Matokana – This is Navosa

An early morning view of Matokana village. Picture: SIKELI QOUNADOVU

MATOKANA villagers say if you have never been to Matokana, you have never been to Navosa.
After a gruelling seven and a half hours hike through the rugged terrain of the Nadroga/Navosa Province, we finally reached Matokana Village, a village much closer to the province of Serua than any other village located deep in the highlands of Navosa.

Matokana Village is probably the most isolated and remote village in the province.

I woke up the next morning to a multi-million dollar view. A scenery, that while I still had cramps all over my body, for a while erased the memories of the struggles to get to the village. Peaceful and magnificent that even the word beautiful is an understatement.

From the ground at Vakacereivalu Primary School over the horizon on your left the Sleeping Giant from Sabeto in Nadi is visible.

The majestic Nausori Highlands rise in front of you and Mount Tomaniivi sits silently at a distance on the right.

Rooftops from Bukuya Village can also be seen and at night, lights from houses at Bukuya add beauty to the stars that sparkle at night.

They say “Keimami gunu mai na ulu ni wai na Sigatoka, kana mai na ulu ni wai na Navua.” (They source their drinking water from the Sigatoka
River and food from the Navua River.)

Matokana Village is home to 160 villagers who occupy 37 houses. Of this more than 60 are women and about 50 are children.

These housing supplies were all carried via the same route we took the previous night.

Houses mainly made of corrugated iron, while there are those that prefer its walls to be made from neatly woven bamboos and roofing iron to complete the house.

Every morning, apart from Sunday, is the normal routine, men rush off to the farm, while the women prepare their children for school before resuming to their daily chores like every other rural women.

They greeted me with open arms and welcomed me as one of their own, but behind the most beautiful of all smiles and their welcoming gracious hearts these villagers have their own fair share of struggles they endure silently.

In January of 2017, Ilisapeci Voliti had to walk 14 hours to get to the nearest health facility to deliver her baby.

When she was seven months pregnant, her husband Osea Davuiqalita assisted her to a journey she thought she won’t be able to make.

When she wanted to give up her husband kept pushing her and encouraging her.

Seeing her baby for the first time wiped away all the tears and pain. Within the first few months the couple have had to carry baby Kasanita along the
same route for the post-natal clinics.

“At times I wanted to give up and I cried but my husband encouraged me,” she said.

Life is not a bed of roses for the people of Matokana, for women like Neisola Maca.

She remembers having to carry her husband for about 15 hours to get to the nearest health facility.

He had been bedridden and had already said his final words as he was ready to meet His maker.

“He said he was ready to die and if he died for us to bury him at the back of our house.

He could not move his fingers, and he told me that he will die.

I felt helpless but I believe in God and I told him, God will save you. We prayed and I believe prayer saved him.

I want to thank God for giving me the strength, to carry my husband put him on a horse and we rested so many times just to get to Waibasaga.

He told me not to take him as he feared he would die out in the forest.

I told him despite this treacherous trek, we will rest a lot but I will get you to the health centre.

“When we finally reached the road, we got a ride and upon reaching the health centre we were informed that he had high blood pressure and was to go under the knife. We were then transferred to Suva and we went to see a private doctor that we had to pay $50 a day for his review. Up until today he has not gone under the knife and we believe that it was all possible through the power of God.”

Neisola Maca, who is also the president of the Matokana Village Women Group, said while they had great plans, poor accessibility was their main hinderance.

“When I was appointed to head our women’s group, I thank God for everything we had to go through. And through God, our women’s group
was registered for the first time. “For us women, our plans since being established five years ago, we have managed to buy horses and cattle and we have a village canteen. There is only one thing we have to go through and that is the trek it takes to get to the village.
It is very hard, we have had to pay people to transport our supplies for the canteen. This is our greatest challenge, transporting our supplies.

“Lately we have had difficulty trying to restock our canteen because of the adverse weather condition. Just yesterday (Saturday, April 28) we
were able to restock because the weather has cleared up.

“We have great plans and because of our isolation we have not been able to achieve that. We want to have flush toilets among other things we
have planned including looking after our children in school, but can only be achieved if we have a proper road. And we know God will hear our
prayer,” she said.

I did not know that the road had already reached the village until I got here.

More than two decades ago, a logging truck delivering timber to the sawmill serviced the villagers, however when operations ceased in the late ‘90s, the road was not maintained and villagers had no option but to take the treacherous trek for six to seven hour to get to the nearest dirt road.

In 2011, Government upgraded the road and in 2016 for the first time in 16 years a twin-cab parked next to the village green much to the celebration
of the villagers.

However the road was not well maintained and for the most part of the past two years, villagers have had to endure the long walk, carry the sick, to sell their produce or transport their housing supplies.

People often ask why do they choose to live here, I guess the only best possible answer is why not, this is the land of their forefathers, who fought and died so that their descendants may have a sense of ownership.

Where else would they move when the land close to the road belongs to another tribe.

“The FRA will be constructing the final 14km of Matokana Village access road. “Physical works are expected to commence by late May. “Our contractor has already mobilised on site and have commenced ground testing and roadside clearing. Pavement construction will start when weather conditions allow.“

The site is located approximately 60km from Sigatoka on the mountainous range of Nadroga/Navosa region.

The project site commences at Stage 1 at Nawairabe Village junctions and ends at Matokana Village. The total length of construction is approximately 14km,” said FRA CEO Johnathan Moore while responding to questions on May 4.

When Rosina Johns and Misaele Driubalavu visited Matokana Village on Monday May 14, they parked next to the village headman’s house.

The two, who are employees of MV Solar, were delivering solar supplies to the village.

“It was a bumpy ride which took us about three hours to get to the village, we could see tractors along the way doing road upgrades,” said Misa.

With the road upgrade now underway, we can only thank the Government and the Fiji Roads Authority for hearing the plea of the people of Matokana.

In the not so distant future, the younger generation will grow up and not have to endure the long trek, which their parents and forefathers had taken but simply hop on a truck for a bumpy ride to Sigatoka On Tuesday May 1, together with Master Simeli Druavesi (the headteacher for Vakacereivalu
Primary School) and his dynamic son Epi we set to leave Matokana for the return trip to Suva.

Atu (Epi’s older brother) went on horseback with other men and returned the same route we had taken, while we decided to follow the old
road.

Two hours into our walk we came across Naimasimasi Village, a further four hours and we finally reached Nawairabe Village where we arrived
just in time for the vehicle to pick us.

Before we left Matokana, I told villagers I could not promise that developments would come to the village, but it is my hope that stakeholders
will be inspired and encouraged to ensure road upgrades to the village is done, so that they may also enjoy the many benefi ts many of us urban
dwellers simply take for granted.

It fills my heart with joy to learn about the road upgrade happening close to a village deemed the most isolated and remote in the region

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