Thursday, July 31, 2008


SHE spends most of her time, seven days a week selling produce at the market. Sushila Devi, 42, (pictured) is one of three Indian vendors at the Makoi Market in Nasinu.

She has been selling vegetables there for the past 13 years and said business was not as good as it used to be.
But Ms Devi has over the years made many good friends with other vendors.

"They are all friends," she said. "We have to look after each other." A few minutes later, she calls out to another vendor. "I've being selling her vegetables for her because she was feeling sick and went to see the doctor (at the health centre across the road)."

Ms Devi said her husband, who sells vegetables with her, had gone to the supermarket so she sat and talked to her friend, Puspha. Among their produce are cabbages, tomatoes, chillies, corn, pumpkin, okra, rourou, bean, cucumber and the list goes on.

They buy vegetables from farmers in Suva or Nausori. Ms Devi's petite size could have you mistake her for a woman 10 years her junior. You would find it hard to believe that she has two sons, Ranish, 23, and Shalvin, 17. Her eldest is a school teacher at a rural school in Ba, while Shalvin no longer attends school because of an injury.

Ms Devi and her husband travel from their home at Naduru Feeder Road in Kuku, Nausori. But Ms Devi is originally from Makoi and her family still lives there. She was educated at Bhawani Dayal primary and high schools. After completing school and at the age of 18, she married her husband.

Every morning Ms Devi wakes up early, prepares the family's breakfast and makes sure that everything is okay for her father-in-law, who is 85. "My father-in-law lives with us so I have to make sure that he is okay and that his meals are cooked because he's old," she said. After all the preparations and cleaning is complete, the couple leave home at about 8.30am on weekdays for Makoi.

"We are lucky that we have a van," she said. "But we are still paying it off. "We leave the market around 6.30pm. We can no longer stay late because it's not very safe. "When we leave in the evening all we do is cover the vegetables and a watchman looks after our stalls."

On Saturday and Sunday, the couple also sells at the market but only this time they leave home at 6.30am. Ms Devi says while the price of just about everything has increased, she still finds the time to sit with her friends, tell stories and make it a point to enjoy the day.
Adapted from Fijitimes Online

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


He is originally from Sawaieke in Gau but has made his life among the Indian farmers in Lokia on the east bank of the Sigatoka River.

He can pass to be an Indian farmer, if he is sitting among them. This is because he is fluent in the language. He is the Lomaiviti Provincial Council chairman Ratu Jolame Lewanavanua. Ratu Jo is more popular to the people in Nadroga/Navosa than among his very own.

He has been living there for the past 37 years and earns his dollars from toiling the fertile soil on the banks of the Sigatoka River. Being a successful vegetable farmer is not a bed of roses.

It involves sacrifice, hard work and a lot of faith in God. It all began when he bought 10 acres of freehold land in Lokia past Raiwaqa Village about 30 years ago and began his life from nothing except his fork and spade. He made the move after he realised that his farming in Narairaiwaqa, an island off Bau was not getting the return he anticipated.

How he went to Bau is a long story. Born to Ratu Filipe Lewanavanua and Makereta Tabuatoga of Vusaradave in Bau and bred in Vunitarawau in Suva, the Gau chief was what you can call a town boy. But he was always interested in farming despite his father's wish for him to be a doctor.

His dad was an epidemiologist who had a vision for his six children but Ratu Jo defied it. He decided to drop out of Marist Brothers High School when he was in Form Five and asked his mother if he could go to Bau.

With his mother's connection he managed to go to Narairawaqa and stayed there for five years similar to English castaway Robinson Crusoe. It was also one of those years that he met his wife Adi Kinisimere from the nearby Viwa Island. While on the island, he used to go to and sell his vegetables at the Suva Market.

"Since I have to go early in the morning, I used to go and have my bath at the public toilet there," he said. Ratu Jo used to be the only male vendor among the women that used to gather there. "My father used to come to the market early on Saturday morning and asked me to come back home."

But Ratu Jo was determined that he was cut out to be a farmer and a successful one too.
During those days at the market, he was impressed with the quality of vegetables from Sigatoka Valley and wished that he could go there.

His wish was granted when he saw a piece of land on sale up there. The rest is history. The man from Gau's contribution to his community, in the province he is staying in and Sigatoka will not go unnoticed. The Sigatoka community had confidence in him and trusted him to lead their Coral Coast Carnival.

