Saturday, January 31, 2009

Tribewanted and an artist

from w
Clicking here and there on the tribewanted site mainly to see how they have survived the brutal weather in Fiji lately, I found a story about an artist's project with the tribewanted gang on Vorovoro and fund-raising for the kids of Mali District School. The website explains the screen-printing project and the colourful stools that are marketed in aid of the Mali school. Vina'a va'alevu. Way to go, Kaz Brecher!

Stencilling is a natural process for Fijians as this is the way the masi barkcloth has the brown and black designed painted on, and screen-printing is a way to use this process. When I taught art in Fiji during the 60/70s I introduced screen printing to the children and some of the Labasa boys and girls won some major prizes with their work and we took trip down to Suva for the prize-giving.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Donations to Labasa from Australia

from w
There are various organisations and individuals in Australia and New Zealand donating goods and money to the flood relief in Fiji including the Jyoti Club in Sydney. Some people have phoned us asking where they can help. Containers sent by shipping are costly (about $3500 plus wharfage in Fiji $800 or more). Wouldn't it be good if Air Pacific or Qantas would send goods for free?

Someone commented in a Fiji blog that the Methodist Church in Fiji has not done much to help so far. Well, the Uniting Church in Australia responded to the Methodist Church in Fiji's request for help and are having a national appeal to all of the Uniting Churches.

There are ex-Fiji people in Australia who still care about Fiji such as the Jyoti Club in Sydney. A story in the Fiji Times is about their recent donation to Vanua Levu children.
from Fiji Times
Good Samaritans donate booksThursday, January 29, 2009

Jyoti Charity Club of Sydney donates school stationery to children in Labasa
MORE than 100 students in the north received school stationery on Tuesday from a group of good Samaritans living in Australia.

The Jyoti Charity Club of Sydney in Australia raised more than $6000 and bought school stationery and paid the school fees for some needy students.

Club president Saroj Raj, who arrived in the country last week, said this was the sixth year the club had assisted the students of Fiji.

"Every year we help the students of Fiji in different parts of the country paying for school fees and supplying stationery," she said.

"The club also depends on donations from friends in Australia," she said.

"After seeing the flood reports in the overseas media, we decided to expand our help to cane farmers in Bua who were also affected so food will be distributed to them."

Monday, January 26, 2009

Relocating Labasa and other towns?

from w
I read this today about the need to have long-term planning because the floods come so often, disrupting life and causing such damage. Or build houses and shops two-storey, or houses on stilts. Regarding Labasa, the town area is so low, most of it once was swampy. Mew buildings just have to be on higher ground, e.g. the hospital side of town.

Talking about relocationTuesday, January 27, 2009
(part deleted)……………..
State of our estuary townsThe towns to have experienced flood in Fiji are Labasa, Rakiraki, Tavua, Ba, Nadi, Sigatoka , Navua and Nausori. Most estuary towns of Fiji are located at very low altitude with some at almost sea level which are subject to severe flooding. Flooding was not seen as a problem of these towns fifty years ago but with climatic changes such as sea level rise, Fiji's estuary towns are a real threat to unprecedented flooding.

Poor urban planning and land - use have compounded this problem further. Rural - urban drift may have brought prosperity for some but one flood can entirely devastate ones dream. The notion of "from highland to lowland" has not really worked for many. Drains are today heavily blocked by household and industrial refuse. So flooding cannot really be avoided if people do not change their attitude towards the environment.

During the 2007 flood, calls were made by Labasa and Nadi municipal councils to dredge rivers. There were calls put forward by professor Nunn that dredging of rivers will not free the estuary towns from the dangers of floods. I had also written that dredging is only a temporary measure.

Municipal councils went ahead and had the river mouth dredged. I wonder how much money was really wasted by municipal councils to have the Labasa and Nadi rivers dredged. If dredging was to have solved the flooding problem, then what went wrong? The simple answer to this is that dredging will not make a town safe from flooding.

Long term solutions

The most practical and permanent solution is to relocate estuary towns if the risks of flooding are to be overcome. Many towns in Fiji were built in river lowlands and delta areas which, today, are causing millions of dollars of loss and damage from the impact of flooding. Estuary towns of Fiji need to be relocated to higher and safer locations to avoid the problem of flooding. This is long-term planning which municipal authorities should seriously consider without delay.

The development of small growth centres in safe locations, away from rivers, can be a start to the relocation of towns. For example Namaka could be the ideal location for the new Nadi town.

Tuatua and neighbouring upper Wailevu in Labasa is the ideal choice for Labasa town. Varadoli, Yalalevu or Nailega in Ba could become growth centres.The woes of flooding of towns will then be a thing of the past. Millions of dollars in losses over the years because of floods will be saved. Property value will improve, investment will increase and benefits will be forthcoming.

The process of relocation must start immediately. The State must play an active role in this process. Failing this, estuary towns in Fiji will continue to suffer severely from flooding.

(part deleted about Dismac and education)………
Relocating villages which are in flood prone areas is an important task of the DISMAC. If the relocation exercise had been properly conducted, in the past five years, many villages today would have been spared by the deluge and the State would have saved millions.

Relocation of villages is not an easy task but it is the only option. Re-diverting the river course is not viable. A study of Fiji's hydrology and geomorphology will reveal that our rivers are known to be very swift and ferocious and will create its own pathway during abnormal times. People do not want to leave their site as it has traditional and cultural values and ties. Relocation does not mean moving miles away from the village. Some low - lying villages need to be shifted only a few metres to safer ground while some need to be shifted further away from their initial sites. It is a hard choice to make and a worthwhile one for the future.

Additionally, sustainable management of forests and the entire watershed will help reduce the chances of rapid flooding. Sustainable farming practices need to be encouraged and practiced to control the silt going into streams and rivers.

Indiscriminate logging practices must stop as it is the cause of massive landslides and silt deposits in river beds.

The recent flooding will not be the last....

Pradeep Lal takes keen interest in natural disasters and is the author of the book titled Cyclone Ami. He can be contacted on email:

Sunday, January 25, 2009

An Aussie girl in love

from w
I stumbled across a very informative blog by Amanda in Tasmania, a personal story of the perils and difficulties of falling in love with a Fiji Islander, and the craziness of immigration paper work. I reckon her blog ought to be compulsive reading for those in Oz or New Zealand, etc. who contemplate such a relationship with a Fiji Islander! The pitfalls, the joys, the patience required, the awkwardness of crossing cultures and particularly the resilience required when dealing with embassies and immigration departments! We know many couples in this kind of situation. The outcomes have been very good at times, but bad at other times.

When everything seemed bleak, this is what Amanda wrote:
I have never been this powerless in my life. Our future lies in the hands of an office clerk, who may be having a good day or a bad day. He or she may feel like doing this properly or dismissing our case to the bottom of the pile.
Anyway, read the story for yourself on her blog. Fortunately Amanda and Chita are together AT LAST!

