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A family separated through time and distance

Matilda Simmons
Sunday, December 03, 2017

THEY'RE a family separated by time and distance. In November this year, Lucian Konatas, 71, from the Ainigaule Tribe, Silolo Village in the district of Toabaita in Malaita, Solomon Islands finally met some of his long lost relatives in Fiji after more than 50 years since they first established a connection in 1965.

"There was this great feeling of kinship," he shared.

"I felt at home, there was lot of tears involved."

It all started 153 years ago when their common ancestor a Solomon Islander, Tom Fikutoa, was brought to Fiji as a slave under the blackbirding trading system in 1864.

Lucian's great-grandfather was a cousin brother of Tom Fikutoa.

Tom was lured to one of the many ships that berthed off the coast of Solomon Islands who were looking to hire young men to work in cotton plantations around the Pacific.

When Tom was taken, most of his relatives in the Solomon Islands had lost all contact with him. That is until in 1965 when a man from their tribe came to Fiji to study medicine and met and married a Fijian woman.

The woman was a descendant of Tom. She had enquired about her ancestor's tribe and connected all the dots.

"She found out that she was a member of our tribe. In fact she and her husband were distantly related without their knowledge. Her children still live in the Solomon Islands today," describe Lucian.

"Since that event the family here in Solomon Islands have corresponded through letters from 1965 until 2002, when we had our family reunion back at home. One of the representatives from Fiji came over to be part of it.

Lucian, is a retired police inspector. He arrived in Fiji with his son on a two-week vacation to meet his Fiji family.

"Words cannot express how I feel," he said.

"It's great that we get to know each other so that if they get to come to Solomon Islands they can come and see us … our blood ties are strengthened."

"Some of the Fijian relatives are thinking of coming over to the Solomon Islands and we accept them but we still need to follow other government formalities. They have a big land at home and it's empty …nothing on it; I'm the one looking after it."

Tom Fikutoa

According to records provided by the family, Tom Fikutoa was among Melanesians who were brought to Fiji in 1864, to work in the cotton plantation.

Fikutoa had left the islands with his brother Fikuia while in their early teens. Fikuia is believed to have gone to Queensland, Australia. They were brought in as forced labourers for the cotton plantation and also for general constructions. Their father was said to have died with a sorrowful heart after learning of his sons' kidnap.

Cotton had become a profitable business after supplies had stopped coming from the US because of the civil war. Since Fijians were not interested in regular sustained labour, the thousands of European planters who flocked to Fiji sought labour from the Melanesian islands.

Melanesian labourers were to be recruited for three years, paid three pounds per year, issued with basic clothing and had access to the company store for supplies.

Despite this, most Melanesians were recruited by deceit, usually being enticed abroad ships with gifts and then locked up.

According to Tom Victor a descendant and namesake of Tom Fikutoa, their great-great-grandfather married a ni-Vanuatu woman with maternal links to the Fataleka tribe in the Solomon Islands. They had five children, one of whom was Samu Dari their great-grandfather.

"Samu Dari married our great-grandmother Tuipulotu Vea, a Tongan lady. They had met in Vavau, Tonga," described Tom who resides with his family in Newtown just outside of Suva. They had five surviving children namely Emele, Tomu, Ana, Bob and Vasemaca.

"I was named after my great-great-grandfather, and growing up I used to get teased a lot. The relatives would call me Fikutoa and I hated it!" said Tom.

"But after learning about the history of my great-great-grandfather and what he went through, the name is so precious to me."

According to Tom, their family name of Fikutoa was anglicised to Victor by the black birding traders who found it hard to pronounce their family name.

"Since meeting Mr Lucian, I have become very interested in our family back in Solomon Islands," said Tom.

"It makes me want to go there and reconnect with them and see where our ancestor once lived."

Mr Lucian, has called on the Government of Fiji to recognise the plight of some of the descendants of the Melanesians who arrived under the blackbirding system.

"They contributed towards your country and they should have a piece of land to settle in otherwise these families can always think of coming back home. We will always accept them and it's up to them I can't force them….however if they want to come they will have to start from scratch." said Mr Lucian.

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