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Archived News: March 1999

From Sanimeli Maraf in Rotuma (27 March 1999)

A contingent of army men are here working on the high school. A Fiji navy ship arrived last Friday bringing 32 men, 19 of whom stayed behind after the ship left back to Fiji this morning. Malhaha did the mamasa. The work will most probably last three months.

Miss Rebecca Tavo of Port Headland, Western Australia, represented the W.A. School Sports 16 (Touch Rugby) in a match with North Island of New Zealand. Rebecca scored seven tries playing on the wing, or link, keeping the Western Australia team is unbeaten. Rebecca is the daughter of Lagsefuri, whose twin sister is Hanisiväe; another sister is Tupou Taukave of Ahau, Rotuma. Congratulations to Miss Tavo (15 years old) and her teammates from all of us in Rotuma.

Hanuju update by Major-General Jioje Konrote concerning his recent trip to India
From Martoa Dickinson in Sydney (31 March 1999)

The following dates are for the Rotuman Language Workshops to be held at Alan Walker College starting at 3.00 p.m.

  • March 13th & 27th 1999
  • April 10th & 24th 1999
  • May 8th & 22nd 1999
  • May 29th 1999 BBQ & fund raising
  • June 12th & 26th 1999
  • July 10th & 24th 1999
  • August 14th & 28th 1999
  • September 11th & 25th 1999
  • October 9th & 23rd 1999
  • November 13th & 27th 1999

Last workshop on 27th November will also be our break-up dinner for 1999. Cost of the Rotuman Language Workshop is $2.00 adults and $1.00 children.

Hope to see you at the Rotuman Language Workshop!

Martoa Dickinson
On behalf of the teachers & Committee

From Ravai Shaw in Wellington, NZ (31 March 1999)

Saturday, 20 March 1999, wedding bells rang in Wellington to mark and celebrate the marriage of Gabriel Penjueli and Beverly Tukua. Gabriel is the second eldest son of Amoe and Rosarine Penjueli. Beverly is the eldest daughter of Anglican Minister Rev John Tukua and Ela Tukua.Wellington weather was at its best, giving the newly weds a glorious summer day. Families and friends of the couple gathered at St Marks Anglican Church to witness the couple exchange vows and afterwards a reception was held at the Skykline Restaurant/Event Centre for a wonderful evening of dining and dancing.

The newly weds are currently on honeymoon in Fiji and Rotuma.

'Otomis ro'aitu, 'amnaki ma hea'hea' lelei la ma 'inos gagaj te'is 'e te' ne av 'atakoa.

From Elisapeti Inia in Savlei, Rotuma (5 March 1999)

Some of the items discussed at our last village meeting on 1 March 1999:

(a) Savlei Women's Cooperative. The help from the Government will be only a small scale $1500. We'll have a little shop to start with and hope that it can run well. The RCA shop in Savlei will be used by the women. Our application form will be sent to Suva by Moira Irava, our woman's officer in Rotuma.

(b) Electricity. We want to have electricity in Savlei in the year 2000. Negotiation with the experts is done and the area is surveyed already. Now we are waiting to see how much it will cost, and then fund raising!!!

(c) Construction of the Methodist Church in Savlei. Betty and Sue Inia paid for the floor tiles of the Church (39' x 19') and we are very grateful indeed. Savea Inia and his wife Nephie bought a table for the Lord's Supper and four chairs. Juria Tevita, John Tevita's sister-in-law bought two lace table cloths for Savea's table. All the lovely artificial flowers from Florida, sent by Jieni and Tivaknoa, arrived last December.

Two new boats came last week and together with the Bulou ni Ceva, there were three altogether: the MV Tunatuki came first and was at the jetty and was still there when the Bolou ni Ceva arrived. Next morning the Tokalau, a Government boat anchored beside Bulou with some officials. The Tunatuki's mamasa was by Itu'muta people and the Tokalau's mamasa was by the PWD people at Ahau.

From Daily Post (14 March 1999)

Rotuma report date set

MINISTER for Communications and Works Ratu Inoke Kubuabqla will be presented a report on the government tour to Rotuma in a meeting next week.

"This will be done when the Minister returns from Taveuni after a business trip," said Divisional Engineer Central/Eastern, Meli Brown Ligaiviu.

Mr Ligaiviu said at the meeting they will discuss what steps to take in reconstructing the badly constructed Oinafa jetty which cost Government $80,000 to build last year.

Mr Ligaiviu said government will have to spend another $150,000 to rebuild the jetty.