Another discussion on this topic can be found in another blog.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fundraising lunch for a generator

from w
Our friends, Ken and Selai, organised a delicious lunch for a group of people today in Geelong to fundraise for a generator to provide electricity in a village on Nayau Island. It was a beautiful day in Geelong and we had a lovely time, drinking kava, yarning with old friends and meeting new people, even our neighbours from over the back fence who we didn't know! Roast meats, salads, and lots of good food and talanoa!
Vinaka Ken and Selai.

It's almost Bollywood

from w
So now the Forum is not going to be on the scheduled date, but is postponed to a later date to accommodate the guest from Fiji, the Interim PM. Michael Somare has been doing backflips and double somersaults to accommodate the Fiji interim leader.

Another story is that one of the delegates appointed to go (in place of the Interim PM) was suddenly suspended from his position, perhaps because of something he said in an interview. Sobosobo, it's like a soap opera or even Bollywood.
This was reported in Fijivillage.

Pacific Island Forum Leaders Meeting Deferred
Publish date/time: 23/01/2009 [19:07]

PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare has said the meeting will still take place at a later date with the personal attendance of Interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

Somare said they have rescheduled the meeting to February 10th. He adds contrary to what many commentators were saying, the Forum leaders were not coming to Port Moresby with the pre-conceived notion to suspend Fiji from the regional grouping. Somare said he is under no illusion that the meeting will be an easy one for them adding this will test the resolve of the Forum leaders in addressing what is already a very delicate situation in Fiji. He hopes they will come to decisions that will help Fiji move forward in an orderly way towards democracy.

Sir Michael commended Commodore Bainimarama for seeing through this difficult period in Fiji to indicate his willingness to attend this meeting.
and from Fiji TV
One National News

Permanent secretary suspended: PSC
23 Jan 2009 03:19:46

The Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Ratu Isoa Gavidi has been suspended pending investigations. It's believed his marching orders were given last night following his comments to One National News last night. And, it's not known at this stage who will replace Ratu Isoa Gavidi to the Special Leaders meeting in Port Moresby next Tuesday.

ONLY yesterday Ratu Isoa was appointed by the Interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to attend the meeting on his behalf together with the Interim Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.

These comments by the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ratu Isoa Gavidi to One National News yesterday, may have cost him his job. It's believed that his wish that the Interim Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama to go to PNG to attend the Special Leaders meeting, may have ruffled some feathers at the higher level.

This afternoon the Public Service Commission Permanent Secretary Taina Tagicakibau confirmed Ratu Isoa has been suspended pending an investigation. It's believed that Ratu Isoamay have reached visions stipulated in the Civil Service Code of Conduct.

While all details are still forthcoming, Tagicakibau confirmed the PSC has been formally advised of this directive. She said its believed it may have been linked to comments that he gave to One National News yesterday. Tagicakibau has reiterated that all civil servants are required under the Civil Service Code of Conduct to be neutral and apolitical when uttering public statements.

The allegations against Ratu Isoa are yet to be made public by the PSC, pending an investigation. When contacted today, Ratu Isoa refused to make a comment and referred all queries to the PSC. However, One National News has gathered, Ratu Isoa announced to the Ministry Staff this afternoon that he has resigned due to personal reasons. Ratu Isoa has held this post for close to four months.
and from Fiji Sun:
I was told to resign: Gavidi


Permanent secretary for Foreign Affairs Ratu Isoa Gavidi was yesterday asked to resign. Ratu Isoa said last night the request came directly from the office of interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama. Ratu Isoa said he had handed in his resignation letter.

“I was asked to resign. The request came from the Prime Ministers office. And accordingly, I have handed in my resignation letter,” he said from his Colo-i-Suva home

Ratu Isoa said no reason was given for the request but he suspected that it could be because of a statement he had made on Fiji One’s national news on Thursday evening.

“No reason was given to me as to why I am being asked to resign. Maybe it was because of statements on the TV news last night (Thursday). I would not know their reasons until they tell me though,” he said. etc. etc.

And then there's this article later on!
Pacific Forum Island leaders meet in Fiji
Saturday, January 24, 2009

Update: 5:09PM Interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama is expected to brief Pacific Island Forum leaders on Valentines Day in Suva. This was agreed upon late last night as Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare lobbied to have the meeting deferred to February 10.

Strong opposition from forum members forced the PNG meeting to go ahead.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will not attend Tuesdays meeting.
Valentine's Day, now that wll be some love-in time! Roses are red, violets are blue and so on.
Is it Shakespeare or Bollywood - to go or not to go, to be or not to be.
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune......

Monday, January 19, 2009

A man for all good reasons, all seasons

from w
What an exciting time it is not only for Americans, but for all of us, that an outstanding international young man with intelligence, good sense, an excellent speaking voice, and compassion, will be President by this time tomorrow. Last night we watched a TV program showing his young adult years in Chicago and his ability to bring disparate groups of people together to make change in a community.

Our prayers are with this man. The people are putting a huge burden on his shoulders with an expectation of the world being a better place under his leadership in the USA.

'The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide' writes an American poet, Longfellow. So at this point in history (another cliche) there is an opportunity to change direction, to work together to makes the lives of humanity more bearable, to bring hope with the expectation of better times ahead.

(later) - I've just read a very interesting article on the early years of Obama, his connections with Hawaii and Indonesia. And, it now seems more astonishing that such a person with such challenging childhood years, could ever become President of the USA!

Maraniss, David (August 24, 2008). "Though Obama Had to Leave to Find Himself, It Is Hawaii That Made His Rise Possible", Politics, Washington Post. Retrieved on 27 October 2008.

'I cannot come.'

from w
Not unexpected, but Fiji's Interim PM says he will not go to the meeting in PNG.
It's a sad world, eh?
Fiji PM will not attend PNG forum

Fiji’s interim Prime Minister Commodore Voreqe Bainimarama will not attend the Pacific Islands Forum Special Meeting in Papua New Guinea next week.

In a statement today, State media reports that Bainimarama “has decided to place the interest of the nation and those affected by the floods at the forefront”.

Instead, Bainimarama has written to Hon Toke Talagi, Premier of Niue and Chairman of PIF, seeking a deferment of the Port Moresby meeting on January 27 because he still wants to meet the Forum leaders.Fiji is facing possible expulsion from the Forum for not holding promised democratic elections in March this year. “I cannot be out of the country at this critical time when the nationwide flooding which Fiji experienced just a week ago has claimed loss of lives of 10 people and caused massive destruction to personal property, crops, businesses, industries and the nation’s infrastructure and related installations," Bainimarama said in his letter, according to State media. “As Head of Government, my priority is to ensure that the affected people are properly looked after, the necessary assessments are undertaken of the damages caused and for me to oversee the availability of required resources for the much required reconstruction and rehabilitation works to bring back normalcy to lives of our people and for economic recovery.

