Sunday, January 20, 2008


Don't be fooled by the absence of an air-conditioning unit as you enter the office of the Director of Environment Epeli Nasome's office at Civic Towers. It's not a matter of conserving energy, he said.
"Just make do with the electrical fan in the corner."
As our two-hour interview unfolds, Mr Nasome an environmentalist at heart and one of the rarest of sincerest gentlemen around, apologises for the lack of air-conditioning.
Here sits a man who given the chance would read comics all day particularly Superman, Batman and Spiderman. I laughed. The humour does not end there. Try taking him away from the television set on Thursday evenings and you may not get a very receptive man because Smallville just happens to be his favourite television show.
He quickly takes our mind off the humidity outside as he turns the conversation to his high school days at Marist Brothers High School.
He fondly recollects how as boarders, they would creep into the Marist Brothers teachers' kitchen and make away with pots, buckets, sugar and whatever other ingredients necessary for home brew.
"Well-hidden in the backyard garden of our hostel were buckets and pots of home brew," Mr Nasome said.
Amid the calm story teller, there is much laughter, as he said the Catholic Brothers at the prominent school would ask the students about the missing utensils and food from their kitchen.
"If they only knew we were making home brew in our very own backyard at the hostel," Mr Nasome recalls with a wicked smile.
"We only made home brew because we could not afford beer and alcohol, and this particular event only took place towards the end of a school year when there was an upcoming dance with St Joseph's Secondary School." Among his group of high school friends were former military colonel Ratu George Kadavulevu, Lui Vunibobo - son of former Cabinet minister for Finance Berenado Vunibobo, Fiji's Ambassador to Brussels Ratu Tui Cavuilati and former whip Pio Wong.
"They maybe chiefly and well-respected now but in our day, it was a different story," he said.
"Pio(Wong) had a hard time keeping us in line as head boy
"We still call each other the nicknames we had since high school. It's just a matter of keeping the memories alive."
At Marist Brothers High School, he was housed with his peers in a boarding house separated from another hostel which housed students who were aspiring Catholic brothers.
"They had to keep us as far apart as they could in case we spoilt their chance of joining the brotherhood," Mr Nasome said.
Mr Nasome is from Nawamagi Village in the tikina of Conua, Sigatoka Valley.
At the tender age of five, he was thrown into boarding school in Levuka Public School because of the nature of his parents' jobs as civil servants.
His late father was a doctor and his mother, 79, who lives down the road from him was a teacher. Their jobs entailed a lot of moving.
The eldest of a family of four, he has one brother and two sisters. He has three children, the younger two opting to follow in their grandfather's footsteps to become doctors in the medical profession.
At Levuka Public School, he calls to mind how he was caned on four occasions for sneaking out of hostel at night along with his peers to visit relatives for food.
"I was caned four times by the hostel manager who was a big guy of Rotuman decent," he said. The hockey-crazy town had no proper hockey field, so Mr Nasome and his friends were among those who used cassava sticks "as long as they had a hook-like end" for the sport.
"Levuka is a rocky place so naturally there weren't any proper playing fields," he said.
"But any space would do for us back then.
"Our hockey ball was either a stone, a rock or a piece of wood anything to get the game going." Mr Nasome, Fiji's first Director of Environment for the Department of Environment, identified his love for structural drawing and woodwork at a tender age.
And he stuck to it until he completed high school.
"It made me realise I was good in planning work through drawing. At the end of high school, I made up my mind I would take up planning in the sense of town planning, even architecture." Never in his wildest dreams did it cross his mind that his fate would change and someday he would become the director of a pivotal department that would shape the impact of development on the environment in Fiji.
