EVERY Fijian community chief has a matanivanua, a right-hand man, a spokesman, someone who acts as a bridge between the people and their chief. Usually someone matured in age holds this position.
Last week, I came across the youngest matanivanua I've ever known. His name is Aloesio Setariki Raiwalui, 24, of the yavusa Toluga, mataqali Nakauraki.
He holds the position next to the turaga ni yavusa Taukei Qamo, the Vunivalu, Ratu Romulo Rokubu of Wainiyabia Village in Serua.
As he sat comfortably next to the Vunivalu, I assumed he was just one of the village youths there to welcome visitors. But after the presentation of our sevusevu, I realised he held an esteemed position in their community.
Well-versed with traditional Fijian protocol, history of their village and origins, Aloesio sounded much like a village elder.
Mr Raiwalui has five siblings and is the second youngest. He lost his father when he was two years old and was raised by the Vunivalu and his wife Salaseini Diginacere at the age of 11. He attended Lomary Secondary School until Form Five but became a matanivanua at the age of 12 when he was in Form One.
When asked about his responsibility, Mr Raiwalui said it was a very challenging part of his life especially for someone so young but he enjoyed it nevertheless.
"My position allows me to liaise with the vunivalu for the vanua's needs, point out what the people should do and where they stand," he explained.
Back in his school days, while his friends played rugby, he would only watch from the village hall where he sat among the village elders to carry out his traditional role.
Asked how he got to know all that he does of the traditional iTaukei protocol and what he thought of his peers who were not, or didn't seem interested in learning about their roots or suitu, Mr Raiwalui said it was every parent's responsibility to pass on the knowledge.
He said the onus was also on the tokatoka and the mataqali to help keep the youths focussed and connected to their roots.
"How do you expect a tree to stand without roots or a person without backbone or suitu? Rivers have a source and will always flow down, it doesn't flow up. If you are eager to learn you will ask, and of course the source will be willing to answer you," Mr Raiwalui said.