He is currently a member of the National Council for Making A Better Fiji. He has four children who all grew up in Lokia and spoke both the main languages fluently.
And their interest also lies in farming. 10 things

l He never worked for anyone
l He has never received a salary in his life
l His father, an epidemiologist, was the one that introduced frog in Fiji from Hawaii
l His father took frogs everywhere in Fiji but not on his island- Gau
l Lived on an island off Bau- Narairaiwaqa for five years like Robinson Crusoe
l Speaks fluent Hindi and is the only Fijian family in the area he lives in Lokia, Sigatoka
l First Fijian meeting he chaired was when he was appointed to be deputy chairman of Lomaiviti Provincial Council in 2004
l He is a lay preacher of the Methodist Church in Fiji
l He loves helping people
l He is retiring, but gives advice to his two sons that run his farm

Adapted from Fijitimes online

Monday, July 14, 2008


FIVE years ago, Leba Tudravu started learning an art she yearned to know from her childhood days.
That yearning was borne out of watching her grandmother weave suits made out of kuta (reed mat).
And because she was too young to learn the art, as she says, her grandmother promised her that when she grew older, she would be taught the magical weaving of kuta an art not as commonly known to Fijian women who are more at home with voivoi mat weaving.
So when she reached her early 20s, Leba's grandmother taught her the basics of kuta weaving and its preparation from harvesting to planting.
"My grandmother taught me how to plant kuta and how to keep the farm clean and how to harvest the kuta and dry it out.
"That's the basics I first learnt before moving onto the actual softening process of kuta straw and piling it together for weaving and other basic preparations before the actual weaving started," Mrs Tudravu said.
She said when she first learnt the art of weaving, it was quite difficult as she had to get used to the twisting and turning of the kuta straws.
"My grandmother taught me how to weave the kuta ... it was tricky and hard trying to put one kuta under another but I got used to it and it was great fun after that," Mrs Tudravu said.
She clearly remembers disappointing her grandmother at some stages of the learning process.
Although Mrs Tudravu believes it was part of her training, she enjoyed it any way because she desired to turn it into a small business to help support her family.
"So after that, exactly five years ago I learnt the trade myself and started weaving wedding suits, table mats and different kind of mats such as the vakabati, delana, coco and small dress suits for the children.
"Ever since starting that trade, I hasve earned enough money to support my family and my husband's farming," Mrs Tudravu said.
She said many orders had come in from overseas Australia and New Zealand and other clients from Viti Levu.
"I earn good money ... more than $500 a month and that has helped me support my family.
"The weaving of wedding suits takes me three days to complete and weaving of table mats takes a day while the different types of mats takes four days," Mrs Tudravu said.


Friday, July 11, 2008


Visits to the museum would leave many in awe especially witnessing the many traditional and cultural materials in Fiji. One of the most popular handicrafts with traditional significance is tapa making and designs.
The person responsible for promoting this artistic work is Selai Buasala (pictured).
She is part of the Fiji delegation to the 10th Festival of Pacific Arts in Pagopago, American Samoa at the end of the month.
During the 10-day event, Selai will showcase her notable tapa designs to talented artists from around the Pacific.
However, the art of tapa making and designing is not easy. Selai had to learn traditional tapa designs when she was a little girl.
Born and bred in Nasau Village on Moce Island, Selai is the youngest of five children. Her parents were Ilaisa and Atelaite Vakaloloma.
Growing up on the island was simple especially when access to food sources was efficient.
"Life in the village was good. Food was easy to get and most of the time we helped our parents with the workload. My mother made traditional tapa designs and we had a tapa plantation nearby.
"As a child, I remember going to the plantation to pull out weeds. This was a chore done every Monday. We use the bark of a tree to make masi or the tapa. Basically, tapa is a cloth made from the bark of the tree after continuous beating and drying."
She attended primary school at Moce District before coming to Suva where she continued her secondary education at Ballantine Memorial.
Selai was used to having her parents around and left school at the beginning of Form Four.
She returned to the island where she continued to help to help her mother with masi making.
Spending time with her mother, Selai was able to make and design her own tapa.
"When we finished with our designs, we would sell these to the co-op shop which would then bring it to Suva to sell. Tapa making is easy money and this is something I am proud of.
"The prints on the tapa I make are traditional designs I learnt from my mother back on the island. There are different designs which mean different things. Usually, one has to beat the tapa, dry it and then print the designs."
She returned to Suva at the age of 18 where she lived with her sister.
Selai spent her time looking after the children and painting her designs on vanguard sheets to sell.
She said tapa was not available at the time and she had to make do with vanguard sheets.
She later returned to her place of birth and took up tapa making full time. In 2001, she moved back to Suva and set up a home in Korova settlement in Nasese.
Since then, she has continued to beat, dry and paint her tapa designs for a living. Her hard work, dedication and perseverance to support her family paid off when she was awarded Artistic Excellence in The Masi Category.
"This event was organised by the Fiji Arts Council during an Art Exhibition in February this year. I was very happy and honoured by the award because I knew my talent was being recognised.
"Whenever I finish a design, I feel proud of where I come from. It is a good feeling knowing that part of your culture and tradition is shown in something you make. That is why I am proud of what I do." This recognition gave her the opportunity to take part in the festival as well as to showcase her designs to other Pacific Islanders.
The mother of eight children never anticipated the opportunity to be part of a regional event.
Although this would be her first time to travel abroad, Selai is looking forward to meeting and learning different cultures and traditions.
"I am hoping to meet and talk to other designers about tapa designs. It would be interesting to know about the different designs in different countries. I am very excited about the trip and I know it will be an eye opener for me," she said.
"My advice for people would be to work hard at your passion. In terms of tapa making, it is important to teach the younger generation this art and craft. It will help them value their culture and traditions." The delegation will leave on the 17th of this month but the Festival of Pacific Arts will start from July 20 to August 2.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008


