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Villagers feel brunt of climate change

Mere Naleba
Monday, March 05, 2018

THE idea to relocate Ogea Village to its current site can now be seen as a costly mistake by their forefathers.

Ogea Village is located on a coral island known as Ogea Levu in the upper southern Lau group.

With a population of just over 200, the people of Ogea Village are experiencing first-hand the effects of climate change. Sea water has infiltrated the soil and it is almost impossible to see any grass in the village green.

The takala (a minor chiefly title) Jimilai Kotobalavu, who is only one of the few remaining village elders left in the village, said the village was relocated twice already before they finally decided to settle at its current location, which was only about 13.3 square kilometres.

Mr Kotobalavu said he vividly recalled stories shared by his great grandfather of how the village of Ogea was relocated to its present site.

He said it was around the 1800s when the village, only consisting of four families, settled at the first location called Lau.

Mr Kotobalavu said Lau was located further inland and in a rugged mountainous location.

Mr Kotobalavu was not really sure of the time the villagers moved from Lau to another area called Duruvesi.

He said the village relocated once again to where it was presently located, now called Ogea. Mr Kotobalavu said one of the many reasons they moved closer to the sea was because of a measles outbreak that happened in Fiji in 1875.

"During the measles outbreak, there were some that contracted the disease, so the stories we heard was that they had to move closer to sea because it was the only way they could access help," Mr Kotobalavu said.

"In the 1900s developments started to be witnessed by those living on the island at that time, boats started visiting the villagers, although it happened very rarely, but it was happening," he said.

"People started to find the courage to go out to sea too. So the move was very good for us."

Mr Kotobalavu said from the initial four families that stayed at the first location (Lau), it increased to six families at the second location (Duruvesi), and then the six families moved to Ogea where it is now home to more than 200 people.

He said the entire village celebrated New Year's day for two reasons — they were welcoming another year and the second, to remember their loved ones who succumbed to the measles outbreak.

"A good number of our forefathers died because of measles, so on the first of every year we celebrate their lives," he said.

Ogea Village headman Lolohea Napau Kaulotu said the current site was a blessing for them, although seawater entered the village green during high tide, people were still reluctant to move to another place.

"Here they are so comfortable, because it's much closer to where the big boats and ships anchor when it arrives. So it is very convenient for everyone," Mr Kaulotu said.

The village of Ogea has a primary school, Matuatabua District School, postal agency and a nursing station.

Mr Kaulotu said during high tide the nurse waded across ankle deep sea water to get to the village or to the school.

"If she (nurse) has to conduct village checks or to go to the school or do something in the village, and it's high tide, she will have to cross her flooded compound, that's how bad it is for us," he said.

Mr Kaulotu said life on Ogea and at the current location was just convenient for the villagers.

Mr Kaulotu said the people were reluctant to move as they have established themselves properly at the current location, and they believed a sea wall was the answer to their problem.

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