SAMUELI Saurara is one of the youngest turaga ni koro on Ovalau Island. At 29 years of age, he is the village headman for Lovoni Village.
He assumed this important role three years ago after several stints on Viti Levu, first as a student and later as a construction worker.
Samu was appointed to the position after a village meeting, where it was recommended that he take on the post.
This was done on the qualification that traditionally Samu belongs to the Kenakoro clan, who are the bati of the Tui Wailevu, the chief of Lovoni.
"When I was first given the position, I didn't know what I had to do as a turaga ni koro," he said.
Just a young 26-year-old who had returned from Viti Levu and even with the presence of other men who are older and wiser than him, Samu took up his role.
Looking after 253 villagers and acting as their intermediary to government departments and other organisations that want to interact with the village, it was the huge responsibility that Samu tried to wrap his head around at first.
Apart from this, he has to ensure that other issues concerning village life is addressed, especially the issue of public health while making sure proper hygiene is observed.
On top of this, Samu admitted he had to accept the different personalities of the villagers — there were some who would push their own agendas as he tries to help get the village to agree on issues they face.
With a big and active population which depends on a cash economy to survive, Samu has his work cut out for him.
"Because of my age, there were at times in the beginning that I really found it difficult to ensure my authority is respected and at times it got to me.
"During village meetings, I would really get angry whenever there is a heated debate and I guess it's just because I am young, I tend to overreact to things.
"The thought of quitting had crossed my mind at one point," Samu says.
Under his father's tutelage, Samu learnt the finer art of becoming a village headman and eventually saw beyond the stonewalling and heated debates that are usually arose during village meetings.
Samu's dad was the Lovoni village headman for five years and his experience really helped him along as he tried to find his way around.
"I had also attended a workshop that was organised especially for all the turaga ni koro on Ovalau.
"It was held in Levuka but it was my dad who had really helped me, giving me advice as he also once held the position and I took it from there," Samu says.
Today, Samu is on top of his work, organising village meetings and any other occasions that require the participation of the whole village.
"After sometime, I had finally learnt how to control my emotions and instead of trying to debate issues head on, I have learnt to be more patient with the villagers no matter how angry or how much they disagree with an issue," Samu says.
He is content with his role as Lovoni Village headman and is more satisfied with staying in the village, looking after the villagers and yaqona and dalo plantation than to go back to Suva.
Samu studied to become a pastry chef at the then Fiji Institute of Technology's Catering School after finishing high school at Suva Sangam sCollege in 2001. The only thing he wishes to do is to serve his kinsfolk the best way he thinks he can.