“I, however, would like to be personally at the Special Meeting which the Leaders have sanctioned and it is for this reason that I have asked for a deferment.”

The statement said Bainimarama has also written to Grand Chief, Sir Michael Somare about his inability to travel to Port Moresby given the Government of Papua New Guinea is the host for the PIF Special Meeting. Bainimarama is currently on a tour of the flood affected areas in the Northern Division and will return to Suva later in the week.

What causes such massive flooding in Nadi?

from w
When I was searching for some answers I found an article in Fiji Daily Post - with some explanation of how man has changed the rivers by removing rocks and gravel etc. Here are parts of that article - written a few months before the current disastrous floods in Nadi and other places.

The organisation - NatureFiji-MareqetiViti - that produced this article seems to be one of the finest of the non-government organisation in Fiji and their website is well worth a good look.

Destruction of Fiji’s Rivers & Streams
Fiji Daily Post
Date: September 9, 2008

Fiji’s rivers and creeks are a little-recognised resource of great subsistence and sustenance value for the traditional Fijian way of life and the majority of rural dwellers. They are also of considerable biodiversity interest, the recognition of which has only come about in the last few years.

Increasingly, however, the greatest locally recognised value of rivers is as a source of gravel and rocks for the construction industry and consequent “gravel rental” or lease rights for adjacent landowners.

The very rapid and unsustainable manner in which gravel and boulders are being extracted is causing major ecological changes in many of Fiji’s rivers and streams, and major changes in flow rates and volumes.

The economic impacts of these changes are beginning to be felt in the form of increased and more extreme flooding, increased dredging needs, and the undermining of the foundations of bridges, Irish crossings, river walls, culverts etc.

The economic costs to the nation of increased severe flooding, increased dredging and the replacement of riverine infrastructure will be enormous, and will be paid for by taxpayers - not the extractors of gravel and boulders. There is an urgent need for the extraction of sand, gravel and boulders to be brought under control and undertaken only at sustainable levels, with the bulk of these materials being sourced from quarries and gravel pits.

Traditional Values of Rivers & Streams:

Unpolluted rivers and streams have traditionally been an essential component of traditional rural lifestyles.

Apart from wild pigs, rivers and streams have in the past provided the bulk of essential dietary protein for the vast majority of inland Fijians in the form of fish, prawns and eels. The loss of these is a major detriment to rural lifestyles.

Similarly a constant supply of clean water has been an expectation of rural living and one of the important determinants in the location of villages. Rivers and streams have always provided drinking water, but have also been important for washing and bathing, as well as for livestock needs.

Biodiversity Values:

Until very recently, including the 1993 National Environment Strategy, it was believed that Fiji’s freshwater biodiversity was limited and uninteresting with minimal endemism (i.e. no species that are only found in Fiji). However, in the last five years research has shown that this assumption is very wrong.

There are around 143 species of fish, invertebrates and plants in Fiji that are known to spend at least half of their lives in freshwater.

Some 132 of these are native species while the other 11 are known well established populations of introduced fishes.

There are at least ten known species of native fish that are only found in Fiji’s rivers and streams (i.e. endemic species).

Most of these endemics are widespread throughout the high islands, however some species are only known from single streams (for example, waitavala and tavoro on Taveuni island).

There are also two additional suspected undescribed endemic pipefishes from the genus microphis that inhabit streams in Kadavu.

There are at least five native fish species that could be considered endangered, these include three species of gobie whos restricted habitat and small population size render them highly vulnerable to extinction.

The two other species are listed on the IUCN Redlist of endangered species and are extremely rare, they are the Otomebora Mullet (Liza melinoptera) and a species of Grouper called Epinephalus lanceolatus.

Construction Values:

River sand, aggregate and rocks have become a very common and cheap source of material for Fiji’s construction and road building industries, indeed they have fuelled the construction industry for the past half century.

With Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) providing “gravel rental’ lease rights or Open Licenses to commercial operators in exchange for fees, landowners adjacent to rivers have enjoyed cash windfalls.

However, much of this land that is being leased and mined for gravel is not on native land but is in fact legally owned by the State.


Rock, gravel and sand production is a natural process in every catchment system and there is a sustainable level of extraction at which little or no impact arises. However, exceeding that extraction level can lead to major impacts and these are all too clearly seen in many if not most rivers near Fiji’s urban centres.

Removing boulders and rocks dramatically changes the hydraulic characteristics of a river – generally Fiji’s rivers, in their natural state, are a mixture of quiet pools or stretches of slow moving water, interspersed with whitewater rapids of variable length and water velocity.

This is the natural order of rivers and Fiji’s native species are adapted to this alternating river passage and habitats.

Excessive extraction of river material eliminates habitat differentiation (pools and rapids) and the river takes on the characteristics of a smooth, culvert with a lowered river base course.

This has the following consequences:

1. Different river habitats are lost (pools, rapids, stretches etc.) with disastrous consequences for Fijian aquatic fauna i.e. loss or a great reduction in prawns and Ika Droka;

2. With the river reduced to a ‘culvertlike’condition, floods are not ‘held up’ by a varied river topography, and so proceed down the catchment at a much faster rate. If this coincides with a high or rising tide, then much larger floods are experienced at the river mouth. This is what has been happening increasingly in Nadi over the past two decades and occurred at Labasa during Cyclone Ami. Mistakenly attributed to ‘climate change’, increased flooding for many of Fiji’s rivers is something which is entirely of our own making;

3. Fine gravel, sand and silt are delivered much faster to the mouth of the river where they settle out and impede navigation and may increase flooding. Costly dredging is required more frequently to mitigate these effects; and

4. Lowering the base course of rivers, undermines those structure which were built when the rivers were at a higher level i.e. bridges, Irish crossings, culverts, irrigation off-takes, and river and flood protection walls. Undermining such structures means that they will not withstand the design forces they were built for and will sooner or later have to be replaced.

The first of these impacts effects biodiversity values, but very importantly the ability of subsistence dwellers to obtain a major portion of their dietary protein and to enjoy an unaffected rural lifestyle to which they are accustomed.

The last three of these impacts pose significant risk and financial implications for downstream dwellers, and major financial implications for the State, which will ultimately be borne by the taxpayers.

The current generation, in particular the construction and tourism industries, are mining a resource at very little cost to themselves, the detriment of which will be felt by future generations.

That the State allows this extraction from the nation’s rivers, without any consideration of the financial or social implications, is a classic example of unsustainable resource management.

Removal of large boulders and rocks from the upper stretches of rivers can be especially damaging. This has occurred to exhaustion on the Sabeto River.

