I was invited to visit Gunu Village on Naviti Island in the Yasawa Group by my friend Eremasi Ratuvuki late last month to be part of his village church soli.
I considered this visit a privilege because this will be the first time for me to visit the Yasawas and also because of my maternal links to Yasawa through my vasu from Savudrodro Village in Savusavu.
On a Friday morning we boarded the "Marama Nasau", the boat from Somosomo Village which is the village next to Gunu, and to my surprise I met my uncle and aunt, Eroni and Niumai Fuaki who were also making their way to Gunu. They told me that one of my aunt's brother, Nasoni Lalanavanua, is the church deacon there and they wanted to spend some time with him. We left Lautoka wharf just a bit after 10 in the morning and Waya could be seen clearly.
The turaga ni koro (village headman) from Gunu, Anare Titoko, set his fishing line for a trawl. On the other side, the crew of the Marama also set their lines. Just out of the harbour, a bite on a crew member's line got the attention of the men. When the line had been reeled in, we saw that a walu (butterfish) had been hooked. The fight the walu gave is worth mentioning as it took the floater below the water and in short bursts ran the line but the crewman was a skilled fisherman, and stronger than the walu. Just a while later another bite, and again the crew man was excited. Village headman Anare was tired of waiting for a bite on his line and went below deck to rest. Just as we were in Yasawa waters, both lines went taut. With Anare nowhere in sight, two of the crew members reeled in his line. The two men set about reeling the fish in, the one reeling in Anare's line was having a tough time as it had snagged a big walu. Just when he was about to haul the fish in, the line loosened and in a blink of an eye, the fish was away. The one that got away became the staple of our many grog sessions on the island and to make it worse, I had photographed 'the one that got away'. Many theories emerged, including the inexperience of the fisherman and including the technique of how to trawl. I never got so many fishing lessons in one sitting alone. Anare could only lament about this fish.
Waya appeared and finally separated into Waya Levu and Waya Lailai as the sun reached its peak. The sun-drenched top deck is not the best place to be as the scorching afternoon heat makes even lying next to the boat's CAT engine seem more like lying next to a cooler. A while later Naviti Island loomed large on the fore and later on our port side as boat headed for northern end of the island to pass between Naviti and Yaqeta. Just as we rounded the point closest to Yaqeta there I saw spread out in front of me is the Volivoli Takelo. In the Yasawa dialect, this means bent sands or beach if you like. There used to be a sigi drigi group from the village of Gunu in the 1980s which was called 'Volivoli Takelo'. From the sea, Somosomo Village is the first village you see before you round a bend and see Gunu and Nasoqo villages. According to local legends, the first inhabitants of this bay were the people of Somosomo. They first settled on the western part of the island before coming over to settle in the bay. Then the people Leweivawa came over from Soso and Kese, two other villages on Naviti. There was a war between the two people over the chiefly title, which resulted in the bay being abandoned at one time, as all villagers were moved to Yaqeta before they were allowed to set foot on Naviti again.
The villagers of Gunu were all anticipating and looking forward to their church soli festivity on Saturday and the village was a hive of activities for many. The young men had been going diving the whole week and had arrived back with good catches. Walu, saqa (trevally), varivoce (humphead wrasse) and dabea were some of the fish I could identify easily. On land some of the men had gone inland to dig for yams, and the cultivated philipai yams grow joyfully in the hills of Naviti. The men too started to smoke the fish that was caught while some were used by the women in other dishes. The whole village was bustling with activity as the preparations continued well into the night.
But prior to the soli, I was taken by Eremasi to the place which is said to be the biggest fields of nama, or sea grapes in the whole Fiji. I haven't seen nor heard of any other so I am on the assumption that with the sweep of his hands, he showed me the fields of sea grapes. Of course I was not easily convinced so I asked him to get into the water to get me some sample. He did and also later I was told that Gunu villagers sell this delicacy by the sack loads at Lautoka and buyers as far as Suva usually come to buy from them. The turaga ni koro, Anare, also later confirmed that an Australian company was interested in exporting their nama but that effort has come to nothing, so far. But the greatest fact I found, is that they only harvest and sell the nama, they don't eat it. I personally testified to this, as going around the village, I never found any nama dish and of course much to my disappointment. Must be kai Suva but settling for the fish and yam was more than enough compensation.
The very next day, while the village was dressing up in the bula mood for the soli, Eremasi and I snuck quietly to the school compound with the aim of climbing the hills behind the village. Halfway up, the burning rocks and the scorching sun convinced us to turn around and instead we headed across the hill to the water tank. Again, Anare later briefed me that Gunu is the only village in the Yasawas that does not have a water problem and they have high pressure piped water in their homes all year round. Before the village used to drink from three ponds but a drought in 2000, made the villagers think hard about an alternative water source. According to Anare, this drought even evaporated water spilled on the ground as quickly as it was poured on it and the lizards came out panting from their hiding places. Some young men found a good water source in the hills during a pig hunting expedition and informed him. Anare used jungle vines and a stick to measure the width and depth of the new water source and since 2004, the village of Gunu now has a piped water system for all houses in the village. And just like the many concerns from any other village in Fiji, the village of Gunu is next looking into setting up a seawall. But talks have already included a suggestion for the village to relocate itself.
That is where the story was when the boat to transport me to Korovou Resort came, and where I was to board the Tiger Four back to Nadi.