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Shaken, not destroyed - Part I

Sikeli Qounadovu
Sunday, March 04, 2018

ON February 20, 2016, Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston wreaked havoc across the Fiji Group, claiming 44 lives with a total damage of $1.4 billion.

When the cyclone made landfall on the island of Koro, one of the worse affected areas, every man, woman and child came face to face with the second worst natural disaster in recorded history to hit the southern hemisphere.

Rooftops were blown off, centuries old trees uprooted, houses shredded in mid-air, the screams of fear and cries for help as raging waves, as a rtesult of storm surges, destroyed everything in its path including the lives of several Koro Islanders.

Koro Island was like a war-torn country — like a scene from one of those war movies or like the aftermath of a mini Hiroshima.

Despite the forces unleashed by mother nature, two buildings withstood the ferocity and wrath of the Category 5 monster cyclone.

Today, these two buildings stand majestically unscathed and still withstanding the test of time.

When the ferocious natural forces of Sever TC Winston hit Nabuna Village, 220 villagers ran for cover to the place deemed as the safest place on earth.

From the storm surging waves, torrential rain, life-threatening lightning strikes and strong wind at 280km/hr at its peak that destroyed 60 houses, the Nabuna Methodist Church building provided safe haven for the fearful villagers.

Today, we a take a look at the secrets behind the church that not only has produced several church ministers in the country but also survived the worst natural disaster to ever hit the island.

No other better man could share the story of the building of the Nabuna Methodist Church than 80-year-old Taito Rauluni, who was still a young man when they were asked to build their church.

Nabuna Village sits by the coast of the northern part of Koro Island and on a fine day, Vanua Levu is very visible from the beach.

Nabuna villagers are one of the friendliest people you can ever meet. They welcome you with open arms and greet you with the most infectious smile that you'll find hard to resist and difficulty leaving them. The team agreed that should we ever make another trip to Koro, that we be billeted at Nabuna.

Such is their hospitality and kindness that when the team from The Fiji Times attended church on Sunday, February 18, we could not leave the village until we had lunch.

The funny thing was we were all hosted separately. I was pulled by the village headman Maika Komaitavasi to share the lunch which was provided by his mataqali. The mouth-watering fish and the vakalolo, I must say I have tasted a lot of vakalolo, the Nabuna vakalolo supersedes it all.

Villagers say there is a secret to the preparation of this traditional recipe, which is only uniquely mastered by Nabuna villgers. Something renowned chef Lance Seeto may want to have look at in his own Taste of Paradise series. I tell you, this it is to die for.

In the words of the village headman himself: "If you have not tasted the vakalolo from Nabuna, you have not been to Koro."

To any person from Nabuna and or who has blood ties to the village and is reading this piece, the kindness, hospitality and generous heart of your people are memories worth cherishing. To the Turaga na Tui Bucobuco, thank you for accepting us as your own and for being the one of the best description of "Fiji, the way the world should be". We can only pray that you will continue to be richly blessed.

As I was saying, Mr Rauluni was a young man in his early 20s when village elders informed the youths there was the need for a church.

"At that time, we had so much respect for our elders, whenever they issued a command or a request, there was no answering back or questions asked. Every young man with his caneknife stood up and made the trip to Vanua Levu.

"Those that were left behind were our women and the elders who looked after our farms," said Mr Rauluni.

Making the long journey across the Koro sea to Vanua Levu and then later to Taveuni was not an easy one as it included a lot of sacrifices. However no one complained or felt homesick while working on the copra plantation.

"We would spend three months and then return and then another group would leave.

"Our shelter was a simple one made from reeds fastened from the ground to the top. First we a bag of rice and a bag of sugar on credit from a nearby shop and that was enough for us. Everything else we ate was found around us, so there was not much to worry. Later on, we got a drum of kerosene for our light.

"Everyone was divided in a group. There were those working to earn enough to meet our basic necessities, there was another group in charge of cooking and there was another group tasked to work and get the money needed to build the church.

"Everything earned was given for the church and we did not complain.

"Some of us then went to New Zealand and worked on dairy farms," said Mr Rauluni.

It took them six years alone working on getting the finance for the building supplies.

Mr Rauluni said since the making of the first block until the job was done, no one ever saw a building plan.

"The man who was the mastermind of everything had the plan in his head.

"Everyone did everything in unison. There was only one voice heard and one command, everyone else listened and tuned themselves to what they were assigned to do.

"Everyone knew what to do. There was a group that made the concrete blocks and dried them while there was another group that steamed the concrete blocks.

"Everyone had their own time to go to their farms."

Mr Rauluni could not remember a time when anyone was tired during the construction of the church.

"It was around this same time when the road was constructed to the village and there was consistent water supply. And because their government depot was located near the village, we were often told by the village elders to always visit the workers so we would take our harvest from the farm and visit them.

"Every time we visited them, they would tell us, 'anything you need, we will provide'. So we were never short of gravel and sand," he said.

According to Mr Rauluni, from the ground to the top everything was done manually, even when the concrete rafters were made.

"People who see this church for the first time will think the rafters were made through the assistance of a crane. No, there was not a crane, everything was done manually."

He said unity, humility and respect was the cornerstone that ensured the successful construction of the church.

"Then it was time to prepare for the mixing of the concrete for the floor to separate the top floor from the ground floor. We had initially planned to start at 10pm but at 8pm the people of Vatulele paid us a visit.

"It was a request from their chief. As soon as they arrived, the mixing started. A group was given the primary role to ensure the hot water was always boiling and tea was prepared. The rest were divided into mixing and carrying buckets of mixed concrete inside.

"Everyone had their own groups and no one got tired."

Nineteen hours later and after sheer hard work from 8pm to 3pm the following afternoon and the floor was completed.

Within three years from the first mix, the Nabuna Methodist Church was completed and in 1973 it was officially opened.

Today, the building measuring 24 metres in length, 12 metres in width and 11 metres in height from the ground to the top plate, stands majestically on the roadside, to greet everyone that enters or goes past the village.

The church stands as a reminder of the product of communal living, where respect, love and care are part of everyone's daily lives.

"We were never short of food, everything was in great abundance," said Mr Rauluni.

The church was built with love, stemmed from respect and grounded with humility — these are three of the quality attributes the people of Nabuna acquire.

* Next week: We take a look at the Vatulele

Methodist Church.

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