"While I had applied for jobs in the architectural field, the opening came when I was accepted for a job at Town and Country Planning. That's how I got into the government. Over time, I came to realise with planning there were also some problems associated with the environment like if buildings were not built properly and not located in proper areas there'd be problems like flooding.
We could see that things can affect the community through bad planning. This was brought to my attention when I was doing my bachelor in Planning Studies at Auckland University back in 1982 and link between environmental planning and the significance of physical planning was strengthened.
"When I got back from studying in 1989, the Director of Country Planning, the former Speaker of the House Pita Nacuva formed this Department of Environment within Town Planning. He also realised there was much room for consideration of development and the problems linked to the environment. "Fortunately at that time, I was attached to an Australian expatriate Stewart Chape who came to Fiji to set up this unit. There were three of us for this unit, so when he left, I ran the unit alone. It became a Department of Environment in 1983 and at this stage it was a one-man department," Mr Nasome said.
Over time, the department grew with Governments realising the importance of environment management which was when talks about development and its impact on environment surfaced in Fiji, he said.
"I didn't realise it would be this soon that a department of environment would be formed because the emphasis in those days was development.
Development was priority. Activities that generated monetary activities for the Government and employment, were always the agenda.
And here was this small unit - within the Town and Country Planning which began in 1982 to develop and change this vast and well-established way of thinking.
"We were trying to break that barrier to change that approach to development such that our environment is protected.
"We were working against long-established ministries like agriculture, fisheries, forestry and mining which were developed many years before we came along.
"What we established in 1982 we didn't realise would become a department around this time. It even became a ministry at one time.
"We didn't think it would come soon breaking barriers with these ministries.
"For fisheries, it was to sell as much fish as possible to get funds from overseas for the government, for forestry it was to cut as much timber possible and sell it off for funds for Fiji. In mining get whatever from here and there and sell whatever was dug up to generate income and employment. We didn't envision that within 10 to 15 years we would change the mind set. Now we have been able to include environment management into their policies. For fisheries, they have a sustainable management policy."
At 55 years of age, he said he will accept the outcome of the court battle over the civil servant retirement age against the interim administration. If the ruling favours the unions who want the retirement age retained at 60 years of age, Mr Nasome would gladly serve another five years
Mr Nasome relives his young days where he met his future bride, Vika of Nabukadra Village, Ra.
"We met while we were studying at USP. I believe she was the one that got attracted to me because she made the approach. I didn't hesitate. And she's from Ra, you know, ma'e na ma'e," he said. Ma'e na ma'e is a war cry for the people of Ra.
Mr Nasome speaks highly of his children who are high-achievers, particularly his youngest daughter Sereana who he claims takes after her mother.
"She's the bossy one, the strong one and also a doctor who passed out of the Fiji Medical School last year," he said.
The highlights of his life include the birth of his first grand child.
"Its hard to control your emotions over cute little things like him (grandson). We can't help pampering him much as it is against his parents wishes. Who can blame us with the children all married and gone and we're left alone at home. Besides it's our first experience as grandparents so it is forgivable," Mr Nasome said.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


