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A journey back to the roots

Avinesh Gopal
Tuesday, September 17, 2013

HE has fulfilled the wishes of his late father.

And he is happy that he is one of the few people in the country who have been able to trace their roots.

Living hundreds of kilometres away from the land of his forefathers, Tomu Ramanoa always knew that his relatives were where his father had come from.

The quest to trace his roots, as per his late father's wishes, saw him travelling all the way to Malaita in the Solomon Islands.

For him, it was a worthwhile trip as he was able to meet up with his relatives — the descendants of his forefathers.

Mr Ramanoa, 79, lives at Bali Village in Wailoku settlement, outside Suva City, which is home to descendants of Solomon Islanders.

The forefathers of people living in Wailoku were brought to Fiji from the Solomon Islands, starting in 1865 during the blackbirding era.

Known as the "stolen people", they were either tricked or forced into coming to work in Fiji like their Melanesian brothers from New Hebrides, which is now known as Vanuatu.

While some left at the end of their work, the majority of the islanders opted to stay behind in Fiji and call the country home.

Intermarriages between the Solomon Islanders and the iTaukei women since the colonial era has seen the two races blend in well, even to the extent that one may have difficulty in figuring out who is who.

Mr Ramanoa said his father Sade Mau was brought from Agea district in Malaita in 1903 and he worked at the Vunivasa Estate in Taveuni.

His father then moved to Lau before moving to Naduri in Labasa, then to Deuba in Navua and finally settled at Wailoku.

"While moving from one place to the other, my father was fortunate enough to witness the iTaukei traditional ceremonies and other things," Mr Ramanoa said.

"In 1935, he married my mother Melaia Marama Kerei of Wainiabia in Serua and they had two girls and two boys, including me.

"I'm the eldest in my family and the only one still alive now as all my siblings have passed away."

Mr Ramanoa has four sons, two daughters, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, most of whom live with him.

He described his late father as a very conservative and disciplined person, someone who did not go out anywhere unnecessarily.

"Whenever he called us, we had to respond on the first call. If we didn't respond, then things would be flying towards us.

"One day my sister was called by my father and when she delayed responding, my father injured her and he was charged by the police and taken to court.

"But he was pardoned by the court when he stated that whatever he did was taught to him by his father to instill discipline in children."

Mr Ramanoa's mother died in 1946 while his father died in the late 1960s.

"When my father was still alive, he told me that he wanted to go back to the Solomon Islands and meet his relatives there.

"But unfortunately he died and he couldn't go. He had told me that it would be good if I could go to Malaita some day to meet my relatives there.

"I always wanted to go and do as my father had wished but I couldn't get any links. It was not until a few months ago when a Solomon Islander studying at the USP came to Wailoku looking for his relatives. "He managed to trace the links down to me and through him, I traced my roots to the Solomon Islands. He gave me the genealogical links to trace my roots."

Mr Ramanoa said arrangements were done and he left Fiji for the Solomon Islands on July 2 this year, in search of his relatives.

"I was picked up in Honiara by a cousin, who is a doctor and I spent one week there before going to Malaita. I was accompanied by my son from Fiji.

"We lived with our relatives in Malaita who are the descendants of my grandfather, who had married again. We met up with my uncles, aunts and the whole lot of relatives.

"It was quite an emotional moment and we all cried when we met for the first time and talked things over. There was a traditional welcome ceremony performed for me and there used to be big gatherings every night.

"I'm really happy to have traced my roots and met up with my relatives."

Like Mr Ramanoa, some other descendants of the blackbirders have also reportedly traced their roots to Malaita.

The descendants live in various parts of Fiji, with the majority living in five villages in Wailoku. The villages are named after provinces in Malaita.

Something that has been evident from the visits so far by The Fiji Times teams to the various settlements of Solomon descendants in the country is the strong bond between them.

The majority of their forefathers were brought to Fiji from Malaita, initially to work in cotton plantations and then the sugarcane fields.

As such, the majority of residents in settlements around the country are related to each other because of the blood links from Malaita.

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