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The following hanuju was sent by Yvonne Aitu who taught computer science at the Latter Day Saints Technical College in Suva before moving to California. After a visit to Rotuma in 1999, Yvonne reported her impressions and thoughts about life on the island.
When those of us who live in a 'developed' environment visit Rotuma we often think, "Oh, if only we could have this or that on the island it would make life so much easier." But I think I rather enjoy Rotuma as it is, with its flies and mosquitoes and pigs at the pa puaka. It's the special uniqueness that I hope we would all want to keep. Imagine for a second, that one day we had one of those high tech pa puakas with a loud speaker calling your pigs when it's feed time!! No more calling of 'lo lo' for the pigs with the clanging of an old pan but rather a high tech loud speaker!
With the installation of telephones, Rotumans who live on the island can now converse daily with their relatives around the world. Along with the service comes the responsibility of keeping up with phone bills that are sometimes very expensive and troublesome. (On my folks last phone bill, calls that were already paid for a while back reappeared!)
There were some tourists on the island this past holiday season but overall they were pretty well behaved (I am assuming that local protocol was followed as the coconut wireless didn't report anything and the local elders didn't have too much of a problem with them).
On Rotuma now the cost of labour is at least $20/person/day and includes a meal. If you haven't lived on the island for sometime, or contributed to any garue fak hanua; garue fak kainaga; or garue fak rotu (that's something that folks there do take into account), then it's really hard to find folks to help out unless you are loaded. (Maybe that's not too kind of a picture of people there, but it seems to be generally true.) Folks would just sort of shy away from you. Even your kainag ele expect some kind of payment. The traditions of haikainag fak kainaga; fak hanua; fak famori; fak itu'u are slowly fading away and that's what the kau iom kau will usually tell you if you sit and listen long enough.
The cost of goods coming from Suva is almost double for some items! Here's a price list for anyone interested:
Folks are not cutting as much copra as they used to; they say that foh ne niu ta kat lelei ra and men are spending less time at the veko and more time sitting around the kava bowl. The amount of time spent on this recreational activity everywhere on the island is just phenomenal! Once the sound of the metal pounder is rung, just about all the men would stop work and start towards the clang of the tuk kau ta. And there they would sit until the early hours of the morning, singing and laughing without a care in the world. Perhaps it is at these iom kau sessions that some of Rotuma's most famous songs are produced; after all the amount of talent present there is immeasurable!
The art of weaving our famous apei 'epa is fading also. A te hapa these days can cost between $200-$400 and a te atakoa could cost $400-$1000! And that's just the cost of the mat, excluding the labour if you asked someone to make one specially. The cost of pu'ak te ma takoi 'epa se sa ne eap ta--lots of work.
A great thing that the Nadi Rotuman community is doing is taking the initiative and starting to teach the younger generations about Rotuman culture. The norm these days at just about any Rotuman gathering is hearing the young people conversing in English instead of Rotuman. Maybe there's nothing greatly wrong with that but it would certainly would make our elders proud if we could keep the language alive for the next 10 generations..
The art of fara was very much alive during the holidays, and I had a chance to go on one these fun excursions. There was also the 'practiced fara' but the spontaneous one was more fun. Dancing and singing our guts out, not forgetting those who had to strum the guitars and ukuleles; it was an experience to remember. And one could always tell who went fara the night before from the white powder on their hair. Nono ka ae kat seminte la' fara ëe os atmota, ma ae kop la la' mumua la ae la mafua ne hamua ne roua ran te! Clapping, singing, dancing, and sitting on the cool grass/sand is an experience found nowhere else (and let's not forget the great dancers). And there's nothing like walking in the darkness trying to figure out which way is Elsio and Else'e!
If someone were to say that Rotuma was short of food that would be a most outrageous lie! There was heaps of food at the ag foraus, tariag ne maragas, and all the su. And when the Bulou ni Ceva left, returning all the holiday folks to Suva, the sacks of food and coconuts were uncountable! What a blessing it is to have such fertile soil on our beautiful island.
The crime rate in Rotuma cannot be compared to any city or town in this world! Hardly any occurs. The cell at Ahau is usually empty. At night I slept without a care as to who might come through my door. The island presents an aura of peace and a feeling of serenity that's hardly found anywhere else. Little children run all over place without parents having to fear a drive-by shooting or them drowning in the ocean. Such freedom and carefreeness can hardly be replaced. If one decided that he or she would sleep the whole day, then who's to stop them. Such is the life sometimes on the island, especially during Christmas time. Young men and women sometimes drink on the local beach or at an empty house without fear of the usual ahäe ne nono ma ta famör re kok se. Mmmm--sound like paradise?
Lately there was the issue of a character who visited our shores and supposedly introduced some rather radical notions to our Rotuma Island Council. Some seemingly radical Rotumans on the island buy into the idea of an independent state. I'm sure it's a plausible idea, but it would have to be the consensus of a majority. Would pooling all our resources make it possible for us to form a new island nation? I really don't know. I've lived on Rotuma for a good part of my life and I know what it's like to go without, but I don't think becoming an independent state would bring wealth to the island. And thinking of space, where would all the Rotumans on Fiji go if the Fijians decided to send us back? At the moment the cost of living is expensive as it is. I can't imagine how much more it would be if taxes were imposed in addition! Of course we can always produce biscuits. I'm not one to stand on shaky ground, so I have to say that I don't agree with that particular idea. Call me a Westernised Rotuman or whatever name you want to; this is my ha' penny. Or maybe we could become 'pioneers' like this Korem character and experiment a little like the island nations in the Pacific that have managed to 'make it'. This issue probably will be debated for a long time.
