Monday, November 19, 2007


MORE than 23 years ago, Ratu Aisea Cavunailoa Katonivere was a young man with a young family enjoying the comforts of living in Suva.

But his dad, Ratu Soso Katonivere, had a different career-path in mind for Ratu Aisea and called him back to the village to prepare for a future role as paramount chief of Macuata province.
For Ratu Aisea making good on his dad's vision meant sacrificing his job and comfortable living in Suva, and heading back to his roots in Naduri Village, with his young family in tow, having lived his entire life in the capital.

Ratu Aisea attended Draiba Fijian School in Suva from 1961 to 1966, then Queen Victoria School from 1967 to 1968, before completing his secondary education at Ratu Sukuna Memorial School in 1972.

When his father asked for him to come back home in March 1984, Ratu Aisea was 29 and working at the Native Lands Trust Board. Going back to Naduri meant giving up a regular income, but he knew duty called. "My dad said it was time I have my first interaction with my family in the village," Ratu Aisea said.

"Living there was a totally new experience for me and my family moving from an urban life to rural living where there was no employment and I had to provide for my family through farming and fishing." Farming and fishing took some getting used to because those were things he never did in Suva.

"It was quite difficult and a challenge in the beginning but my family and I got used to the new lifestyle of living in the village so fishing and farming became my best friends as I depended on it to support my family," Ratu Aisea said. Although fishing and farming provided meals for his family, Ratu Aisea had to look for a job that could provide money.

So he joined a cane cutting group in Seaqaqa where he cut cane for an Indian farmer. "That was one of the toughest jobs, cutting cane out in the hot sun. I realised how our Indian friends, the majority of whom own cane farms, struggle to keep huge farms," Ratu Aisea said.

"It's not an easy job because there is no machinery to help load the cane. Men cut the cane and load it from the early hours of the morning until late evening." While living in Naduri, he became the assistant village headman and joined the Fiji Military Forces as a reserve officer in 1986 and did a tour of duty of the Middle East.

The five years of living in the village showed Ratu Aisea the importance of education. So after a period in the village, he decided to pursue further studies. "I figured that being born a chief, the responsibilities I witnessed in the village inspired me to seek further achievement in life through the educational and academic arena," Ratu Aisea said.

"So I consulted my dad again and told him that I wanted to pursue further education, which he agreed to. I went back to the University of the South Pacific in 1989." He moved his family back to Suva a year earlier in 1988 so he could enroll at the USP.

Asked whether his children and wife, Sera, complained about the hassle of moving to and fro, Ratu Aisea smiled and said: "I always informed them of the reasons and the importance of moving back to Suva to achieve academic goals for their own sake and their future." This, he said, always won the hearts of his children and wife which made life easier in achieving his dreams.

In 1991, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and Economics. After graduating he got a job at the Ministry of Fijian Affairs as a clerical officer and, again, this was on the advice of his dad.

"My dad who had retired from politics after being a senator, wanted me to work there so I could get first-hand experience in Fijian administration and also familiarise myself with the vanua leadership role." The job at Fijian Affairs led to his appointment as Roko Tui Macuata (provincial administrator) in 1998 after spending seven years dealing with provincial matters at the ministry.

Ratu Aisea had to move back to Macuata with his family to take up his role as Roko Tui. "But we only returned with the three younger children as the two older ones were studying in university and not long after that started their own families." Returning to Labasa to take up his new post in the provincial office only reminded him of his dad's advice in 1984, when he first moved to Naduri Village.

Such obedience helped him with his duties of a Roko Tui Macuata where he easily mingled and worked with the people. "I never regretted following my dad's words of advice when he told me to return to the village to familiarise myself with the village life and environment.

"When I became the Roko Tui Macuata, the people willingly worked with the provincial office and it was not difficult to discuss issues that concerned the vanua," Ratu Aisea said. Then he became chief in 2001, it was even easier because he had already earned the respect of his people. His experience in the Fiji administration prior to becoming chief greatly helped him in his new position.