With the 10th Festival of Pacific Arts approaching, many talented and artistic individuals in Fiji are gearing up to showcase the multicultural essence our country is blessed with. The main theme of traditional dances and songs has widened to include various forms of art and creativity. Reporter
GERALDINE PANAPASA talks to Fiji Arts Council director Letila Mitchell about the festival.
TIMES: When did the arts festival start and why?
MITCHELL: The idea of a Festival of Pacific Arts was first put forward by the Fiji in the early 1970s as part of the cultural component of the South Pacific Games. Then it was taken to another level by the Conference of the South Pacific Commission (now the Pacific Community) in an attempt to combat the erosion of traditional customary practices.
Since 1972, delegations from 27 Pacific island countries and territories have come together to share and exchange their cultures at each Festival of Pacific Arts. In 1977, at the 3rd meeting of the South Pacific Festival Council (now the Council of Pacific Arts), the council determined that the festival's major theme should continue to be traditional songs and dances and that participating countries and territories should be free to include other activities depending on the resources available to them. The festival was conceived by the SPC's governing conference in an attempt to combat the erosion of traditional customary practices.
It grew out of the desire expressed by Pacific island leaders for the people of the region to share their culture and establish deeper understanding and friendship between countries.
TIMES: What is the purpose of the festival?
MITCHELL: To generate pride in one's indigenous heritage, focus on sustaining the transmission of Pacific knowledge, skills and traditions and united as a region to protect and uphold unique cultures but a common heritage that links and connects all Pacific people.
TIMES: How often is the festival held?
MITCHELL: Every four years
TIMES: How many countries are participating?
MITCHELL: The 27 countries are American Samoa, Australia, the Cook Islands, Easter Island, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Hawaii, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Norfolk Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Island, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna.
TIMES: What is the significance of the festival to Pacific islands?
MITCHELL: The festival is recognised as a major international cultural event and is the largest gathering where Pacific people unite to gain respect for and appreciation of one another within the context of the changing Pacific. Visits of Pacific people from one island to another have always been important occasions.
Trade, social visits and exchange of dances, music, food and crafts have served as opportunities for islanders to learn from one another and have assisted in the dynamic transformation of culture. Today, the Festival of Pacific Arts helps maintain a sense of Pacificness among island communities. There is awareness that, although a group of people may reside on tiny atolls far from island neighbours, they are part of a greater Pacific-wide culture.
Recognition of a common Pacific identity can be a strong motivating force for individual communities to revive and cherish their traditional forms of cultural expression. Young Pacific islanders were traditionally raised in an environment that taught them their language, history and traditional knowledge and skills but many ways of passing on the traditions and skills are disappearing.
A realisation of what has been missing in the more westernised island culture is one of the reasons young islanders train long and hard for each festival, seeking to uncover the secrets of ancient music and chants, costumes, body art and language.
To be part of a delegation to the festival is deemed an honour. The festival has no competition and performers do not seek to compete against others but the festival has stimulated a new sense of cultural pride among islanders young and old, generates excitement, pride and promise for the arts and cultures in the region.
It enables young contemporary artists and performers to express themselves and their talent and helps bridge the gap between traditional cultural expressions and the aspirations of our youth.
The festival makes a significant contribution to the evolution of Pacific island identities. For the region, the festival promotes unity by encouraging mutual appreciation and respect for one another's culture.
It also improves political and economic stability by developing a deeper sense of solidarity and unites the geographically isolated island countries and territories, facilitating inter-regional communication.
The festival is also an important instrument in the preservation of the performing and production skills underlying the broad variety of cultural expressions in the Pacific.
Expertise and skills in crafts have been rediscovered and revitalised while traditional and ceremonial performances have been rediscovered, revived and in some cases updated. Tourism and related industries have also benefited, with proceeds often going to local communities.
