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A sense of duty

Aqela Susu
Monday, June 19, 2017

BEING traditional fisherfolk for a paramount chief is no easy task. As the people of a riverside village in Rewa will attest, it can mean changing locations and therefore the history of a people.

This is true of the people of Nasilai, Rewa, whose origins in the province was born out of a sense of duty, loyalty and the wish to faithfully serve their role as gonedau or traditional fishermen.

The people of Nasilai Village all belong to one yavusa or tribe and are called vulagi, the iTaukei word for visitor, which is probably the first hint you will get about the fact that the people were brought from Naselai in the neighbouring Tailevu Province.

Made up of six mataqali (clans), Daunakelo, Burelada, Tuirara, Draumakita, Nakua and Vuniboro, the Yavusa Vulagi make up Nasilai Village. According to oral history passed down through the generations through the heads of each tribe, the people of Nasilai were brought over to establish the village by a Roko Tui Dreketi (paramount chief of the Rewa province) who ruled at the turn of the 19th century.

According to village elders, the Roko Tui Dreketi brought the original group who settled at Nasilai to be traditional fishermen for him, but more specifically to serve his wife who is said to have been from the coastal Tailevu area.

It was said the lady, who had been of noble birth, had difficulty eating fish given by the people of Rewa who gathered and hunted on the mostly brackish water of the marsh area of the province.

Nasilai Village headman Malakia Raoma said according to accounts passed down to them by their elders, his great, great, great grandparents were among those members of the said six clans who were traditionally asked to come from Nakelo in Tailevu to Nasilai.

"Because the then Roko Tui Dreketi was married to a chiefly maiden from Nakelo, Adi Seini, who came and lived in Rewa. She told her husband that the fish she used to eat at Nakelo were from the oceans and were also big in size," Mr Raoma said.

When Adi Seini came to live in Lomanikoro Village in Rewa she only used to eat freshwater fish, something totally different from what they used to eat back in her village in Nakelo.

"She then asked the Roko Tui Dreketi if they did eat the fish from the ocean, to which her husband replied no. The then Roko Tui Dreketi told her instead that they would only eat it when people brought it for them.

"So she asked her husband if he could speak with the chief from Nakelo to have some of his traditional fishermen come over to Rewa to be the Roko Tui Dreketi's traditional fishermen.

"So the then Roko Tui Dreketi went over to Nakelo with a delegation to traditionally ask for some of the Marama's traditional fishermen to come to Rewa.

"So from there, six clans were brought over. When this was traditionally approved, the elders from Nakelo asked if the names of the clans and tribes sent across to Rewa not to be changed."

Mr Raoma said to this day that had never changed. This, he said, was in a bid to keep the legacy left behind by their forefathers.

"We were brought here by then then Roko Tui Dreketi and settled on a piece of land given to us by the late chief," he said.

"These were my grandparents three generations before us.

The Yavusa Vulagi has always fulfilled their roles as traditional fishermen of the Roko Tui Dreketi.

This is portrayed whenever there is a death in the chiefly family in Rewa or whenever the Roko Tui Dreketi has an obligation to attend.

"Whenever there is a chiefly death, all we have to get is the fish or if they want fish for an occasion, she will always ask us because it is our job as her traditional fishermen," Mr Raoma said.

"When she asks for fish, we have to get it whether it's raining or it's fine weather we will always go out to get the fish. This role is something that we're traditionally tasked to carry out for as long as we can."

Nasilai Village is now made up of 33 households and consisting of more than 100 people.

Because of the rapid growth of population in the village, some of the members of the Nakua clan and their families have moved to a piece of land at Lokia.

"This is because the village is crowded," Mr Raoma said.

And with the rising impacts of climate change on Pacific Island nations, Nasilai Village is no different.

The village has been exposed to some of the severe impacts of climate change with the erosion of river banks forcing some families living beside the Rewa River to relocate.

"We have asked for assistance from Government, but we are still waiting for word," he said.

Nasilai Village is at least three minutes boat ride away from Nasali Landing.

Their main mode of transportation is by water taxis (punt).

According to Mr Raoma, the River River is their main source of income.

" ... our way of catering for our church, vanua and government obligations is from the river and we go to sell these catch in Suva."

Rewa River MPA declaration

The recent declaration of the Rewa River to be a Marine Protected Area is one that the village is looking forward to.

Mr Raoma said this was because they were upstream from the traditional fishing grounds of the Roko Tui Dreketi where the taboo would be imposed.

He said this would mean more catch and money for them because of their reliance on the river for their main source of income.

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