When I read one feature article in today's Fiji Times it brought back memories of the time when I was a talatala in Navosa and knew these villages that are so far away from Suva and to travel between them meant walking or riding my horse. This was in the early 1960s. Some of our family have been back there also, for example when my niece Mere(Pinky) was married to a young soldier who came from a mountain village. Today roads link some of the villages up there.
Fiji Time: 11:38 AM on Sunday 26 September 2010
Sense of purpose
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Simione Tui cuts a forlorn figure on horseback. It's cool as evening approaches in the highlands of Navatusila, overlooking the village of Nabutautau in Navosa. Simi, 30, was about 200 metres away from the top of the mountain range to the north. He had travelled about an hour from Nasauvakarua Village in the south, cutting a path through a series of mountains before he reached the tip of the Delai Navatusila range. He was headed north, to Nabuabua, which would take him another half an hour to reach. He had another horse in tow, headed for Nabuabua.
Nabutautau is surrounded by mountains that rise steeply on all sides. The village itself is in the middle of nowhere, about 3000 feet above sea-level in the heart of Viti Levu.The village sits below the Delai Navatusila mountain range to the East, Ba ni Kavu mountain to the North, Marauralo mountain to the North-West and Delanabitu mountain to the West. It makes up one of seven villages in the Tikina o Navatusila. The other villages are Nasauvakarua, Nanoko, Mare, Tuvatuva, Natoka and Nabuabua. The Delai Navatusila range holds the village in from a deep ravine that stretches from the direction of Nadrau Village in the North, heading down South, past Waibasaga Village a few mountains away, to feed the river which winds its way on to the little tourist township of Sigatoka, a little to the South-West.
The nearest villages to Nabutautau are Nabuabua and Natoka, an hour's walk away - Nabuabua to the North and Natoka down South.
Simi, married with two daughters, has made this trip many times before. This day though was different for a good portion of the way. Over mountains and bushland, he emerged on to the newly constructed Nabutautau Village Road which links the village to the mountain highway that stretches through to Bukuya to the West and meanders its way through breath-taking views of mountains and foliage along the way to Nadarivatu in the East.
For people like Simi, this new highway has lifted expectations. They now understand how better life can be with a properly maintained road linking their little rural villages to the outside world.
I'd first travelled to Nabutautau in September, 2008 where I met Aliti Buna Nawawabalavu. She was 75-years-old at the time, having left her village at Nasauvere in Naitasiri to marry Ratu Sailosi Nawawabalavu and settle down at Nabutautau in 1949.
Her words that day still ring loud and clear. "Isa na luvequ, keitou sa kerea ga me dua na neitou gaunisala vinaka." It was a plea for assistance. A call from the wilderness. A call for something a sizeable number of the population consider a right - a good road. The widow didn't mince her words. There was no need for her to impress anyone. Her wrinkled face, weathered hands and eyes had lived through years of hardship. Her husband died in 2005, at the age of 82. He was a third generation direct descendant of the man (Ratu Nawawabalavu) blamed for the killing of Reverend Thomas Baker on the morning of July 21, 1867.
Aliti sat there, shamelessly emotional. Every one of her three daughters and four sons were born at Nabutautau. The nearest health centre, at Bukuya was a couple of hours West by foot. She'd learnt to deliver her own children and that of other mothers in the village. It was a reality she wanted highlighted.
As most wives in urban centres get off a bus or a cab and walk a few metres home with their shopping, Aliti was forced to get off at Nanoko Village, coming from Ba, with her shopping packed securely in a used 10kg sack to trek through the jungle on a four hour walk home over mountains that would leave most urbanites gasping for breath. Her needs far outweighed the wants of most urban dwellers.
It was the reality of life in the inhospitable terrain. In 2008, there were three ways to get to the village. You could either hop on a four wheel drive vehicle with a driver willing to accept road conditions that could only be described as horrible, rugged, and life threatening, travel on horseback or you could walk.
I remember our trusty Ford Ranger had taken on the elements, and arrived at Nabutautau to gasps of surprise from the villagers. I'd left Suva with my colleagues Asaeli Lave and Anare Ravula at 4.30 on a cool Monday morning. We arrived at the junction at Bukuya which serves as the gateway connecting the highland people to Sigatoka, Ba and Nadi, at 8am. We came to a stop at Nabutautau at 2.30pm.
Nadi, Lautoka and Ba are to the West while Tavua, Vatukoula and Rakiraki are to the North of Nabutautau. Suva is towards the South-East.
To say this village is far is an understatement. Villagers spoke of travelling with ropes, to pull vehicles on portions of the road that were so bad in rainy weather, that even four-wheel drive vehicles had trouble passing through.
"I'd like to be alive to see a good road made for us," Aliti told me that day. Aliti forked out $150 one way to get her produce from Nabutautau to Ba then.
Like her, turaga ni koro Vilitati Rokovesa believed a proper road could change their lives. "We are blessed with fertile land, our crops are plentiful, from watermelons to dalo, yaqona and cassava," he told me that day. "All we need is a proper road to get to town to sell our produce."
The rugged terrain, scarcity of transportation, lack of human habitation and no public transport service made the highlands suitable grazing ground for drug farming.
The fact that mobile phones picked up signals on the mountain roads added credibility to the notion.
But it was something the people of Nabutautau shrugged off. Most are Seventh-Day Adventist church followers. They live simple lives, and off the land.
It meant more respect for tradition and culture.
The ways of old were evident in the far flung land where communication with the outside world was intermittently possible only with the aid of a newly installed satellite phone system in the village, where water flows through plastic pipes from the nearby mountains and lights at night came on from benzene lanterns or the little used generators until solar powered lights came on this year.
Anare's story in the Nai Lalakai on Friday, September 19, 2008 was followed by a Cabinet statement on Tuesday, September 23 which was like a breath of fresh air for the people of Nabutautau. Cabinet approved funding for road upgrades within the Tikina of Navatusila, specifically to the villages of Nanoko, Ebuto, Nasivikoso and Nubutautau. The project was to be carried out by the Ministry of Works, Transport and Public Utilities via contracting the scope of works to the private sector based on public tender.
"We faced many problems before," Simi tells me. "Now we can travel to the urban centres anytime, rain or shine which is very good for us."
They now have a brand new road, one they fondly refer to as ‘gaunisala piji'.
But it was no easy road to build for Mukesh Chand the supervisor roads for A Jan Group of Companies, the contractors for the road works. It was one of the toughest challenges in his career as an engineer. "We had problems with material and water sources," he said. "We eventually had to cart material over from Bukuya and water from Nanoko and Nabutautau. The road at the beginning was rough and demanding but at the end of the day, I think it was well worth it."
Tui Navatusila Ratu Filimoni Nawawabalavu believes the construction of the new road will open up many opportunities for his people. It has not been officially opened yet. He was appreciative of the government effort to build a road for his people. He was one of the major forces behind the campaign to have a proper road for them.
Whether it was a curse that troubled them over the years, or just a matter of simple logistics, people like Aliti, Vilitati and Simi are thankful the door to the world has opened up for them.