67 and still going strong

Lotomau Fiafia, right, with Fisheries Minister, Semi Koroilavesau on the island of Kioa. Picture: LUKE RAWALAI

WHEN people his age opt to retire and live a peaceful life, Lotomau Fiafia is proof that even at the age of 67 years there is more to be accomplished in life.

With a laugh, the proud leader from Kioa Island, which is situated off the coast of Buca Bay, Cakaudrove, says life only ends once a person dies.

The father of eight children and proud grandfather of eight grandchildren is the voice of the Kioa Council, a body that deals with the administration of affairs on the island home to more than 100 people.

He sits with pride at the council’s traditional seat on the island and commands an air of control about him summoning the respect of his people. During a visit to the island, Mr Fiafia led talks among his people and the Minister for Fisheries Semi Koroilavesau.

Mr Fiafia said since his ancestors inhabited the island of Kioa in 1947, when they arrived from Tuvalu, they had lived peacefully on the island interacting with the neighbouring natives on Buca Bay and Tukavesi.

“Kioa was actually purchased by our ancestors after it became one of three islands in Fiji that were put up on sale,” he said.

“The other two islands were Wakaya and our neighbouring island of Rabi which is now the home of Banabans from Kiribati. “Since the time of our ancestors a problem that is threatening the island now is the effect of sea level rise a horror that we witness every day as the tide marks encroach further claiming our shoreline and land,” he said.

“During king tides places that were never reached by seawater is now being inundated by rising water level.”

Mr Fiafia said the phenomenon was a serious concern to the council because the only village on the island is situated close to the sea.

“Our village green is now becoming smaller every year and our children are being robbed off their playing space because every king tide the waves claim part of the shoreline,” he said.

“Recently our youths have taken up their passion for rugby further forming a team for the island which is fast becoming our pride.

“The problem is that they now do not have a place to train for matches because the ground, our village green, is becoming smaller as most of it is being claimed by the sea,” Mr Fiafia said.

Witnessing these changes, the council is focused on empowering our people and improving their livelihoods to ensure they have money to mitigate the effects of rising sea level.

“If anything happens to me in the future I want to leave my people in a better position to survive,” he said.

“Therefore, we are working with the Ministry of Fisheries to form fishermen associations to tap into fishing as a form of income generation.

“We are really grateful to the ministry with the recent promise of a solar powered ice plant to be implemented on the island to preserve fish for our markets. “This way we can ensure that our people are better equipped to face the future.”

As an elder on the island Mr Fiafia said his fundamental role on the island was to represent the interest of his people and help them deal with issues that affect their livelihoods. “However, this role is not easy unless you have the support and backing of your own people,” he said.

“As the saying goes that one can force a horse to a well, but cannot force it to drink because the choice to be led to unite as a people is a personal decision that every individual must make.

‘I always stress to my people that as one we could take on the most difficult situations on earth and that is the way we roll on Kioa.”

Mr Fiafia is married to the love of his life, Nina Rina Fiafia and they live on Kioa Island.

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