul, then Tom Smith's shining bright brown eyes speak volumes of how his kept himself happy and strong in the 79-year-year gone by.

He is the essence of the text in Max Ehrman's Desiderata:- speak your truth quietly and clearly.... even to the dull and ignorant, they too have their story.

Celebrating life in a large way with his eight children, 15 grandchildren and five great grandchildren, he laughingly says " Dua na ka o yau, eh? Va ka ga na toa!"

His life long principle remains unchanged.

"Be honest with yourself as with others. Whatever you do, do it with all the goodness of your heart, no matter what. It will come back.

"And remember who you are working for. Give something back to them; not just waste your eight hours work to get paid. Give something back and try and do better than the last person that was there before you," Mr Smith said.

Love has kept him alive even after the sad loss of his wife in recent years.

Admittedly he confesses to spoiling his grandchildren even to the extent of going against their respective parents' wishes.

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