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Fiji Time: 7:37 PM on Friday 25 April

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Life in wilderness

Maciu Malo
Friday, July 12, 2013

FOR 17 months, families from a village in the interior of Ba lived in scant makeshift shelters scattered over a large area several kilometres away from their abandoned village site.

In January last year, they were told that the order to vacate the village had come from the government.

This, after the tragic landslide incident that killed a family of four, triggered by heavy rain that caused severe flooding in the entire Western Division.

During a trip to the highlands this week, a team from The Fiji Times found families living in isolation and under very poor conditions.

After enquiring with authorities yesterday, this newspaper was able to relay the news to the villagers that the government denied ordering the villagers to find a home elsewhere.

Commissioner Western Commander Joeli Cawaki said the villagers were told to decide for themselves.

"The government was concerned about their safety after what had happened during the landslide," said Cdr Cawaki.

"We did not tell them to vacate the village but to decide for themselves on whether they want to go back or build new homes in other locations."

Roko tui Ba Timoci Tukana said he believed there was a miscommunication on the relocation issue.

"The villagers were not told to abandon the village but to think wisely of their safety and future.

"Villagers were told to first secure a vacant land should they decide on relocation because there is a process to follow in declaring new village sites."

Taukei Nakula of Tukuraki Village, Simione Nalionigata, said the villagers were told to vacate and to look for a new village site.

"That is the reason the villagers are still scattered," Mr Nalionigata said.

"The villagers have homes in the village and we would love to go back. Now that we know there was no order, we will return to our village."

Some villagers have built temporary sheds while others have sought shelter in neighbouring villages — Nanuku, Tabataba, Cirisobu and Tabalei.

Mr Nalionigata, who now lives at Vakabuli in Lautoka, said he would return to the village because he spent about $50,000 building his home and the village church.

Another villager Kini Botitu, 60, said he really believed the villagers were ordered to leave the village.

"That is why I am building this temporary tin building on this piece of land," he said pointing to his new home near Cirisobu Village.

"I would love to go back to the village because life will not be the same if we move to a new village site."

Cdr Cawaki and Mr Tukana said they would visit the villagers to clarify the issue with them.