There are the land and title issues of who belongs and who doesn't. These ongoing issues tear relationships apart and believe you me, it is happening in Rotuma. Families are torn apart because of land claims and title claims. Every Rotuman could lay claim to just about any land on Rotuma. If we went back ten generations then we'd be all related! Imagine that!
Our beaches were still white and the water is just so beautiful. The fish, lumu and ura are plentiful, a ka rava. But of course you have to have either a good fisherman in the house or you pay (ne te fak hanis) someone to do it for you. There is an abundance of merene (sugar babies are the sweetest) and pineapples (ponap tuan kel ta) galore! They sure tasted good! Nothing like home grown fruits and vegetables. Os fa' ri hoi se ma ëe os ta ma hue ne ai maoi te parpar ëe ufa.
There is also the problem of waste (plastic and metal) disposal. Plastic bags were all over the place, e ufa se sasi. There were batteries on the ocean bed rusting slowly, although I'm sure the amount of lead leakage to the sea is minimal. I spent afternoons in the beach area in front of our house picking up batteries and cans and plastic bottles; I dug holes and buried them. Some of this debris floated in from other villages, or from the monthly boat that visited the island. Our front yard will be full of buried garbage by the time I reach middle age. The famous plastic bottles of fizzy water/juice which is sold by the local supplier could be found lying all over the island. Not too much of hazard at the moment, but one that is growing steadily. Oh, and the number of flies is just incredible.
Maybe as a people, we could put our heads together and come up with ideas of how better to deal with waste disposal, how to improve education on the island, how to develop the land, what to do about tourism, and how to preserve our culture. Then we may actually be able to do something about it. I guess that's always been the challenging part of any activity--the actual doing part.
And here's an idea for those of you planning to vacation in Rotuma in the future, If you have any particular skills or resources that you can share with your relatives there, it would be greatly appreciated. The elementary schools are always in need of books. The high school has a computer lab of sorts, which runs on IBM compatibles, so if you have computer hardware or software to send to the high school, they would be very welcome. An 'Island Night' held at a hall at Kalvaka during the holidays raised quite a sum of money for the hospital fund. I think if we could all work together, united in mind and deed, we could do a lot for the betterment of our island and people. I'm sure we could accomplish more that way than by trying to outdo one other with a war of words.
I've written this epistle to enlighten some our kainaga out there who haven't been to the island recently, Hopefully I haven't painted a picture that's too drastic or offensive, but rather one that is hopeful. It's still a beautiful island, and if all of us pitch in we can keep it that way. I'm a believer in the old adage" that many hands make light work." Actually, going home to Rotuma was nice break, away from the hustle and bustle of Suva city. To be able to go to Rotuma without a passport, to just sit under the old hefau tree and run the white sand between my toes and just relax, was a wonderful experience.
Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to read this story.
Response from Pasirio Kitione in New Zealand (12 March 2000)
A wonderful read. Memories just flood back. This is the reason why we all treasure home. Its hard to find another place that really comes close.
Can it remain this way? Beautiful, free and at the same time be at peace with the rest?
I believe that yes, together we can.
Response from Maggie Smith (25 June 2001)
I would like to say that this essay really is a hopeful one for all the Rotuman people. For those of us who has spent most of our lifetime growing up on this beautiful island, it gives us a chance to reflect on our way of living. Rotuma is still the precious and beautiful island that we all know and to help keep it that way, all Rotumans on the island, in Fiji and everywhere in the world need to come together and work together to give respect and to help preserve this precious land that was given to us by God. Thank you Yvonne for the lovely and inspirational essay!
Response from Katarina Atalifo in London, UK (27 September 2001)
Yvonne Äitu's piece has not only succeeded in depicting a beautiful picture of her homeland but also has highlighted some of the emerging concerns that may well threaten to destroy the magnificence that is the island and its people. She relates - in a few words just how simple and yet fulfilling life could be if all did our bit and sustained the quaint and decent lifestyle that has been known to our people over the centuries. I enjoyed it even better, knowing that this piece came from a young, well educated and well-travelled islander who almost lovingly paints a picture of her true home!
An excerpt for the Lonely planet perhaps?
I am working in Dubai now and reading her essay just brings back
very precious and fond memories of our island paradise,and being
brought up in Rotuma I have never regretted the upbringing the wonderful
memories that I have.
Many thanks to Yvonne. I can't agree more with the others about the article. The way you decribed the island really brings back wonderful memories of growing up on it, going to school there and even spending a year there as a youth. I am so very grateful to teachers and elders and all the kainaga on the island who have all had a part to play in my life. There's no place like home. I know some people dream of places like Hawaii or U.S. or some foreign country to go for a vacation but I would suggest Rotuma as the number one holiday spot (especially if you are a Rotuman). Thanks again Yvonne; nice piece of work. And for Kamoe, this is Mrs Itu Kant for you: Gagaj Aitu la ma 'ae ko kaumane'ag ma alalum'ak 'ou garue ta 'e te' ne terani. Please keep in touch.. my addy is email@example.com God Bless.
Send responses to this essay to Rotuman Forum for posting. Please include your full name and current home city.