Choir group formed during a hurricane

Surviving choir member Sera Rokomarama Qasenivalu at her home in Vunimono, Nausori. Picture: PAULINI CURUQARA

Every choir group has its own unique story to tell. And one that has an interesting tale is the Vunimono Choir from Nausori.

The gospel singing group was formed during Hurricane Bebe in 1972.

In the midst of Bebe, one of the biggest storms at the time, the people of Vunimono Village were told to take shelter as the unrelenting wind and pelting rain wreaked havoc through the country.

The villagers ran and found shelter at Vunimono High School, a few kilometres away from the village.

Fiji was still basking in the aftermath of just becoming an independent nation when Hurricane Bebe swept through from October 22-25.

It was the worst tropical cyclone since 1952 to affect the islands.

After emerging from their shelter and seeing the damage done by the Category 3 storm, the Vunimono Choir gathered and sang gospel songs.

Their musical prayers to God sought his intervention and asked for strength, determination, protection and perseverance to take them throughout the day.

Surviving choir member Sera Rokomarama Qasenivalu shared her experiences of the day.

“Before the hurricane, we were all hyped up because we were recording our first album conducted by the late Onisimo Ravutia,” she said.

“After the tropical disaster, we then returned home, still in shock with what had occurred, but we never lost hope, so we went inside the church and did our first recording and we used the plate recorder back in those days.

“We hadn’t even cleaned up the village, we just came straight in and did our recording. The choir started before 1972 under the leadership of Baravi Senikauciri and DiTui.

“While we were recording this dog kept interrupting, so we had to chase it out and start all over again.

“After our recording, we went back to Vunimono High School because the whole village was still in a mess.

“From then onwards, Onisimo and his wife Sera Tagicakibau took over the choir group.

“They were given a house by one of the late choir members, Sesenieli Rokocakau.

“When Mr Ravutia took over, we began competing in the annual Methodist Church conferences and many of the hymns he wrote, we were the first ones to sing them.

“It was under Onisimo that we won the Messiah trophy, the way we sang in those days was very unique. Everyone had the passion and the love of singing and just praise God.

“Onisimo spent nearly 10 years with us before he passed away and a gentleman from Suvalailai Village in Rewa by the name of Isei took over and then this generation the choir has been led by Torika Volikoro.

“It was one of those days of just praising and worshipping. “I was also part of the Tailevu choir group that sang during her Majesty the Queen, Queen Elizabeth’s trip to Fiji and his son Prince Charles.

“They came to Bau Island, so we were called up to form a group and to entertain the Queen and his son.”

She added they were invited to take part in occasions such as the opening of the new church at Naselai Village.

Some songs she remembered and still being sung today are Sa wekada, Ai Vakaruru maina cagi, Sa nei Karisito Jisu, Mataivalu vaka yalo, Sa rogo mai na davui and Reki tiko na yaloqu.

She urged young conductors, songwriters and young people to bring back that melody.

“We must revive our choir group and bring back that glorious melody which we were once known for.”

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