Sevuloni the woodcarver

Prince Harry (far right) is pictured with Fulaga craftsman Sevuloni Muritovo in front of the plaque dedicated to the Queens Commonwealth Canopy while Lasarusa Turaga (Forestry) looks on, at Colo-i-Suva. Picture: SIKELI QOUNADOVU

WHEN the Duke and Duchess of Sussex arrived in the country, everyone wanted to catch a glimpse of the royal couple.

Everyone with smart-phones were on hand whether they were by the roadside, at the market or at the Luvuluvu airport tarmac trying to snap a picture or two of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle.

For those that managed it was a moment to savour, however, for those that managed an up close and personal meet, chat and even a picture it was a blessing.

At the Colo-i-Suva Forest Park when Prince Harry unveiled the plaque for the dedication of the forest reserve as part of the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, his highness was blown away by the two sculptures that held the plaque and the ingenuity of its craftsmanship.

The prince then requested to meet the man responsible for what he said was a “beautiful” design.

Everyone had their cameras out but one man who stood like a sore thumb he had no camera, neither did he have a smart phone.

He had white hair, was wearing a red bula shirt with flowery patterns, a black pocket sulu and a purple Nike joggers. He was the man behind it all.

About three decades ago Sevuloni Muritovo made the ultimate sacrifice of leaving behind all that he loved to travel to Suva. “I had come to be beside my one and only son who was in school at that time.

He was still young and I could not let him out of my sight, so I thought to leave everything behind in the village to come and support him in his education,” said the 52-year-old man from Muanaira Village, on the island of Fulaga in the Lau Group.

He only reached Year Eight and while Mr Muritovo desired to further his education, financial constraints proved otherwise.

From a young age he learnt from his father and village elders the fine art of wood-carving.

Fulaga villagers are well known traditional woodcarvers, as it is a special gift that has been bestowed upon them since time immemorial.

The traditional canoe that is displayed at the Fiji Museum was built by the late Amenio Moimatagi of Fulaga and was formally used by the late Tui Nayau Ratu Finau.

Built in 1913, it was fully restored by Kepueli Cirimaitoga in 1981, the grandson of the original builder.

“When I came to Suva, I brought with me the knowledge of my forefathers and this has sustained me and my family ever since we called Suva home. “I put my son in school and today he is working and is now residing in Australia,” said Mr Muritovo.

In September, Mr Muritovo was approached by the Ministry of Forestry to carve the plaque, a work that took him two weeks to complete. When asked what was the meaning of his handiwork he said the two men on the side resemble the two brothers known in Fijian mythology as the Ciri ­– Cirinakaumoli and Nakausabaria who had travelled to the United Kingdom.

In Fijian mythology when the two brother, Cirinakaumoli and Nakausabaria, who were sons of Waicalanavanua, were banished from the Nakauvadra hills for killing Degei’s hawk they sailed across the seas and ended up in the UK.

While there are many interpretations of the brothers, one dictated that it was in the UK where the two brothers split and went their separate ways, thus the origin of the itaukei name given to the UK as Bolatagane. Bola is to split and tagane is man (men).

Before Mr Muritovo left his home that morning he said a silent prayer and that was for the possibility to meet and shake hands with the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry.

His prayer was answered and he got more than what he desired. Following the unveiling of the plaque, the sixth in line to the English throne then requested to meet the man who had crafted the plaque. “You made this?” his Highness asked Mr Muritovo as the prince shook hands with the 52-year-old.

“Yes,” was the reply.

“May I have picture with you,” Prince Harry requested much to the excitement of the Fulaga native.

“Today is an exciting day I will never forget,” said Mr Muritovo with a smile.

While the royals may have departed our shores, Mr Muritovo also returns to his formal routine of wood-carving , this time he carries with him the unforgettable and a memorable experience.

He is the the woodcarver with no smartphone, whose picture with Prince Harry has now circled the globe and shared so many times on social media.