Discovery of origins :)

It was during the time of preparation for the occasion of the then Prime Ministers’[1] children to be traditionally taken[2] to their mother’s village in the Rewa province in the 1980s, that I learnt about the true origins of my people. The whole province was getting ready since the children’s mother (the Prime Minister’s wife) happened to be the paramount chief of Rewa, the Roko Tui Dreketi[3]. The eight villages from our Noco district (one of the five districts in the province) were arriving village by village to the Noco gathering at a particular venue in Suva, each village bringing and traditionally presenting their contributions. These contributions include mats, mattresses and bedding (apart from food) to help with the catering in Rewa. Our village elders decided that our village, Naivilaca, would be the last to arrive. I did not know the reason for that decision at that point in time and was puzzled since a few of my uncles were always conscientious about being on time. When we entered the hall at the venue, the Vanua[4] of Noco and Tui Noco, the chief of the district of Noco were all present. I was sitting with my older sister about two rows behind my father who was traditionally presenting our village’s contribution to the Tui Noco and the Vanua of Noco. In my father’s speech he apologised, saying that we were not being disrespectful or disobedient by also bringing some contribution to the gathering. He said this because we are traditional fisherman (gonedau) by birth and our traditional duty at such occasions is to bring fish. My father explained that we had met our traditional obligations by sending fishing equipment and fuel to our village, but we still had some leftover money with which we bought the contributions being presented. In reality, however, it was not left over money we used, because we had deliberately bought these extra contributions. In traditional Fijian presentations the presenters have to make the other party (the receiving party) feel that the presenters did not go out of their way to come and contribute to a traditional function. This is because meeting traditional obligations is an important part of reaffirming and consolidating kinship ties (veiwekani). My father added that we would gladly contribute to this function and do more, because of the gratitude we felt about the generosity and hospitality kindly rendered to our ancestors. Our contributions were a response to how our ancestors were welcomed to stay by their ancestors. Tears were flowing freely on both sides of the floor. Some significant historical event was being fondly remembered.

 

Meanwhile, I was sitting there shocked, with questions swimming around my head. Greatly disturbed, I frantically nudged my sister and gave her a desperate questioning look, mouthing the words; “What’s he talking about? Who are we? Where did we come from?” only to be shushed into silence. It was the longest wait to the end of the traditional ceremonies before I could be informed of my ancestral origins. At first, I was astonished that I had never been told of my ancestral origins before. Surprisingly all my three brothers knew and two of them were younger than me! I put it down to being born a female. This is because in Fijian society a female gets married and becomes a part of the husband’s family. The males on the other hand carry on the family name, traditional obligations and knowledge of their ancestral origins.

 

I learnt that my ancestors were originally from Bau in the Tailevu province. They had left their original home for reasons I am not sure of, and were looking for a new place to settle. They were skilled and traditional fisherman (gonedau) by birth. During their journey in search of a new home, some of their families were left at particular points along the way until they arrived in the province of Rewa. This is why my people have kinship ties in other villages along this route taken a long time ago when they left Bau to look for a new home. Finally, my ancestors arrived in the Rewa province. The then Roko Tui Dreketi kept the older brother as his traditional fisherman and now these kinspeople of mine reside in Nukui Village in Rewa. The younger brother, my ancestor, resided in Naivilaca village in Noco, a district also in the Rewa province, and became the Tui Noco’s fisherman. As a result of this separation of brothers, my kinsmen that reside in Nukui village (Roko Tui Dreketi’s fishermen) belong to the yavusa[5] Matanikoro (I) while we as descendants of the younger brother belong to the yavusa Matanikoro (II). My people still derive their living from the sea, but some now commute to Suva, about 40 minutes away, to work. My ancestors were welcomed because of their traditional skills and some of my my family still fish for a living, carrying on the method of livelihoods practiced by our ancestors.

(Excerpt above is part of my Introduction from my PhD Thesis – pages 1-3)

[1] The late Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

[2] Kau mata ni gone – when the eldest child (and siblings) are traditionally taken to their mothers’ village.

[3] The title of the paramount chief of Rewa.

[4] In this thesis vanua meaning land will be in lower case and italicised, Vanua referring to a tribe (people) will be written with a capital V and italicised, and Vanua referring to the physical, social and cultural dimensions is spelt with a capital V and not italicised. (e.g. Vanua Verata).

[5] Yavusa is defined as “the largest kinship and social division of Fijian society, consisting of the descendents of one originator (vu)” (Capell, 1991, p. 291).