Thursday, August 7, 2008


MATAIASI Tumaitoga, 45, (pictured) bears the telltale signs of a person who spends a lot of time at sea.

Sprinklings of salt trace his sun weathered face and his palms are roughly calloused by a combination of hard labour and the thousands of cuts from fishing lines and sharp fins.

I first saw him as he pulled his outboard powered boat towards the shore at Lakeba Village within the Namuka district, one of those villages that line the coast towards the northern tip of Vanua Levu. Lakeba Village borders Namuka and Dogotuki districts in Macuata and is the last stop for the public bus.

Mr Tumaitoga had just had a great catch and this was easily enough gauged from the brilliant smile that lit his face as he surveyed his spoils, about five 50kg sacks filled to their brims with fish. He calculated his catch for the day at about $200 and he couldn't stop grinning.

"I have been out the whole night at sea laying nets. It was cold, and I was hungry but that is what I do week in, week out. I have no other choice. My family like many other families in this village solely depends on the sea for survival," he said.

Mr Tumaitoga's career as a fisherman began when he could barely finish an intelligible sentence at the tender age of 3. "My father took me along on his fishing trips, teaching me how to bait the line, spin it out and when I could tell a fish was biting on the other side. Sometimes I cried because all I wanted to do at that age was play, eat and sleep but I guess he was only preparing me for the tough life of a fisherman," he related.

Mr Tumaitoga's day begins at the crack of dawn or sometimes it finishes at that time. "Well if I need to lay out nets early, then I start out early but there are times when we need to catch bigger fish so we go out diving at night when fish are sleeping so we tend to bring in a bigger catch which will ultimately mean more money for our pockets."

Companionship on these trips out in the dead of the night is crucial. He says it is for safety, survival and to ease the workload because it can get very lonely and scary being the only human surrounded by the vast blackness.

"That's why we usually dive in pairs because if something goes wrong, there's someone there to raise the alarm." Even though he has made numerous trips out to sea, this fisherman never takes the sea lightly.

"What I do is dangerous. That much I know. The sea is no man's friend. People say 'kaiwai' meaning 'person of the sea' but the only 'kaiwai' I know are the fish and the sharks and other living organisms that call the sea home. If I am not careful of the dangers, than the sea will take me," he said.

"I have had my encounters with sharks and I sometimes feel fear when I spot them, but most times I realise that when you respect the sea and its inhabitants, and just take what you need for your family's needs, the sea respects you right back. That's the way of life my ancestors practised and which I continue."

Despite the hardships and the challenges brought on by stormy weather and the rise in fuel prices, Mr Tumaitoga said he would not trade his life at the village, nor his career as a fisherman for an 'easier' life in town.

"I don't think people in towns have an easier life. I will stay on in the village because I think there are less financial commitments, there's no one to boss me around while I fish, I eat off the land and sea so I have a healthier lifestyle, and I am living out the life that marks me as an indigenous person," he said.

"I participate in the obligations of the vanua, the church and solesolevaki with other villagers for the interest of the community, speak my dialect fluently and know all the indigenous practices that a person from my village or district should know. So no thanks, I prefer village life."

Adpted from Fijitimes Online