TIMES: How important is Fiji's participation at the festival?
MITCHELL: Fiji is seen as one the leaders in the Pacific in many areas such as sustainable development, education, technology, etc. Therefore, it is important for Fiji to participate in strength at the festival as part of its responsibility to the region but in its leadership role being committed to uphold and protect its national heritage. It is also important for Fiji to participate in the festival because of the honour it bestows on our artisans and performers who are given the mandate to represent Fiji at the festival.
There is nothing more important than to represent your nation, your province, your tikina and your family. The festival, like the Olympic Games for sports people, bestows this honour on artists who show integrity, passion and commitment to their art form but also to their cultural heritage.
The festival is also a unique opportunity for our artists to network, generate ideas and exchange knowledge with other delegations. It is important for development as well as to show our excellence in the arts.
TIMES: What categories will Fiji's delegation participate in?
MITCHELL: Traditional dance, contemporary dance, theatre, fashion, woodcarving, weaving, masi making, canoe and navigation, heritage art workshops and demonstrations, fine art, symposiums, photography, film, literary art, culinary art and music.
TIMES: How many will represent Fiji?
MITCHELL: Eighty artists have been selected to represent Fiji.
TIMES: How is the trip to the festival funded?
MITCHELL: By the Government
TIMES: Are there awards given for each category?
MITCHELL: No, it is not a competition. The focus is transmission of knowledge and skills
The major theme has been traditional dances and songs. Fiji will participate in contemporary dance and theatre production.
TIMES: Is this the first time to have these categories?
MITCHELL: No, Fiji is one of the countries at the forefront of exhibiting and performing contemporary art. It is still a new component of the festival so Fiji, alongside PNG, New Zealand and New Caledonia has been a pioneer in contemporary art.
TIMES: Are there enough opportunities in Fiji to express the talents and creativity many people have?
MITCHELL: There are many international opportunities but there has been little support in the past for our artists to reach or to be a part of the opportunities. Things are changing as our governments realise the importance and potential of the creative industry.
Pacific art is a natural resource and something that needs to be developed and invested in. With increased investment will come increased potential for income and sustainable careers for all our people.
TIMES: What are some programs implemented by the Fiji Arts Council to develop art and craft in Fiji?
MITCHELL: The five key projects for 2008 are heritage art exhibitions and workshops, fine art exhibitions, breaking barriers program that focuses on developing creative industries in disadvantaged or at risk communities such as prisons, squatter settlements or youths at risk, skills development workshops and programs, strengthening creative industries and international market development and Dance Fiji.
TIMES: What is the Pacific Arts Alliance?
MITCHELL: It is a network of Pacific artists, art organisations, art managers throughout the Pacific who share knowledge, skills and resources to develop the art sector in the region.
It is a network of organisations such as the Fiji Arts Council, GalleryPNG, Siapo Association in New Caledonia, Tautai Trust in New Zealand and many other collectives or organisations and individuals who serve a common purpose to build the Pacific through the arts, to support and protect each other as Pacific people, empower and develop the Pacific as a collective Pacific voice.
TIMES: How important is it for people to preserve and maintain culture and tradition?
MITCHELL: Culture and tradition are like the roots of a tree. If the roots are embedded in the soil the whole tree will be well nourished, strong in a storm and grow to its full potential.
I believe that a person with a spirit strongly rooted in his heritage and focussed on being connected to his land will be a unique person, balanced and powerful.
Without that connection and without our heritage, we become part of the mass and often have nothing to hold on to in a storm. I am a strong advocate of difference.
TIMES: What usually happens after the festival?
MITCHELL: For the most part there is a lapse of four years but we hope that with increased support and investment in art the festival will become a stepping stone for those who participate, that they come back rooted in their culture, inspired and motivated to continue to create and pursue a path of excellence.
TIMES: Any other comment?
MITCHELL: This is a unique opportunity for our artists and I just want to encourage the media and members of the public to lend their support and congratulations to the delegation.
It is a time of honour for our artists and by providing a launch we hope the families of the artists, friends and the various communities that make up our multicultural country come to show them how proud they are of their achievement.