Much of these rocks went to the Denarau Resort, the Sonaisali Resorts and the Wailoaloa Fantasy developments the irrational issue here is that angular quarried rock is much superior as an engineering material than rounded boulder rock for the armouring of sea walls.

Considering the massive price that is being paid by Fiji’s natural environment as well as its current and future generations, it seems perverse that the use of these rocks is often purely decorative.

NatureFiji-MareqetiViti (NFMV) is a local conservation group whose mission is to enhance biodiversity and habitat conservation, endangered species protection and the sustainable use of Fiji’s natural resources through promoting collaborative conservation action, awareness raising, education, research and biodiversity information exchange.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

from Cyclopedia of Fiji

from w.
Someone in a comment asked about the McPhee family - as one of them was in Labasa early last century. The name doesn't seem to be in the present-day Fiji Phone Book. But in the Cyclopedia of Fiji of 1907 (my copy a reprint by the Museum in 1984) I found a page with some reference to a Mr Robert Duncan McPhee on page 275. Here it is, if you can read it. Click on picture to enlarge.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Assessment of damage in North

from w
It's good they have already commenced an assessment of the damage to agriculture in Vanua Levu. It is heartbreaking for farmers to see their hard work planting vegetable, fruit, and cane resulting in nothing. Good healthy dalo etc. gone to waste and they have to start again. If I was a farmer I would be angry wondering what's wrong with the world and why the farmers have to suffer. But of course living in the tropics can mean the rain comes down and the rivers flood. People live near rivers for convenience. However, logging and other man-made disturbances to the land may contribute to the excessive flooding. If someone says it's an 'act of God' I don't think so - it's just part of the cycles of nature. Or is it part of a real disturbance in our world caused by global warming, that there will be more extreme weather situations?

from the Fiji Times.
Damage assessment
By Theresa Ralogaivau
Saturday, January 17, 2009

SIX initial assessment teams were activated by the Ministry of Agriculture mid-week to inspect damage caused to vegetable and crop plantations across Vanua Levu. Crop losses are expected to be part of major damage sustained by most farming families in the division. At Nabalebale, Vakativa, Bagata and Vunivesi in Cakaudrove, large chunks of dalo and yaqona plantations were washed away.

Vakativa farmer Saimone Matawalu said part of his plantations had disappeared or were now heavily silted. "We had floods last year and lost a lot of crops and this year it happened again," Mr Matawalu said. "For us, crying about it doesn't bring anything so we just get on with planting again and hope another flood doesn't come so that we have something to sell."

Vegetable farmers in Korotari are still reeling from the loss of vegetable farms, their sole source of income.

Mahendra Prasad, who sells tomatoes, beans and cabbages at the Labasa Market, estimated a $4000 loss of income.

"There are many more farmers in the same situation I am in but that does not make my loss any less since school is near and we still need to prepare our children for school," Mr Prasad said. "Several weeks of hard work disappeared within a few hours in one night."

Destroyed farms have resulted in a low supply of root crops at vegetables at the Labasa Market subsequently forcing prices up, and in some cases doubling. Before the flood, a bundle of long bean sold for $2. It is now $4. Cabbage now costs $3 instead of $1.50. Dalo is now $20 instead of $10.

Assessment teams are expected to report back to DISMAC by next week.

Tourists viewpoint

from w
Peceli and I were talking to a Melbourne couple this afternoon who had returned from Fiji on that emergency Qantas plane via Sydney. They said their holiday was really something - the first week excellent for a wedding at Hideaway and with good weather, then the rain started and the floods started and they wanted to get home quickly. One trip to Nadi was unsuccessful as they couldn't get through the floods and had to return to the Coral Coast. I asked if police and army people were helping get tourists across rivers etc. and they said not really, but the ordinary Fiji people were wonderful, carrying little kids, helping people. Anyway a second attempt to get to Nadi airport succeeded but Qantas asked them to pay another $5000 to change their tickets - maybe there were five or six of them, anyway $800 each! Eventually it was sorted out and the change of ticket fee was waived and the money was refunded. They told us that it was chaotic at the airport, many people quarrelling and shouting. They were really glad to get out of Fiji but said that they really feel for the staff of the resorts and for the ordinary people who were so kind to them.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Vinaka vakalevu Australia

picture from AP of Wailotua church under water
from w
As expected the Australian government has decided to give $3 million to assist Fiji in the recovery after the terrible floods. It's good to bypass the awukwardness of the relationship with the interim Fiji government and think of the humanitarian situation. Vinaka vakalevu Oz.
from Radio Australia yesterday:
Australia donates another three million for Aid to Fiji
Print Email
Updated Fri Jan 16, 2009 5:15pm AEDT

Australia has rejected claims its Fiji flood aid has been too little, announcing a significant increase in its contribution and signalling there may be more to come. Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith says officials from the two countries have been in talks to work out the best way forward, since Australia's initial contribution of 150-thousand dollars to the Fiji Red Cross was announced earlier this week. Just days before Pacific Island leaders meet in Papua New Guinea to discuss Fiji's failure to hold elections, the Australian Foreign minister has also again said his country sees humanitarian need separately from any other issues between nations.

Canberra correspondent Linda Mottram

Australian Foreign Affairs minister Stephen Smith.

MOTTRAM: Australia is giving three Million Australian dollars to Fiji immediately, including the earlier contribution to the Red Cross. One Million dollars is for emergency food, water and sanitation, assistance with emergency transportation and shelter equipment .. the rest will go to initial recovery and reconstruction work.

Foreign minister Stephen Smith says its the result of talks all week between Australian and Fijian officials with assessments still going on.

SMITH: Whether a further contribution is required, whether a further contribution is appropriate, we will determine in the future. Firstly we need the flood waters to recede to enable a proper assessment to be done of the damage and the full extent of recovery and reconstruction.

MOTTRAM: And with initial, rough estimates that the damage bill will run into tens of millions of dollars, its clear Australia is expecting to make a further contribution.

And Mr Smith also rejected claims, including from the Fiji interim government, that Australia hadn't done enough soon enough.

SMITH: I it made very clear on Tuesday when I spoke about this matter for the first time since returning from christmas new year leave that we were doing three things. Firstly, we were making an immediate contribution to the Fiji Red Cross, and that was to enable emergency food and water and shelter provisions to be supplied. But it was also made to ensure that those stocks didn't deplete quickly. And our immediate contribution was to enable the Fiji Red Cross to not just dispense immediate aid but also to replenish its stocks and its stores. The second point I made was that from Tuesday our officials were in conversation with officials from Fiji to make a judgement about what further assistance was necessary or required. And I also made the point that if further assistance was required we would do that. A few days later I've made effectively a three million dollar announcement because we believe that is appropriate.

