WALKING past the Suva market every morning these past few weeks, I noticed him with his wares, axe, hammer and knife handles plus chopping boards by his side.
He is Joeli Mau Jeke, a native of Komo from the Lau Group who now lives in Yarawa, Serua. He turned 74 on the 12th of this month and has been fashioning handles and boards for the past two years. Before that it was plaiting sinnet to be used in hotels along the Coral Coast.
Jeke says he is often asked as to how someone from Komo is living in Serua.
Speaking in the iTaukei language, he said: "When I came to Viti Levu, I didn't see any branches for me to alight on in Suva. That is why I went to Serua where there is an abundance of wood for me to work with. Now that I have a little money, I can do things that I want to do."
Carving and fashioning things out of wood is something he has always done.
Jeke uses mahogany for his chopping boards and sacau for the handles. He also makes knife handles, any sort of knife. Jeke says the range encompasses everything from a small kitchen knife to cane knives and anything in between. His prices are between $1 and $5, the cheapest being a kitchen knife handle.
Chatting with him revealed that selling from beside the market had opened his eyes to at least two things.
The first is what one has to do to be able to sell his wares around the city. Jeke said he was not aware of the legal requirements until he was told by the Suva City Council he needed a licence to be conducting a business within the city.
He then asked city officials who attended to him at the council office if they could supply him with a licence so he could go about his business. That was when he was met with the explanation that he had to get a tax identification number (TIN) from the Fiji Revenue and Customs Authority (FRCA). Jeke said that prompted him to move to the market where he could just pay the necessary fees and mind his business.
The other is the realisation he could be the one who makes the handles and chopping boards while another be the vendor. Jeke says this will allow him more time to do what he has since done best. This is after seeing the number of people, both men and women, who have stopped to enquire about the handles and boards. He is thinking of adding other things to his range of products.
Of his three children, Jeke explains one is married in the Yasawas and one to a man from Taveuni.
He says his work akin to fishing in terms of earnings. Some days there are a lot of sales some days there aren't. A good week is one in which he makes around $80.
Jeke says he is grateful to those who have allowed him to settle in Serua but only wishes it had been earlier. This is because of the amount of land he says is available to those much younger than he to derive a living from that source.