Friday, January 01, 2010

The turtles of Vorovoro

from w
From Fiji Times Villagers warned against turtles Times
Thursday, December 31, 2009

VILLAGERS have been warned against catching turtles this festive season following reports of the illegal harvesting of turtles in some coastal villages of Macuata North Fisheries Officer Aminio Raimuria said that unless there was an exemption authorised by the minister, no turtle could be harvested. "This is the festive season and there will be feasting going on and as turtle meat is a traditional food for coastal villages, we fear illegal harvesting could happen," he said."The four months from November through to January are breeding season for turtles and the purpose of the moratorium on the harvest of turtles is to improve their numbers."

The district's resources committee said that turtles were being harvested for events that were not traditionally important. Committee treasurer Joseva Rasiga said that in a meeting last week they decided the reckless harvesting of turtles must stop. "People are harvesting turtles for any purpose, for birthdays and for events that are not traditionally important," Mr Rasiga said. "We are worried that with this trend continuing, turtle numbers within the district will deplete and when we really need turtles for a traditional event they will be hard to find."
(from my earlier posting on babasiga)
Turtle calling was part of the Mali Island culture, though not today. Some elderly people still remember the time. The people had chants that were sung from hilltops, such as Vatugolegole above the sandy beach on Vorovoro. A priest from Ligaulevu village led the chant and the chant was connected with a traditional religious view.
Ravete vete ni Toga,
vude mai mera
mai rai na marama sola e.
Ravete is the leader of the turtles, come out of the deep and show yourselves to our special visitors. Adi Timaima, who came from Mali and was the wife of the former Tui Wailevu, told me that a branch of the special usi tree had to be thrown into the sea and then many turtles and a shark will appear in the sea to form a parade for the visitors.

On one end of Vorovoro beach is a special turtle cave for breeding turtles. This faces the deep ocean of the Mali passage where big international ships come to Malau Port in Labasa. In the months of December and January female turtles used to come to the beach of Vorovoro Island to lay their eggs. It is an experience for life time to witness such events. Onlookers did not disturb the turtles as they laid their eggs. The turtle was regarded as a kind of god or queen.

from the Tribewanted website:

An extraordinary Christmas surprise on Vorovoro
Community → Blogs from Vorovoro → Jenny Cahill's blog

By Jenny Cahill,
Around midnight on Christmas eve, the tanoa was still at high tide, and there were still many a talanoa being told and laughs being shared on the grog mat. I had just woken up from having dozed off while putting Bethany to bed and was getting ready to head back to the grog mat when I heard a strange sound coming from the jungle near the volleyball court. Ssshhhrrrttttt, sssshhhhrrrrttt – the sound was soft and came again and again, although not at regular intervals. The sound was exactly like the familiar soft swish of a Fijian sasa broom brushing the sand and dirt from a woven mat.

I crept close, but stopped short of crossing the creek. The sound kept coming, and was so much like the familiar sound of sweeping that I could think of nothing else it could be – although I knew that there was no way that someone was in the bush sweeping at midnight on Christmas Eve – I surely would have heard about that cultural oddity if that were the case!

My mind went logically through my mental catalogue of all the creatures on Vorovoro that could possibly be making this noise. Rat – no. Cat – no. Crab – no. Spider – um, definitely hope not! After the previous afternoon’s many talanoa (story) about the presence of the ancestors on Vorovoro, I was more than a little convinced that it was something that could not be logically explained making this sound. I said aloud, “Hello? Anybody there?” – (I know, I know – how original). No response. I crept closer, straining my eyes but could see nothing, but the sound kept coming again and again – ssshhhrrrtttt, ssshhhrrrrtttt. All I could picture was someone sweeping – did the ancestors come out at night to do some island clean up to express their gratitude for the previous day’s annual clean up of their burial sites?
Incredibly curious by now (and maybe just a little bit freaked out!), I walked down to the Grand Bure, where Jimmy, Bebe, Jone, Api, and Tomisi were holding down the grog mat. I popped my head in and did my best to sound casual: “Um, hey guys… um, there’s a strange, um, sound coming from the jungle, um, behind Bebe’s house. Um, it, um, kinda sounds like someone’s, um, well, like someone is sweeping.” A few strange looks came my way – I think they weren’t sure if I was being serious or not. Slowly, a few ideas of what it could be were offered – all of which I ruled out. At some point in midst of this lambchopped brainstorming session, I heard someone say the word “turtle” and instantly felt my heart quicken to double time – that was IT! I knew it!