VINAKA VAKALEVU Katerina for your wilingness to be profiled on Fijituwawa. We wish you all the best in your future endeavours!

My name is Katerina Martina Teaiwa
My father is Banaban and I-Kiribati from Rabi Island in Fiji.
My mother is African American from Washington D.C.
I was born in Savusavu and raised in Lautoka and Suva.

What is your heritage link to Fiji?

The British moved the Banabans from the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony to Fiji in 1945 and my great grandfather and grandfather came with that group. The Banabans inhabit Rabi Island in northern Fiji. It was bought as a freehold island for us but there are Rabian (or Rabean) descendents in Vanua Levu and Taveuni who are still connected to their ancestral island.

Since you are based overseas (Hawaii & lately Australia), what do you do to remind you of Fiji?

I do writing and research that is related to Fiji particularly on Banabans, contemporary Pacific dance and the rise of creative and cultural industries.

Can you share your educational background?
I went to Yat-Sen Primary School and St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Suva. I have a Bachelors of Science from Santa Clara University, an MA in Pacific Islands Studies from the University of Hawai'i, and a PhD in Anthropology from the Australian National University. When I wasn’t in school or overseas I spent my time in Suva performing with my younger sister, Maria, at the Tradewinds, the Red Cross Fashion Show and the Barn! I also worked for Radio Fiji as an announcer in 1991 and 1994.

How do you describe yourself as someone of a mixed heritage?

I identify myself as a person of Banaban, I-Kiribati and African American descent from Fiji.

What are some barriers you faced as someone of mixed descent?

In Fiji Banabans are a minority group that do not have the same rights as Fijians. They are not always visible economically and politically but Banaban dance is famous in Fiji. We are in a category called “Others.”

What are some of the benefits you have had as someone of mixed ancestry?

I understand and am connected to multiple worlds that hold multiple possibilities for family, identity, education, creativity, and my career.

How would you share your family links and stories to your children?

I don’t have children…yet. I plan on having about 10... or less. But I always remind my niece and nephews in the USA and New Zealand of their Pacific heritage.

What are some of the key lessons you will leave behind with your children for them to remember as someone of mixed ancestry?

Relationships, kinship and land (including the sea and sky) are the most important things for Pacific Islanders. When you are confident with who you are and your role in this world, you have no trouble being compassionate and generous, thus sharing your land and extending your kin networks to others.

Any comments you would like to share to those of the same mixed ancestry as you reading this page?

It’s cool to be mixed, and it’s cool not to be either. Ethnicity and race are not as important as attitude, culture and values. A strong identity is what makes us Pacific islanders but being nice, having a genuine spiritual consciousness, caring for the environment and for others is far more important.

If there are other Banaban-I-Kiribati-African Americans out there, other then my two sisters and I, I’d be really surprised and really happy to meet them!


Saturday, January 12, 2008


OPENING up a business of her own was a dream that came true for Karalaini Balebula (pictured).

Ms Balebula, 36, opened a hair saloon named Vines Hair Saloon in Suva last week.

Ms Balebula, who used to work for Katz Hair Saloon, said she used to manage the business for the owner.

"I worked there for one year three months until it closed down. When I was there I started my business plan and leaned from the hair dressers how to do hairdressing," she said.

"I had managerial skills but needed to learn the basics in hair dressing to actually open up a hair saloon of my own," she said.

Ms Balebula had hired three hair dressers, who she described as very helpful and dedicated.

She said her interest in hair dressing came since she started work at Katz.

"When it closed down I was very disappointed that I lost my job but I then started to implement the idea that I had to start something of my own," she said.

Ms Balebula, who lives at Milverton Road, said it took her six months to open up the saloon.

Ms Balebula did a business course with the
National Centre for Small and Micro Enterprises Development unit.

She said the course helped her make her business plans and taught her managerial skills to operate a small business.

In future, she hopes to expand to other parts of Suva and to the Western Division.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