MOTTRAM: Mr Smith also again rejected any suggestion that political differences were a consideration in Australia's aid decisions.

SMITH: Of course we have a difference with the interim govt in Fiji, with Commodore Bainimarama's interim government and we want very much Fiji to return to democracy. But that has never stood and doesn't stand in the way of Australia continuing to render humanitarian assistance to Fiji when it is required. We very much want to assist the people of Fiji . We very much want to see Fiji return as a fully fledged member of the Pacific and of the international community and our judgements about humanitarian assistance are entirely separate from our judgements for Fiji to return to democracy.

And our High Commissioner and officials in Fiji today will be advising the Fiji authorities including the Fiji interim government ministers in relevant portfolios of the decisions that we've made in respect of the three million dollar announcement that I've made today.

MOTTRAM: Some of the aid will be handled through agencies of the Fiji interim government.

Mr Smith has named in particular the Fiji disaster management office and the Prime Minister's recovery and reconstruction trust fund, which Mr Smith says Australia is confident are audited rigorously.

Mr Smith also says agricultural reconstruction will be a priority for Australia's assistance, as it was after last year's cyclone in Fiji.

And though the immediate outlook for weather conditions in Fiji has improved, Mr Smith reminded travellers that it is the season for storms and flash floods.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

For tourists to Fiji

from w
A bit in today's Fiji Times update says:
Tourists have an optionThursday, January 15, 2009

Update: 3:54PM Tourists can brief a sign of relief after Air Pacific's announcement of a change to its cancellation policy allowing visitors the option of deferment of their holiday.

Tourism Fiji chairman, Patrick Wong said visitors will now be able to make changes to their holiday dates without having to be penalised for incurring additional cost during the current situation experienced around the country.

The tactical campaign was confirmed with the tourism industry partners, Air Pacific, Air NZ, Pacific Blue, wholesales and the private sector for the next three months in the tourism industry major source markets.
I think they mean 'breathe a sigh of relief'! I think the spell correcter or somebody was having a playful guess at the words! But we do get the message. It is generous of Air Pacific and others to consider the changes to travellers plans because honestly, it is not the right time to take a tropical holiday in Fiji. Wait until the infrastructure is fixed a little and think of those who work in the resorts who need time out to take care of their families and losses.

Resilience of Fiji people

If you don't laugh, you would just cry. Sorry if this offends at this difficult time.
from w
I've been watching Channel Nine news here in Oz and they ran a story from Sigatoka as the Fijian Hotel - Shangri La I think it's called - staff have been down to one of the evacuation sites feeding people as no food has yet arrived from government agencies. pic from Fiji Times) The guy remarked on the resilience of the Fiji people in the face of this awesome flood that has disrupted lives and caused so much damage. The Fiji Times ran a story also about this - hey, great publicity for the soft heartedness of the guys at that resort! And then I saw the Fiji Times editorial had picked up on the theme of resilience. It is so true.

I wonder if tourists should still be going to Fiji - an ad was on the TV here yesterday. Should there be special travel warnings. I know that friends here are going in ten days time. I guess the infrastructure is very bad, the towns are in disarray, but at the resorts the staff are still plugging on and of course the reefs and snorkelling are as usual. (See Meg Campbell's blog site. The picture is of Nadi town under flood.

Basic decency is alive
Thursday, January 15, 2009

THE strength and resilience of our people has shone brightly despite the doom and gloom which continues to grip so many individuals, families and communities. Death and destruction has failed to break the will of the thousands of farmers who have lost everything in the floods.

Viria farmer Rajen Kumar - a week before his dalo crop was to be harvested - watched helplessly as the floodwaters poured over and around his fields, destroying a year of work. Nature's fury cost Kumar and his family $10,000 at the very least. Yet Kumar had this to say: "What can I say? I feel really bad but life must go on." And then he returned to his field to start over again in an effort to provide for his family.

Dairy farmers in Tailevu and Naitasiri have been unable to send milk to collection centres yet they must continue to care of their livestock day and night.They will receive no revenue for at least two weeks while floodwaters recede. Government rehabilitation assistance will be slow and the farmers will be forced to fend for themselves for some time. Yet they continue to work in the face of adversity without complaint.

These are the faces of Fiji, the people who get on with their daily lives wanting nothing more than a fair chance to sell their produce and make a decent living.

We have seen a Wainibuka policeman open his home to stranded travellers and provide them with shelter and food. He also allowed travellers to use his telephones to contact relatives and put their minds at ease. Nobody has funded his actions. Constable Peni Sovanatabua was not ordered by his superiors to help those in need.

This Good Samaritan was spurred to action by basic decency and the open, generous heart for which the people of this nation are known.

Strangers have pulled tourists through flooded towns, allowing them to make it in time to the few flights available out of Nadi International Airport. The sick have been carried to hospital on horseback or by friends and relatives. People of all races, religions and beliefs have banded together to offer food, water, clothes, shelter and money towards relief efforts.

In doing so they have shown that despite our differences, the nation will come together when the need arises. Basic decency, respect for human life and kindness towards the afflicted continue to be the cornerstone of our existence.

Charity in this country is not yet dead. There is still hope for a strong, united Fiji if we continue in this vein.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Vanua Levu and floods

from w
They are expecting high tides tonight and the people of Macuata are bracing themselves for floods. As reported on the Fiji radio, many evacuation centres are being prepared to take people as needed. As usual the Qawa, Labasa, and Dreketi rivers are overflowing. In Viti Levu, particularly the Western side it has been a disaster, the worst floods since 1972 when Hurricane Bebe came through Fiji.

from the radio:
Two more centers for North
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Taken from / By: FBCL
Two more evacuation centres have been opened in the North bringing the total number of centres in the division to 19. Police spokesperson Atunaisa Sokomuri says two new evacuation centres are now open in Dreketi.

As of this afternoon the DISMAC office in the northern division, Dreketi has open two more evacuation centres that is the MPI training centre and the Dreketi Indian school in addition to the 17 that is already open.

Other evacuation centres that people can move into in the North, are: Holy Family Secondary, Labasa College, Labasa civic centre, Labasa Arya, Naqali Community hall, Nacula Community Hall, Labasa Muslim college, Bulileka College, Qawa Primary, Vunimoli Muslim, Korotari Indian, Vou Bhartiya, Guru Nanak Secondary, Wainikoro High, Labasa Sangam and Nakama Community Hall.

