Saturday, December 8, 2007


Ro Nunia Latianara stood out in the sea of white-clad women at the annual Soqosoqo Vakamarama conference in Nabua. Although she was the oldest among her peers on Tuesday, it was not obvious while she sat immersed in conversation with the women folk around her.

The fair lady who is a chief from Lomanikoro in Rewa turns 82 in 12 days. While her steps are slow and weak, she does not choose the aid of a walking stick.

She was at the conference as a member of the Soqosoqo Ni Marama for Serua and Namosi, a group she had led for more than 20 years until her husband, the Vunivalu of Serua, Ratu Isikeli Latianara, died.

The years of active work for Fiji's largest women's group, says Ro Nunia, are among the most rewarding. "Being part of the Soqosoqo Vakamarama has been a great challenge," she said in Fijian.

"I love to sew and cook and being able to share my knowledge with others is something I enjoy doing." Her work as a leader involved a lot of travelling, which was quite a feat as development in majority of the areas she covered were close to nil.

But it was a crucial part of their work in order to keep the women in the various villages and districts informed and motivated. "The only means of transportation available in Serua were punts," she recalled. "When I wanted to go to Namosi, the punts were the only mode of transport available and it was really hard especially on rainy days." One of the highlights was when she represented the Soqosoqo Vakamarama to Cicia Island in Lau, she said.

There, she was required to educate the women on how to sew, knit, and prepare balanced meals for their families. Organising forums at which members could display their handiwork was another highlight. This normally occurred twice a year during the provincial council meetings, she said.

Ro Nunia's love for serving her people drew her to Fiji's Red Cross Society. She was a member of the society's Navua branch in the late 1950s. This meant that she was responsible for distributing aid for the needy and the affected during naturals disasters. She is also on the board of the After Care Fund, which looks after the welfare of ex-servicemen and their families.

"It helps them financially by paying for check up's expenses and sending their children to school," she explained. "We only help the children until they are 16 years of age. We help them by paying fees, and for their uniforms and shoes."

It became obvious that the mother of four is fond of children as her face lit up when she spoke of her work with the Fund. And she values education. It was hardly surprising as she was among the few privileged women of her time to attend the prestigious Grammar School. At the time the school was located in Muanikau Road in Domain. Only children of chiefly families were allowed to attend the near-exclusive European institution.

After she left school, she married in 1944. Ratu Isikeli was a lieutenant in the Royal Fiji Military Forces then. Shortly after they wed, he was called for duty to join the Malayan campaign. "It is a painful experience to remember," she said.

Her third child, Ro Vulavou, was only eight days old when Ratu Isikeli died. "Staying alone with my children was a real challenge," she recalled. "But we were not alone because we had the villagers supporting us. They would bring food and firewood and other things that we needed. When he returned, Ro Vulavou was already two years old."

When asked for the secret of her longevity, Ro Vulavou said it could be due to her strict diet," she said. "I rarely eat meat and I don't drink coffee or tea and all. I normally drink a cup of cold milk every afternoon.

"I've been able to live up to my diet and it has kept me going through past years," she said. She believes people need to look after themselves better, especially the youths.
"During our days of youth there were no diseases like STD and HIV/AIDS," she said as she shook her head.

"But now there are many deadly diseases out there. I would like to urge young ladies to try and avoid pre-marital sex.
"I plead to parents and guidance to advice their children on how to protect themselves from this deadly disease," pleaded Ro Nunia.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online