Friday, July 4, 2008


THE only recording studio in Labasa Town has become a favourite spot for local singers who had previously struggled to expose their singing talents because of financial constraints.
Viliame Rabuka's recording studio, which opened early this year has bloomed and recorded about 10 albums of singers in the Northern Division.
Mr Rabuka who is from Namoli Village in Batinikama outside Labasa Town opened the studio after seeing what he felt was a "great need in the area" when he came for a holiday.
"For me it was about helping the people back home who have great talents in singing and playing music and this was something I saw during my visit back home so with the little money I had, I started the new studio," he said.
"But it saddened me to learn that most of these talents were not exposed because there was no recording studio in Labasa or any town in the north," Mr Rabuka said.
"Groups of singers or musicians could not afford to travel to Suva to record their new albums because it cost them big money and most of them are farmers and not working which made it difficult." Mr Rabuka said after seeing what the people in the north faced especially people from his village, he felt for them and decided to help expose their talents.
"I have experience in this field and after seeing the demand for such business in Labasa, I decided to stay on and I have seen an increase in bookings from music groups on a daily basis," he said.
Mr Rabuka said the first group to record an album with him was a group from his village, known as Suka Vulavula ni Lomai Labasa.
Mr Rabuka plans to expand his studio business and plans to offer more opportunities for demanding customers in the division.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008


THE tourism industry is the perfect place for people to be able to meet and interact with others from all corners of the world.
This is one of the main reasons why people throughout the country are attracted to positions within the industry.
But for a few like Setoki Ceinaturaga, employment in tourism is not just for him to meet people of other cultural backgrounds.
The 30-year-old has a vision of transforming the experience gained during his employment into lasting benefits for the people of his home-island, Naigani, Tailevu.
Ever since the father of two joined the industry nine years ago, he has always worked towards the goal of opening and managing a property on the island owned by the people of Naigani.
Mr Ceinaturaga first joined the industry after securing a position at the exclusive Naigani Island Resort in 1999.
But after working at the resort for seven years, his determination to learn more about the diverse Fijian tourism industry made him leave the island in search of greater knowledge.
Driven by the vision to help his people, Mr Ceinaturaga and his family packed up and travelled across the country where he applied for a position with the five-star luxurious Warwick Resort on the Coral Coast.
Mr Ceinaturaga was offered a position with the resort's activities department that he scooped up with great enthusiasm in July, 2006.
"Working on Naigani was very good but I knew to get a real experience of the different types of people in tourism I had to work for a much larger property."
"In Naigani, the cliental is very exclusive but I knew being employed for Warwick Resort would put me in a position to meet and learn of the cultures of a very wide range of people," he said.
"I was offered a position in the activities department and I was very happy because I would be able to meet and converse with everyone in the resort and learn of what they expect of the local industry," said Mr Ceinaturaga.
"I have enjoyed my time here in Warwick and I feel that I am very privileged to be presented with this opportunity," he said.
Mr Ceinaturaga said even though he enjoys being an employee of an establishment like the Warwick, he always reminds himself of his goal of returning to his island to help his own people.
When The Fiji Times met up with Mr Ceinaturaga at the Bula Fiji Tourism Exchange, he was soaking up the atmosphere and conversing with travel agents from all over the globe.
Dressed as a Fijian warrior, Mr Ceinaturaga said, "I always wanted to see such an event because this opportunity comes around very rarely."
"I have been walking around during the three day event meeting with travel agents and other hoteliers from around Fiji, just learning of the different products that are available and the type of tourism expected of our country," said Mr Ceinaturaga.
"I hope the knowledge I gain from my time with Warwick would be able to help me help my people."
"I have seen about everything in tourism and I hope that in about five years, I would return to the BFTE as a seller to promote the property that I would set up on Naigani for my people," said Mr Ceinaturaga.
Mr Ceinaturaga said tourism was the only industry that the indigenous community back in their various villages could develop to take advantage of the enormous benefits it offers.
He hoped his fellow colleagues in the tourism industry would be able to follow suit and explore their own ventures some day with the hope of helping their people.