Weather forecast from Labasa from a website:
Labasa, Fiji 6 Day Weather Forecast
Issued: 17 pm Tue 13 Jan local time
Labasa 1 – 3 Day Weather Summary Heavy rain (total 234mm), heaviest during Tue night , Warm (max 28°C on Wed morning, min 27°C on Tue afternoon), Mainly strong winds
Summary (morning/afternoon each day) heavy rain heavy rain heavy rain rain shwrs heavy rain rain shwrs rain shwrs rain shwrs heavy rain
Max. Temp (C) 27 27 28 28 28 28 27 27 27

Saturday, January 10, 2009

A prayer for Fiji

from w
When there are disrupting and unforgiving floods in many parts of Fiji it's an opportunity for neighbours to pull together, and they often do this in Fiji. In troubled times people can become generous and barriers put there by schemers and plotters are lowered. Others of course are opportunists and that's why two towns in Fiji have curfews at present to stop possible looting. Our prayers go out to all the people affected by the floods that occur in low-lying areas and near rivers. Meanwhile the politicking goes on and we pray for sensitivity, good sense, and good listening in the word-fests that are going on this month in relation to Fiji, a country of such possibilities and beauty.

Francis of Assisi says it better:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

And, who is our neighbour?

A neighbour is not just
the person who lives next to us.
He or she is the person we meet in the shop,
office, school, communal food garden,
cane-field, church, temple, sports field.
There are times when a neighbour comes to our aid
when we experience something dramatic,
life tears us apart.
To facilitate these tough times,
we need to experience day to day chit-chat,
to know neighbours by name.
We can then shelter our family and loved ones
And watch out for our neighbour.

More talanoa with friends

from w
Yesterday it was delightful to have visitors who were down this way from their home in Darwin and to talanoa (tell stories). Welcome to Geelong Rita and Mike! Our friendship with them developed mainly through the Cuvu connection and the two spiritually empowering programs at Cuvu last year that Rita's family, the Lotu family, facilitated, and invited Peceli to participate in. So it was lovely when they visited us yesterday and, as usual, Peceli prepared kava, and then we ate pizza.

This evening Peceli and I went up to Wyndam Vale to see Sailosi Koto and Tau who have just come back from Fiji - Wednesday night - same flight as our youngest son. It was good to catch up with news of their daughter, Lutu's wedding, a trip to Gau and so on. Vinaka for the friendships and the stories to you all. Sorry Tau, the cameraman didn't catch you with your usual smile!

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

There were ten in the bed and the middle one said...

from w
Move over Abama, Johnny needs a bed for the night!
Hey, what bad manners is that. Johnny should stay at the Oz Embassy surely! Of course it is a mansion with over 100 rooms so there's plenty of room for Janet and John if they have a little tiff!
from today's Age newspaper in Melbourne.
Bloggers up in arms about Howard bumping Obama
January 8, 2009 - 11:53AM
US bloggers are up in arms over former Australian prime minister John Howard "bumping" President-elect Barack Obama from an official government guest house in Washington.

- Obama must wait for guest house
- Howard to stay there ahead of presentation
- New first family told mansion 'booked out'

Mr Howard will stay at Blair House the night before he receives the US Medal of Freedom from retiring President George Bush next week. Mr Obama has been forced onto the Blair House waiting list until January 15 when he and his family will move in - five days before his inauguration as president.

The Obamas requested an early move-in at the 70,000-square-foot, 119-room mansion across the street from the White House, so their children could settle in to start school this week, The Washington Post reported. But the incoming first family was told the residence had been booked out, so they took a suite at the nearby Hay-Adams Hotel.

President Bush has been the main target for criticism from bloggers to political sites. "George couldn't make this idiot stay at the Hay-Adams?" was one of 142 comments to The Caucus blog at the New York Times. "Isn't Blair House big enough for everybody? Bush was just afraid nobody would pay any attention to him with Obama in the house," another said. Mr Bush was accused of favouring a mate over a political rival. "What makes it worse is that this Administration is once again going out of its way to do little favours for their friends at everyone else's detriment," a blogger to the Watergate Summer site said.

But not everyone was against the decision.

Jack Moss, host of The MacRanger Show on Blog Talk Radio, is defending the decision, saying President-elect Obama should wait in line like "ordinary folk". "Obama has done diddly squat for the country, as opposed to John Howard who supported the US and our efforts on the war on terror while Mr Obama talked down our efforts and called our troopers rapers and pillagers," he said. "This is most fitting."

The British broadsheet The Times reported that Britain's former prime minister Tony Blair, who is also to receive the Presidential Medal, declined an invitation to stay at Blair House because he didn't wish to be "the man who bumped Obama".

He was expected to bed down at the British Embassy instead, The Times said.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Please fix up the road to Savusavu!

from w
Once again, they shovel a load of gravel into a hole and expect that to fix the problem of the road slips at Lomaloma on the highway from Labasa to Savusavu! Instead of waving their arms around, every which way but loose - please interim ministers of who knows what and where and how, fix up the roads!

Friday, January 02, 2009

ABC radio on Fiji this morning

from w
I was surprised when I turned on the radio about 7.15 this morning to hear a report about Fiji, so I found the transcript. It started off talking about squatters such as Jittu and then about a community of Wallis and Futuna people who live in Suva and are regarded as squatters and ended with some comments by Wadan Narsey, the respected economist.

Sounds of Summer: Poverty in Fiji putting pressure on shantytowns AM - Saturday, 3 January , 2009 08:00:00
Reporter: Campbell Cooney
ELIZABETH JACKSON: Hello, I'm Elizabeth Jackson. As part of the ABC's summer season we now present a current affairs special.

And today we travel to Fiji. In 2006 Military commander and now interim Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama staged the country's fourth coup in 20 years.

Over that time his military backed regime has been involved in disputes and negotiations over a return to democratic rule.

There's also been negotiations about constitutional change which Commodore Bainimarama says will remove the current racial divisions within the political system.

But for many Fijians, debates about democracy are not a priority. More Fijians are being forced to move into the country's shanty town settlements to survive.

Radio Australia's Pacific correspondent Campbell Cooney prepared this report.

CAMPBELL COONEY: Currently around 45 per cent of Fijians live on or below the poverty line. In squatter settlements, shanty towns, or the title those who live in them prefer, "communities", are where more and more of those trying to survive in the face of poverty are choosing to live.

Graeme Hassall is a professor in governance at the University of the South Pacific.

GRAEME HASSALL: Well there's more than a 100,000 squatters in Fiji and that's out of a population of over 800,000.

CAMPBELL COONEY: That's around 10 per cent of Fiji's population and in around Suva it's conservatively estimated that at least 85,000 of an approximate population of 130,000 are living informally.

GRAEME HASSALL: I think we're redefining what we mean by a squatter. A percentage of squatters who simply have no alternatives, they have no access to land, they don't have much education, they have very low income, one or two dollars a day and they're just eking out an existence. And they're alongside other squatters who have a job, maybe have a vehicle, have a mobile phone and are using it as a choice to maybe save rent and plan their options for the future. So there's a great variety in what we call the squatter community.

