From Seth Pershan in New Mexico (23 July, 1998)
I recently returned from Rotuma with my family. We stayed with my wife's family, in Farta, Pepjei, and enjoyed a really nice three week vacation. After being away for six years, I do not notice too many changes on Rotuma. The two new busses are very nice. The two old buses have been refurbished and are also back on the island, as well as the Council's mini bus. The large bus, which was given new to Rotuma in 1991, was sent to Fiji to pay for the reconditioning of the two older buses. The price of copra is very good now, about $620 a ton, or about $5 a basket. This is due, in part, to competition of two copra mills in Fiji. All the districts have their own cooperatives, and copra cutters can also sell their undried copra to Ross or Croker if they don't wish to participate in their district cooperative. Most co-ops are paying 14 cents a Kg when the copra is cut. There are two ships that have been providing fairly regular service to the Island, the Hero, a cargo-only converted tug and Bulou Ni Ceva out of Kadavu, which can take about 250 passengers.
The new doctor on the island, Eric Ravai, is a bright young man, and is implementing district dispensaries so that people don't need to make a trip to Ahou for injections, other medications, or the taking of their vital signs. Each district has sent one person for six months training in Ahou for the running of the village dispensaries. There is also a Rotuma Ambulance that is used to transport medical and trauma emergencies via the main roads only. The maximum ambulance charge is $10 from Noatau, and a stay in the hospital is a steep 50 cents a night.
Master John Tanu, the principal, has done an excellent job with Rotuma High School. Since I left in 1992, there are three new buildings as well as two large bures, for forms 5 & 6, by the beach in front of the principal's quarters. The principal's quarters have been turned into staff rooms, and only one of the old buildings, the old staff room, remains to be demolished. The students are now required to attend supervised study, before and after school, while waiting for the buses. The school has received a new 3 kV 3 phase generator and are awaiting government technicians from Suva to wire the school. They have one 486 computer, and two new 200 MHz Intel MMX machines that will be coming from a British government donation.
The P & T earth satellite station is in full operation now, and anyone that can show a bank account and lay down $82 can get a phone line installed in their home. Since Fintel's satellite communications in Fiji does not communicate with the P & T's satellite system, calls from Rotuma go by satellite to Australia, then by cable to Suva. Before, by radiotelephone, a three-minute call to Suva was $1.60; now the same call costs $3.33. Many people have had their phones disconnected due to non-payment of bills.
It is both my observation and the frequent complaints of others that the drinking of kava is becoming a real problem in the villages. Sometimes the tabili starts at 2 p.m. and goes until 1 a.m. When the grog is finished, there is some hushed discussion, then the money appears followed by more kava within seconds. This reminded me of what I witnessed many times on the streets and in the schools while growing up in New York City. The price of grog on the island is more costly now than in Fiji. In Rotuma it is $10 a pound and in Suva it is $14 a kilogram. I spent a fair amount of time in the bush, and the lack of well kept large vekos was noticeable.
From Sanimeli Maraf on Rotuma (27 July 1998)
On 29 May, two officers from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) came to Rotuma about the white fruit files found on oranges, mangoes, fava, etc. and through the Rotuma Council told the people to stop sending these fruits to Fiji. Also, dalo beetles have been found in Fiji, so we are to stop bringing different kinds of dalo plants to Rotuma (na'ag te). In addition, in Rotuma we're to watch out for and report any Giant African Snails, which are also found in Fiji.
On 25 June, the Rotuma Council met with Hon. Minister Paul Manueli, who will stand again in Parliament if no other person is interested in standing. He will send copies of the Constitutional Amendment Act to the Rotuma Council.
The Fiji Government bought a boat to help service Lau, Lomaiviti, and Rotuma. It can carry 150 passengers. Bulou ni Ceva is still serving Rotuma.
Two new buses, donated to Rotuma by the Chinese Embassy, have been in use since April. They're first-class buses; let's hope they will last a long time. The seats from the mini-bus are in Suva being repaired at Dee Cees Suva, but will soon be back.