I couldn’t get back to the jungle quick enough then. Jimmy came with me with a light and sure enough, there was a huge and magnificent mama turtle digging a hole with her back flippers, the sand flinging across the dried leaves and making a ssshhrrrrtttt sound as it landed.

She was massive – at least 2 1/2 feet across. She was working hard at digging, and didn’t notice us until we crept into her line of sight while trying to get a good video shot. Even though we were quite a distance away from her, she still seemed nervous, and our suspicious of this were confirmed when she abandoned that hole and started moving as though to go back to sea. We quickly took our leave at that point, hoping that she would decide to stay and finish after all.

We walked down the beach, basking in the excitement of this discovery and listening carefully for any other sounds that would indicate that there was more egg laying preparation going on. I was giddy – it was a secret hope of mine that I would have a chance to see a sea turtle while living in Fiji – but this was beyond anything I had hoped for. That it was happening on the eve of such an important day, a day that marked the start of several days of celebration and fellowship, felt like a very special gift.

When we walked back by, she had found another spot nearby and was digging a new hole. This time, we stayed at her back and out of her line of sight. The whole process took a couple hours to complete. First she dug a deep hole with her back flippers, spraying sand several feet to each side. When she was ready to lay the eggs, she positioned herself over the hole and her body rhythmically pulsed as she deposited egg after egg after egg. As she worked to lay the eggs, I thought about the tiny turtles who would emerge in a couple months, perhaps as many as a 100. I thought about the arduous work she was putting forth for the children she would never see, of which only a few would survive to adulthood. It took her about 20 minutes to deposit all the eggs, and then she began the long, laborious work of filling the hole and spreading the sand, leaves, and rock so that it would look as if she had never been there.

By the time she finally decided it was good enough, she was clearly exhausted. She was taking long rests between bursts of sand swishing, and each stroke of her flipper was weaker and slower than the one before. When she finally turned herself toward the sea, she mustered up the last bit of energy she had left to pull her heavy body through the soft, yielding sand down to the harder packed sand of the beach. She aimed herself at the sea and used her massive flippers to propel herself forward, but the sand was soft and loose and gave way under her weight. She would try and rest, try and rest again, but only moved an inch or two at best with each attempt. Each effort she made buried her a little deeper in the sand.

Watching her struggle to return to the sea, I felt terrible, knowing that her work had left her more tired and weak than it normally would have, because she had had to do the work of digging two holes instead of just one. I felt responsible for this. After several minutes of watching her struggle, Tomosi and I decided to lend a hand. We positioned ourselves behind her and pushed as hard as we could. She was so massive – we couldn’t move her even a bit. But then she started to move her flippers, trying to gain traction on the loose sand, and so as we pushed hard from behind she started moving forward. She slowly moved toward where the sand was harder and packed tightly. As soon as she made it there, she scrambled faster than I would have ever thought possible for a sea turtle to move on land. Tomosi and I scrambled to our feet, pointed our torches in her direction, and were just able to glimpse her as she slipped into the sea.

There are a few events that happen in one’s life that are truly magical, and this was one of them for me. As long as I can remember I’ve been in awe of these beautiful creatures and their remarkable birth stories. Truly a wonderful way to welcome in Christmas day!

In two months time, we will watch the turtle nursery carefully for the baby turtles to emerge – I will camp out there if necessary to get video to share with you all!
Best wishes to everyone reading for a joyous New Year full of reasons to smile, laugh, and celebrate! Much love from our family to yours!



Anonymous said...

1995 We were on fijian class camping trip on Koro island at our teachers village. The high priest (in his dirty orange Fiji Electric Auth overalls lol), took us on a 15min boat ride and a short climb up to a cliff, his chant started with Tunaikasi Tunaikasi,cant recall the rest. and after afew attempts about 4 turtles rose up to the surface. Im fiji born and raised (kailoma savusavu) and i was always sceptical until that day. A man in dirty overalls and no shoes called up wild animals from the ocean with nothing but his voice. amazing experiance.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

cut out the last post, nothing to do with turtles

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