CAMPBELL COONEY: Right now Fiji's military backed Government is trying to get the population's support for a People's Charter which interim Prime Minister and 2006 coup leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama says will put in place changes to the country's Constitution, which will end racial division between indigenous Fijians and Indo Fijians.

But over the past 20 years Fiji's economy has shrunk; a shrinking driven by world markets which no longer offer protection for its exports like sugar and garments, and which has been aided by a drop in overseas investor confidence in the country after each of its four coups over that 20-year period.

Now, for their own survival, many members of both ethnic groups are living in the same informal squatter communities and facing the same issues. In Fiji, poverty has proven to be a social equaliser.

(Sound of children playing, people talking and shouting)

The communities they live in can be found in and around every major city and town in Fiji. Some have been in existence since the turn of the last century. Others are relatively new. Some have no more than 50 people.

Others like the Jitu Estate, which is actually contains five different communities, has a population of over 7,000. One of the communities in Jitu is Matutu and its chairman is Kelepi Koroi.

KELEPI KOROI: In 1940 to 1950 they started up and there are some big bushes around here now.

CAMPBELL COONEY: You've been here, you were saying earlier, 37 years.

KELEPI KOROI: Yes, I've been here 37 years now.

CAMPBELL COONEY: What brought your family here?

KELEPI KOROI: We came here in the mind of education. We found that way it would be a little easier than going to housing authority to pay for loans and to pay education. On the system of those wages, I couldn't do it because I know I can do only one - either pay the house or go for the education for the kids.

So when I found out that this would be better system, to come to this place and rent then send the kids to school. Schools are near and markets are near. Everything is just near for us. The grounds, playing grounds are nearer and shops are nearer, supermarkets are nearer, hospitals are nearer. So that's why it drives people and then they find that it's a better place.

(Sounds of children playing.)

CAMPBELL COONEY: Jitu Estate's five communities are spread across a hillside in suburban Suva. Its 7,000 residents live in a tightly packed mix of dwellings ranging from three-bedroom houses to one room shelters and build quality goes from almost professional in experience, to what is best described as cobbled together.

If you've grown up with an Australian sense of space nurtured by the suburban quarter acre block, or in my case a childhood lived on cattle and sheep properties in Western Queensland, a walk through Jitu's communities can be a claustrophobic experience.

The homes are packed in, the window of one looking straight into the next, or within arm's reach down to the roof of your neighbour, with only enough room between them for a walkway.

But what I also notice was a lack of obvious security, no high fences topped with barbed wire, and an absence of locks. Trust plays a big part in being a member of a community like this.

Kelepi Koroi says there is plenty of demand to move into one of Jitu's community's but right now there's a ban on any new building.

KELEPI KOROI: The area is almost packed now. It's almost overpopulated.

CAMPBELL COONEY: It's a real estate market of sorts. You pay around 1,000 or 2,000 Fijian dollars, depending on the size of the accommodation, for the right to live in it. And then you pay an ongoing rent to the landlord, which in this case is Fiji's Government.

But there isn't such a harmonious relationship between all landlords and squatters in Fiji. Tucked out of sight in one of Suva's more upmarket suburbs is the Villa Maria settlement. It's home to around 30 families and in the early 1900s their ancestors were brought to Fiji by the Catholic Church from the Polynesian Islands of Wallis and Futuna.

Villa Maria's community chairman is Joseph Filitoga.

JOSEPH FILITOGA: We've been working on the cathedral down in Suva and the St Anne school and the St Agnes school. We've been doing all this work without being paid so the church thought of bringing them together into this community so that they will be easy to contact, whatever work they want, the church to be done. It's easy for them to communicate when they want in one area.

CAMPBELL COONEY: But a century on the grandchildren and great grandchildren of those forebears are at loggerheads with their landlords.

JOSEPH FILITOGA: We love this place. We have been born and brought up in this land. We have been facing a big problem now. The church wants the land. We want to negotiate with the church but the church doesn't want to negotiate with us. They just want us to pack up and leave, which we cannot do. And most of the people here in Villa Maria are unemployed because of the situation of the economy. We wouldn't know where we will go if we just pack and go.

CAMPBELL COONEY: Now, where you are is a pretty prime piece of real estate.

JOSEPH FILITOGA: Yes it is. This is one of the highest spots in the area and here would go close to about $2-million for this land, five acres land.

CAMPBELL COONEY: The ownership of the land where many of these squatter settlements have been established is an ongoing issue. And dealing with it has been one of the main tasks of the People's Community Network.

The network has been formed with the help of Fiji's NGOs and under the PCN's umbrella many of the communities have united to lobby on the issues affecting those within them.

Pasepi Qalowasa is one of the network's community secretaries and she says many long term squatter settlement residents feel they, their parents and sometimes their grandparents have been living in these communities so long, they now believe they are the owners.

PASEPI QALOWASA: They have been here for many years. They thought they own the land.

CAMPBELL COONEY: They've been here that long that they thought it was theirs.

PASEPI QALOWASA: Yes, yes, yes. That's the problem. They thought they've been here for long so they can own the land whatever comes, the first priority will be given to them.

CAMPBELL COONEY: That's certainly the position of Joseph Filitoga and the people of Villa Maria.

JOSEPH FILITOGA: According to the Government law it says that if you've been on the land for over 30 years you are entitled for the land. We've been here over 100 years. I am 58 years old now. I've got a cousin who is 68 years old who is the, whatever you call him (uses Fijian word), the old man of the village. And I've got an auntie of mine, she's still alive, she's 88 years old. It's been handed down from our fathers, our grandfathers, telling us that this land has been given to them. We were not squatters. They brought us here to settle here.

CAMPBELL COONEY: As you talk to the residents and leaders in settlements like Villa Maria and Jitu Estate, Fiji's lack of job opportunities comes up repeatedly.

For many years Fiji's garment industry had preferential access to markets in Australia, New Zealand and the USA. In early December the president of Fiji's Clothing, Textile and Footwear Industry Group, Kalpesh Solanki, described the state of garment manufacturing as its most productive.

KALPESH SOLANKI: Fiji TCF exports peaked at just over $FJD320-million in the 2000, which represented about a third of Fiji's domestic exports, with almost 20,000 people employed in the industry in over 120 factories.

CAMPBELL COONEY: And while the industry isn't throwing its arms up in surrender, with preferential access gone, combined with the loss of international confidence driven by coups in 2000 and 2006, and also facing aggressive competition from Asia, this is how the industry stands.

KALPESH SOLANKI: Today the industries export still just around $FJD100-million, of TCF goods, which represents about 12 per cent of Fiji's domestic exports. The surviving 30-odd factories give close to 5,000 people a means to earn an income in these difficult times.