Also at that Council meeting, two MPI officers came: Mr. Taka, Research Officer from Koronevia, Suva, and Mr. Rajen, Technical Research Officer. They found scale insects (aniha), especially at Noatau (starting from O'a cemetery to Fafaisina) and in Oinafa behind the wharf. These scale insects are found on niu (coconut trees), ulu (breadfruit), sa'aga (pandanus), esu (pawpaw), etc., eating the leaves. Soon the leaves turn yellowish brown and the fruits fall off before they mature. The insects are wind-borne. School children have been asked to stop bringing flowers to Paptea School. The two officers took samples and will return soon with proposals to combat the aniha.
At Saione, Noatau, chain prayer will be held today (24 July) from 6 pm to 6 am.
Also at that meeting, a Mr. James Kubs proposed a fishing project to the Council. The type of fish he wants can only be found in Rotuma's fishing zone. The matter will have to be discussed with the MPI, and Minister Paul Manueli will also look into the proposed project and advise the Council as soon as possible.
On 8 July, a chartered flight came to Rotuma from Savusavu regarding copra: Copra Millers of Fiji Ltd., Savusavu, Sivendra Rama, Manager; Flour Mills of Fiji Ltd., FMF Brand, Raghupathy, Sales Marketing Manager; JKS Holding, Justin Smith (together with his father, Hon. Leo Smith, Minister for Health). These visitors are promoting their business, and offering their services. The meeting was held at Ian Croker's place in Juju. Hon. Leo Smith also visited our Hospital and saw Dr. Eric Rafai.
On 18 July, a medical team of doctors from St. Giles, Suva, came to visit, and a workshop was held at Ahau for five days. They returned to Suva on 25 July. Also at Ahau, Dr. Taukave, who has retired and returned to the island, will build a surgery at his and his wife Tupou's home.
On 22 July, we celebrated the installation of Gagaj Tokoa, Noatau faufisi, to Petero Fakraufon. After everything the Noatau band "Sari'i" entertained us. It was a perfect day, weather-wise.
On 25 July, the Motusa Circuit of the Methodist Church held its conference. They collected $9,650. The conference was well-planned and enjoyable. First Motusa performed a hafa. After lunch, Itumuta, Hapmak, Hapmafau, and Losa performed their hafas.
Our Vanilla, Fruits & Vegetables Association met with two officers from Suva: Hiagi Foraete of Malhaha and Fakmano'a Tigarea of Motusa. They encouraged the growers to plant more kava and niu. The demand for kava on the overseas market is great and prices are good. The officers also informed Rotuma that government monies are available to support agricultural efforts, but people must apply. We appreciate their help.
At this moment the MPI officers from Fiji are spraying, using Diazinon here in Noatau at the infected areas. Kalvaka is free of these scale insects. The fourth day they will spray the bush. In October they will bring insects to eat these beasts: ladybirds! Would you believe it?
Malhaha Enterprises met yesterday at Malhaha Hall to discuss future improvements and also to say goodbye to Gagaj Kauturaf (age 86) who was visiting from Fiji, along with Mr. Rupeti Vaivao. Rupeti will be still be helping in Suva but will not visit Rotuma again. We are to elect a new manager at our next meeting.
My congratulations to Mr. Jone Elakimi of Brisbane, and to his wife Shirley, for his good achievement.
I was sad at the loss of my sister Nina's husband, Wilson Hanfakaga (Vilsoni Fartoga) who passed away on 30 June at Lautoka, Fiji. Those who visited from overseas included brother Kafoa, sisters Elizabeth and Violet from Sydney, and sister-in-law Mary Petero Elaisa from Auckland. I was sorry there was no flight from Rotuma mid-week so I missed seeing all of them. May God bless Nina and her children Jioje, Lisa, and Grace, and the five grandchildren.