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Spiritual connection to the land

Matilda Simmons
Sunday, July 16, 2017

FOR couple Vatunisau Rokoduguvanua and Elenoa Disusu, tilling their land is both a physical and spiritual connection. It sustains their family wellbeing as well as their connection to God.

The couple were recently featured in a film documentary by local production company, Walker Films, where they talked about their journey as kava farmers.

Speaking in the Wailevu dialect, Mr Rokoduguvanua says their kava farm has served them well for the past 20 years.

"We are starting to experience the benefits of perseverance in the cultivation of the soil, the purpose for which God puts us on this earth. There is no better investment than investing your time in tilling the land working at your own time and pace." he said quietly.

For wife, Elenoa, it has been a blessing.

"In over 20 years of our farming life, we never forgot the goodness of our God," she said.

"Before we start farming, we pray and after our planting we say another prayer. I believe these prayers are heard by the plants and trees nearby and it yields a lot especially when we pray for the wellbeing of our plants to help in funding our children's education and so on.

"The land is the best produce for anything. It helps you in everything as long as you are hardworking.

"We must use the land wisely especially young men. If you have no job in towns or cities, come back and make use of your ancestral land.

"It's a great source of living. We testify by it and we know its great benefits to us and our children."

In the documentary, Mr Rokoduguvanua takes us through a quick lesson on how to care for kava plants.

He has been farming the crop for more than 20 years.

The farmer said at times before they had a chance to uproot their kava, some people would cut off the stems of their kava plant so they could plant it in their own plots.

This results in the plants dying prematurely or yield plants of poor health.

"We call it vakalutubana," he said.

"When you're about to uproot a plant, you need to clear the weeds from the base to expose the roots of the plants.

"Before digging, follow the longest roots downward to the ends, and then you can start digging. Start from the outside and work inwards.

"Keep digging in a spiral until you reach the main plant. By the time you reach the middle you'll see that the large roots are wrapped around the main plant.

"So by the time you dig up the main plant, all the roots are loose and it's easy to harvest the entire plant. You have a better chance of having continuous long roots because you started digging outside.

"When digging, follow the roots carefully because the middlemen prefer long continuous strands and take care not to break them.

"There is a specific technique to uprooting kava. That is if you're harvesting on a slope start from the bottom. Be careful not to break the roots. Then you start working the top and the sides," he said in his dialect.

"Some people cut the stems and place it in cool place out of the sun. They leave it there until it starts sprouting buds. This is where the buds will appear. As soon as they appear, the farmer then plants it in the prepared soil.

"This is the planting end of the stem, take your digging fork , dig up and loosen the soil after you've dug up and turned over the soil, then take your stem and start planting.

There are different techniques to this. One is to dig a little bit with your hands then plant the stems in the soil and take note of the planting ends, plant them in a slanted position.

"The reason for probing the soil first is to see if there are any stones underneath. This is to ensure the roots grow freely without obstacles. This is what we mean by depositing back into the soil after withdrawal.

"That's when you count your farm as a bank. After you withdraw, you deposit again in the soil. Bury it and if the sun comes out, cover the plants with some grass.

"Cover all around the base. This is to keep the new stems cool and moist. When the roots start to take hold in the soil then you can come and clear the grass away."

Mr Rokoduguvanua swears by the benefits of farming and has advised many young people in his village.

"I usually give advice to young people about the benefits of kava farming. Kava is a really good source of revenue. When you commit your heart, soul and time to tending your farm every day, it will become one of the best investments you can ever make," he said with finality.

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