CAMPBELL COONEY: Fiji's other big employer was sugar. The industry is dominated by the Indo-Fijian people whose ancestors were brought to Fiji by the British as indentured labour to work in the cane fields. But since 1987 when Fiji had its first coup, cane farmers and their families have been amongst the huge number of skilled immigrants who've left the country.

Padma Narsey Lal has just published a history of cane growing in Fiji.

PADMA NARSEY LAL: Well we'll probably talking about 23,000 farmers that were actually living on the soil and producing cane. That's really at the height of the industry and this would be the case until early to mid-80s, pre-87, definitely pre-87.

Post-coup you started to see a decline in the number of growers on the farm. I think the current state of the industry is such that one will questions whether this industry can survive.

And if we look at the statistics again you're finding that let's say five years ago, we're talking about 17,500 farmers on the field. In last year's production statistics you'll find that it's declined to 15,500. A quarter of the farmers are no longer on the field or producing cane.

And if the current trend continues, certain parts of Fiji, for example Rakiraki, Tavua, they will no longer be able to survive.

The shops have closed. There is just so few opportunities for people in terms of employment, that many of them are leaving the farms, many of them are leaving urban towns, urban centres, and moving to Suva or closer to Nadi and Lautoka.

CAMPBELL COONEY: That exodus hasn't escaped the notice of Fiji's military backed interim Government. Interim Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum says it's put in place measures to try and get people back into the more remote parts of the country.

AIYAZ SAYED-KHAIYUM: Vast areas of the countryside basically have deteriorated. Shops closed and schools closed and police posts closed.

There's a disparate economic development in Fiji. For example in northern eastern parts of Fiji, completely underdeveloped, huge migration from those regions into the city areas which has put tremendous pressure on the infrastructure.

So we've declared those regions as tax free regions. So for example, Vanua Levu, the maritime islands, Lomaiviti and Rotuma, a lot of potential there, a lot of land there but not enough development there. And you know the social economic equalities are quite tremendous.

So the idea is to take businesses there.

(Musical expert from tourism advertisement)

CAMPBELL COONEY: For many years Fiji's biggest economic earner has been tourism. Dotted around its coast and in its many island groups are world class resorts, providing employment and income for those living in the nearby villages and settlements.

Fiji's biggest tourist markets are Australia and New Zealand and following the strong negative reaction to the 2006 coup by the governments of both countries, visitor numbers dropped off in 2007.

The head of Tourism Fiji Patrick Wong says in 2008 numbers did improve but attracting them came at a cost.

PATRICK WONG: Yeah between 2007 and 2008 we got a 9.7 per cent growth at the moment, you know (inaudible). And then when we hit 2006 and 2007 there was a minus two per cent growth so we've surged ahead but still we're in recovery mode. Effectively we're trying to get a larger length of stay and basically a yield factor as well.

CAMPBELL COONEY: So at the moment the numbers are going up but you want to increase the income, is that right?

PATRICK WONG: Yeah the yield factor.

CAMPBELL COONEY: To see who is paying part of the cost of cheap Fijian holidays for Australian and New Zealand tourists, you have to drive out of Suva, west on the Queens Road towards Nadi.

(Sound of rain)

As you can hear it's raining, a tropical downpour I think is what you would conservatively call this. Plenty of villages along the way here and these villages range from quite well to do by the look of them, to something which is just a step above a shanty town.

When it's not raining you drive here and I've done this drive more than once, you'll often see stalls, people trying to sell fruit that they've grown.

The main source of income for these villages has been the employment offered in the resorts along Fiji's Coral Coast. And to cut costs those resorts are now employing less people.

As the shower cleared I arrived at Navutu village, home to 263 people, where I sat down with headman Alifereti Natoba.

ALIFERETI NATOBA (translated): After the coup, it was a huge impact on the village. For one, there's not much job openings now. And secondly, we have a lot of increased cost in food items that the villagers rely upon. So there's a lot of hardship they're facing now.

Things have come to a slow pace now. So with not much work opportunities they have to work harder with what resources they own in order to meet the daily needs of the families, the education and other church obligations and Vanua obligations.

CAMPBELL COONEY: The combination of less employment and an increased cost of living has taught people in the villages and settlements of Fiji a particularly hard lesson. And the people living in both repeatedly want their next generation to be better educated to allow them the opportunities they feel they've missed out on.

ALIFERETI NATOBA (translated): We hope that in years to come we will have lots of village children getting better jobs than what their parents have been able to get in the last 10 or 15 years.

People here don't really prioritise education as very important. But after going through all these difficulties, we've seen that education is a priority. So now we support educational activities. If there is fundraising to support the school we take part because we hope that in 10, 15 or 20 years time the younger generation will attain better employment and will be able to look after their parents back in the village.

CAMPBELL COONEY: While it's hard to see any positives in Fiji's increase in poverty levels, and with it the increase in the number of people moving back to the villages or into shanty towns, it does mean those people have a stronger voice in calling for help.

Groups like the People's Community Network now represent over 10 per cent of Fiji's people and in political terms, that's a lobby group no politician can ignore.

Right now though Fiji's not ruled by politicians but by a military backed interim Government. But some I spoke to who are involved in the network say they have received a positive response to issues when they have been raised with the interim Government. They don't speak in anywhere near as glowing terms about Fiji's previous, democratically elected leaders.

But with this many people moving into informal communities, it's worth considering what impact it's having on tradition, and in Fiji tradition means loyalty to your village, your church, your chief and your family, and following a code which says you must support and help each other.

Can that tradition survive when many who are part of that society move away?

Wadan Narsey was a Fiji MP in the 90s and currently he's professor of economics at the University of the South Pacific. He believes the exodus from regional centres and traditional villages marks the end of traditional life in Fiji.

WADAN NARSEY: That may have been a thing of the past. It is not a thing of today. Even amongst the Indigenous Fijian people who always had this strong sense of community and (inaudible), that's all breaking down. And a lot of people in fact are leaving the rural areas because they do not have that support system any more.

Indo-Fijian people, I mean an unbelievable fact which people haven't come to grips with is that over the last 20 years something like a third of them have migrated from virtually every family and the people who have migrated are all the ones with professional qualifications, with the better incomes.

Now there is of course a very interesting result which is that all those Indo-Fijians who have migrated abroad to Australia and New Zealand, many are sending money back in remittances to their families.

But that social network, that support system which was there amongst Indo-Fijians, that has also broken down completely. So it is not true to say, not true to say that we have got all this extended family network that provides a safety net for all our people. And proof of that, if you look around in Fiji and you look at all these incidences of violence and suicides and all that, all those social negative consequences are a result of our security nets falling apart.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Professor Wadan Narsey, from the University of the South Pacific in Suva, ending Campbell Cooney's report.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Make my day, Tui Mali

from w
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.

Any regrets?

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…