Friday, August 17, 2007


The island of Vanuabalavu, in Lau, is without doubt one of the most magnificent places in Fiji.
Lomaloma Bay and the volcanic rock bay of islands are places that will live forever with anyone who lays eyes on them.
For people planning a trip to the island, they are must-see places.
That is exactly the case for Reverend Epeli Fotofili, who was born and bred in Sawana Village, one of the many villages on the island.
On hearing the name one can easily figure out that Mr Fotofili had close ties to the island kingdom of Tonga.
In fact, the village of Sawana, on Vanuabalavu, is a Tongan village where descendants of Tongans who came in the early days to Fiji settled.
Today, Sawana still has its church talatala sent from Tonga to serve the Methodist congregation there.
For Mr Fotofili, his calling from God was something he had looked forward to long before his ordination as a Methodist minister.
From the long white sandy beach that stretches from Sawana to Lomaloma, Mr Fotofili now serves in a place that is totally new and different from where he was brought up.
He is now in charge of the Tai Vugalei circuit, based in Vatukarasa Village on the border of Tailevu and Naitasiri.
Mr Fotofili said the change in environment was something he had expected when he decided to join the Methodist mission work as a talatala.
"This is my 12th year as a talatala and I tell you I have never ever regretted committing my life to the work I do now," he said.
It dawned on me that the good reverend was somewhat of a foreigner in the interior of Tailevu because whenever a traditional ceremony took place in the village, his presence was recognised through the mention of his tribe as the yavusa Toga.
Mr Fotofili said he was used to serving in the islands as he had spent most of his days on Kabara and serving the smaller islands in the Lau Group.
"In 2004 I was appointed to come and serve as the minister for the Tai Vugalei circuit," he said.
"I had no choice and accepted it humbly because it is God's calling," he said.
He said the circuit he served included the four villages of Vatukarasa, Nameka, Natuva and Tonia.
"Being in the interior of Tailevu, just as the people of Tailevu say, is no problem," he laughed.
"Although we are here in the deep forest, we still enjoy life like anyone else in any part of the country.
"There is a lot of fresh food and the traditional solesolevaki (communal gathering) is the best part of being part of such a community," he said.
Mr Fotofili said his regular diet was now freshwater prawns, fish and dalo from the alluvial plains of Vatukarasa.
"I take care of the spiritual lives of the almost 600 members of the church in the four villages and, in return, they look after me just like I am one who is originally from here," he said.
He said serving his congregation was just like rearing a child to become a better person in life and to be holistically prepared to face the challenges of the world.
He said the biggest drawback in serving in such an area was transportation.
"This is probably a major hindrance to my work, especially when there is heavy rain and bad weather," he said.
While Sawana may be hundreds of miles from Vatukarasa, Mr Fotofili is proud to be carrying out his duties in a place far different to his home village.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online