"After experiencing my time with the provincial office and the Ministry of Fijian Affairs, it enhanced my task as a chief especially, as chairman of the Bose Vanua (annual Methodist conference) and adviser to provincial council.

"It was easier to enhance the aspiration of district representatives and it was easier because I am the chief and they work with me easily and how the vanua, as known in the Fijian protocol, obey one voice," Ratu Aisea said.

"It has been a challenge especially with the political developments we face, and I always make sure that whatever I say in the media not only concerns the indigenous community but all those living in Macuata and all those who call Macuata home."

His father is his rock

RATU Aisea Katonivere is driven in his duties as overlord of Macuata province by the echoes of his late father's words.

"I can clearly remember the words of my late father which has remained in the back of my mind since I was anointed chief by the vanua in 2001 and I have always used it as a guide in helping me make decisions on certain issues regarding the vanua, Ratu Aisea said.

"His words were: 'When you become chief of Macuata, as Tui Macuata you are the overlord of the land and you must not forget that you are not only chief of the Fijian people registered in the Vola ni Kawa Bula (register of living indigenous Fijians) but you are chief of all the people who call Macuata home' and I have always used that to help me through as chief," Ratu Aisea said.

"All my life my inspiration was my old man, my dad, he was my rock and was always behind me with words of advice that has seen me through to this day." Now that his dad has passed away, Ratu Aisea holds on to his dad's words of wisdom because it has helped him in difficult times. The chiefly position was bestowed upon him after Ratu Aisea's elder brother passed away in the 1990s leaving him as the eldest surviving son.

"When the vanua annointed me as Tui Macuata in March 2001, I knew it was going to be a big challenge. "I told myself that I was stepping into a new frontier that was foreign to me and that my role was a crucial one as it dealt with the welfare of the people of Macuata, of all those people who have made the province their home irrespective of race, colour or religion," Ratu Aisea said.
As chief, he has also been a listener to members of non-indigenous communities hearing their concerns as well as their ideas to develop Macuata.

"My role as chief does not only involve the indigenous community but those from other communities and that has been a good part of my chiefly duty because it has built relationships and strengthened ties." And the members of the non-indigenous communities approach him like any other Fijian would do - take their sevusevu and inform him of the purpose of their visit. Seeing the members of non-indigenous communities visit the overlord in such a manner always touches Ratu Aisea's heart.

"I am always humbled to see such a reception from the people of non-indigenous communities when they come for a visit because it only shows that the community is united and have respect for the different cultures and traditional values. "Some come around to ask for guidance and I do help out as I believe that's an important element because with that in mind, the decisions made satisfies all members of the province," Ratu Aisea said.

"Considering the views of everyone involved is important because when decisions are made, it's fair and satisfies all."

Ten things you did not know about Ratu Aisea

1) Ratu Aisea Katonivere is married to Sera Katonivere and they have five children three daughters and two sons.

2) His favourite dish is boiled fish, miti with bele and dalo.

3) He makes sure that every Sunday his family goes to church

4) Ratu Aisea visits his mother's village of Waisa, Kubulau in Bua at least once every two to three months. "When I go to my mum's village, I have to take supply of food for my relatives because that's my koro ni vasu."

5) He was born on July 16, 1955. His parents are Ratu Soso Katonivere who worked for the Native Lands Commission and his mum was Samanunu Vaniqi who also worked for Government.

6) Ratu Aisea still does farm work and during the dalo and yam harvests he gives some to his friends and relatives.
7) He is a former senator, appointed by the province of Macuata. This led to him resigning as Roko Tui Macuata in 2006.
8) He has four grandchildren.

9) He enjoys meeting people and discussing issues that help develop Macuata.

10) Ratu Aisea believes that his dad's critical decisions in his career has made him successful today.

Adapted from the November 17th, 2007