If you look across the Suva Harbour from the city and follow the coastline right to the point, which marks the end of the bay, you will be looking at Muaivuso Village. Hardly a speck to the naked eye and nondescript in nature, Muaivuso straddles the point of a peninsula with the busy Suva Harbour on its left and the mundane but picturesque Namuka Bay on its right.
Muaivuso is also the chiefly village to the vanua of Navakavu and home to their chief, Roko Baleni, the leader of the Yavusa Navakavu, whose lands start from Lami Town Bridge, hugs the coastlines right down to Kalokolevu Village before extending inland to the foothills of the Waidina Highlands.
Ten years ago, the Roko Baleni and his people decided to place a tabu on all kinds of fishing on their village foreshore, which stretches to within a kilometre of the main Suva Harbour causeway.
The current Roko Baleni, Joape Tukitoga says there were many hardships they faced during the 10-year tabu.
Tukitoga says poaching still continued and their fish wardens are usually helpless as they could not take the arrested poachers to the police of fisheries officials. Apart from this, the tides also bring in pollution like rubbish, oil slick and other waste. Situated directly opposite the busy port and city of Suva does not help either.
Tukitoga says this as he stands outside his home, just a few metres from the sea, which looks across to Suva.
Two weeks ago, the vanua Navakavu finally lifted its tabu and this was marked by festivities and fishing in all the six villages that make up the yavusa.
Tukitoga says they have just recently lifted the tabu on their qoliqoli or fishing grounds and they have seen the return of many fish species that were not usually seen in their qoliqoli.
"We still see the need to place the tabu again as it's the only way we can protect our qoliqoli and also that this has resulted in more fish in other qoliqolis along the coast," he says.
Muaivuso too is also probably the last of the itaukei villages in Fiji that still uses environmentally friendly means to catch fish, that is the traditional Fijian fish trap or Ba ni lava or Ba Kalou as known in Muaivuso. There I reunited with Samuela Toge. Samu and I used to meet him a lot in front of the big tanoa at the Parliamentary complex many years ago where he was working as a supervisor and I, used to cover Parliamentary sessions. Now retired, Samu is at his Muaivuso Village and practising this age old tradition of building the Ba Kalou to feed his family, apart from his pensions. Some weeks ago, he invited me to view his traditional fish trap.With pride, he explained to me how it is built as we waded in the outgoing tide at Namuka Bay. The rain has finally relented, giving us perfect view of Joske's Thumb and the surrounding mountains as it's shrouded in mist. Fish trap aside, the weather is fickle here, where it can be sunny one moment and rain the next.
"I first started learning how to do this many years ago while I was still a young boy. My dad builds the fish trap, the trap I would eventually be told to look after during its lifetime. But slowly I learnt the art of building one and then the science of how it works and why the trap will always catch fish," Samu says.
In the Navakavu tradition, before a traditional fish trap is built, one has to present a yaqona to the village chief and this is known as the 'vakadodo ni wa' or preparing the strings. When the trap is completed, the owner has to prepare a feast for the builders. This tradition is not usually followed nowadays, as there are not many people living in Muaivuso and Samu too, has more time on his hands to build one by himself. But it was based on the itaukei's concept of 'veisolevuti' where one man's plantation, house or boat is built or planted by the whole village.
As a people of the sea, the Muaivuso people respect the bounty harvested from it. One of their ongoing tradition is fish caught from the fish traps should never be fried in any form whatsoever, until four nights have passed.
And that the first harvest from any new fish trap is to be distributed to the whole village.
"That is why we call it the Ba Kalou because to us, making the fish trap has a deeper meaning and signifies our respect for the sea. And nowadays, anyone who doesn't own a fish trap is a lazy person," Samu says.
The traditional fish trap of Muaivuso is built from wa midri (a kind of jungle creeper that can last longer in saltwater), gasau or grass reed and dogo or mangrove branches. These traps are often built close to mangrove swamps and located on mid tidal areas. When choosing the location, many things are taken into account. Like the various depths of water around the trap. The trap is always placed facing deeper waters because fish take this route whenever the tide comes in. A branch of the fish trap is built in an arc and comes right close to the mangroves, as according to Samu, it is called the 'tabana' and this is where the fish are first trapped and they follow it right into the main body of the trap, where the fish are trapped inside a cage like structure, until the owner of the trap comes in at low tide to harvest.
"Once fish come to the 'tabana', they have no other choice but to follow it. The 'tabana' too traps nutrients which keep the fish occupied, feeding and swimming right into the main trap.
"Sometimes when the trap sits for weeks without ever trapping a fish, my father used to ask me to take some 'sinu ni baravi' to beat the reeds of the trap. According to our elders, this cleanses the trap of any smell or odour that is keeping the fish away. For example, if a shark was trapped, the fish will stay away from the trap because of the lingering shark smell or if someone uses black magic to keep the fish away from your trap, the 'sinu ni baravi' will cleanse it," Samu says.
Muaivuso village is one of the Fiji villages in Fiji that will be working closely with the Honour Fiji Journey, an organisation which aims to preserve Fijian cultural practises that is environmentally friendly.
Honour Fiji Journey ambassador Alisi Rabukawaqa says the Muaivuso fish trap knowledge is one good example of their work is the preservation of traditional itaukei knowledge like the fish traps of Muaivuso.
The Honour Fiji Journey is going to soon undertake a journey right around Fiji, to promote and raise awareness of the need to preserve old and traditional environmentally friendly Fijian knowledge, which they will incorporate into modern and scientifically based projects and undertakings, that will eventually benefit communities.
But the Honour Fiji Journey is working against time and the tide to preserve environmentally friendly traditional itaukei knowledge before it all disappears, as the keepers of the knowledge, the older generation are slowly disappearing.
This is where, perhaps, Samu is lucky to have been by taught by his father and kept the knowledge of building a traditional fish trap alive.