Elenoa Marama Luvenitoga defines life as a great challenge. She should know, having early in life decided it was her duty to take care of her siblings.
She was a fourth former at Sila Central High School when her mother died and her father was a casual worker with the Public Works Department.
That was when she made up her mind to look after her brothers and sisters.
My youngest sister was only 18 months when my mother died, she said.
She was 13 at the time faced difficulties most people never face in their life.
Four years after my mothers death, the situation got worse when my father decided to remarry, she said.
She said she ill-treated by her step-mother and decided to find a job to support her siblings.
She worked as the house girl for the then expatriate manager of the Fiji Museum.
After working for four years she married Watisoni Qalubau and they had five children Amelia, Loloma, Sailosi, Makereta and Vilisi.
Her husband was a police officer and after retiring the family moved to his village in Vatoa, Bau. He then worked with the General Security Service for three years. But not long after disaster struck when her husband died from a heart attack.
It was a hard time for me. My youngest daughter was 15 months old when her father died, she said.
Trying to look after the family and plant food for us was really a hard thing, she said. We were fortunate that we had my husbands FNPF to live on, she said.
She applied for a house with the Public Rental Board and was given a double-storey barrack flat in Raiwai housing.
She then began searching for jobs and finally got an interview.
I was employed by the Eagle Cleaning Company, she said.
When I started work I was paid $74 a week but now I receive about $91-$100 a week, she said.
With the little money I was earning I was able to send all my children to school, she said.
She personifies the hard life, waking up at 4am every day to cook their breakfast and do household chores before going to work at 7am and putting in 11 hours daily.
She works at Fiji Times Ltd for five hours daily and then goes to the Dolphins food court and puts in another six hours there.
Working as a cleaner was nothing new to Elenoa as she had been doing that all her life.
Now aged 59, she lives with her son on Mead Road, in Nabua, Suva.
My daughters are all married but I live with my son who works in the maintenance department of the University of the South Pacific, she said.
I usually pay for the rent and my son pays for our bills and we both contribute in the buying of food and groceries, she said.
She recalls all the hardship she faced in the bringing up her siblings, saying it was slowly paying off today because they now helped her financially when she needs.
Elenoa admits her greatest mentor was her father.
She recalls that when their mother died, how their father would wake up early in the morning to do some house chores, before leaving for work.
She admits learning how to clean and do other household chores at a very young age.
The only thing that has kept me going throughout the years is what my mother taught me.
Every time I feel discouraged I recall what my mother usually told me, saying that the running and the functioning of a family is the wifes responsibility, she said.
That , she believes, is what has been giving her the courage to overcome the obstacles she faces.
She always reminds her children to be thankful for what they have.
Her advice to widows or women who have separated from their husbands is simple: Just invest in your children for they are the only hope youve got for the future.
She said bringing up a family as a single parent is not an easy thing. One should always believe in them and sacrifice is the key to success, she said.

Adapted from Fijitimes Online

Saturday, January 5, 2008


AKANISI Uta is living testimony of perseverance in the face of adversity. When fate dealt her a body blow, she refused to roll over and give up.
It might have been the greatest struggle of life but she gladly sacrificed to raise her family and earn enough to feed and clothe them.
Shortly after her separation from her husband in 1989, she and her children had to live in a church hall because they had nowhere to go. But her steely resolve helped her overcome that and eventually she was able to get a HART home and re-build her family life.
Today, she uses her talent and skills to feed her family.
Having a child working has helped greatly in paying the bills.
Uta, as she is affectionately known, hails from Tovu, on Totoya in Lau.
She was educated at Totoya District Primary School and came to Suva to further her education at Sila Central High School.
She completed fifth form before starting work with Morris Hedstrom.
She put in the decade of dedication with the country's largest retail chain before resigning to give birth to her third child and take care of the other children.
To help pay the bills, she made mats, salusalu and other handicraft and sold them to market vendors.
In 1989, Uta separated from her husband and was legally divorced in 1991.
"I went with the children and lived with relatives but things did not work out," she said.
"We then moved out from the relative's house and had to stay in a church hall."
Lucky for her and her children, a relative, who happened to be the wife of the then HART director, told her husband about Uta's situation.
Uta was advised to apply for housing.
She qualified and in 1991 was given a Housing Assistance Relief Trust home in Nasole, Nasinu.
Now, aged 55, she lives with her children Raijeli, 25, is a student at the Fiji Institute of Technology; Toga, 24, is working and Luisa, 23, is a student at the University of the South Pacific.
"Being left alone with my children was a great challenge, especially when you're a single mother trying to fulfill both the parental roles," Uta said.
"We are really fortunate that Toga is working and Luisa is a FAB-sponsored student, which has lightened the load a bit."
Social Welfare gives the family $60 a month to supplement the income she gets from selling her salusalu, mats, doormats and other handicraft.
Uta plants vegetables in front of their home for their own use.
She pays $5 a week rent and $2.92 a week for rubbish to be cleared and water.

Adapated from Fijitimes Online