"I have to submit the report next week and they will have to decide on what the next step would be," he said.

Mr Ligaiviu said they would also decide on how to deal with the people who designed and built the jetty.

He said the Engineering Department of the Public Works Department built the jetty.

Presently the jetty can not accommodate inter-island vessels because of the way it was built.

From Daily Post (13 March 1999)

Rotuma tour an eye opener

by Lusi Banuve

FOR five girls who accompanied Assistant Minister for Works Viliame Cavubati on his tour of Rotuma, it was a first for a lot of things for them.

The trip to Rotuma itself was an eye-opener and then there was the truck ride around the island, the sweet oranges, the coconut juice and of course, the flies.

Getting there was an experience in itself.

The boat ride from Suva to the island paradise took two nights of travelling on rough seas that saw some of us throwing up and feeling nauscous all the way there.

Someone suggested that a particular journalist who was feeling sick all the way to Rotuma, was missing her better half, who came to see her off at Suva wharf.

It was something like Jack and Rose in the movie Titanic.

Seeing Rotuma for the first time was breathtaking.

The island was still asleep early that Friday morning when the government entourage arrived at the Oinafa jetty.

The five girls, who were part of the seven-member media group, were told that a bus owned by the Rotuma Island Council was to transport them around the island.

Well, lo and behold, the transport arrived and it was definitely not a bus but a cargo truck!

Riding in the truck tray on the pothole-ridden Rotuma roads was a jumping and screaming exercise all throughout.

It was soon decided that a visit to the chiropractor was a must after the jostling and bustling all the way around the island. Just the thought of going through the same thing the next day made us dread the thought.

On Rotuma, there are abundant sweet oranges, coconut juice, the famous fekei and the feast put up by the people was scrumptious and was, of course, the main topic of discussion between the journalists who were forever raiding the MV Natokalau's kitchen for any leftovers.

The night ventures for food was the talk of the trip. "Those girls probably have hookworms because they can't seem to stop eating," someone said.

The second day on the island was spent inspecting all government projects and of course, taking pictures of some girls who really thought they were replicas of Naomi Campbell and Claudia Schiffer.

The trip back was okay, although another member of the media team started to feel seasick. Otherwise, a good part of Sunday was spent in bed.

A church service was held in the main saloon with Mr Komai from the Public Works Department giving the sermon and Assistant Minister Cavubati ending it with a prayer

Seeing the lights of Suva was a welcome relief but it was also sad to note that the trip to Rotuma had come to an end.

We were left to ponder on when we would ever visit this beautiful island of Rotuma which is so full of life and abundant in food again.

This was one trip I know I will never forget for the rest of my life.

From Fiji Times (3 March 1999, sent by Marlon Isimeli)

Water Not an Issue in Rotuma

by Irene Manueli

Rotuma has three bore holes and reliable water tanks that still trap rain water. This is one of the reasons the far flung island has never faced severe water problems.

A Public Works Department team, let by water engineer John Tavo, visited Rotuma for a closer inspection of the water situation last week. What they found was pleasing. Besides the need to upgrade on pump, everything was working fine.

Rotuma is serviced by three boreholes: in Motusa (the deepest), another in Lopta and the third in Sumi.

Mr Tavo said the water service had improved with the upgrading of the Motusa and Lopta water pumps, which cost about $70,000.

"Since the pumps were set up in the 1980s, they were never upgraded until late last year," said Mr Tavo.

Flexible hoses were inserted into the boreholes to replace the old pipes. "The hose makes work much easier and quicker." said Mr Tavo. "With the old pipe system, it would take the worker almost one day to assemble the pipe and lower it." "But with the hose, it takes only an hour."

Each day a PWD worker visits the boreholes at dawn and begins pumping water into reservoirs, which have a maximum capacity of 181,840 liters. By noon the reservoirs are all full.

Rotuma experienced water cuts during the Christmas period after two generators broke down, but they were repaired before New Year.

From Fiji Times (3 March 1999, sent by Marlon Isimeli)

Pests Invade Farms

by Irene Manueli

Rotuma's green vegetation is under threat from an insect, known only as the scale insect. So far, the insect's wrath has extended from the Oinafa District to nearby districts of Malhaha and Noatau.

Travelling through these districts, the presence of the insect is noticeable in the partially eaten vegetation which has turned yellowish alongside the roads. The insects' track is conspicuous on breadfruit trees and pandana plants.

"It's awful" described Noatau chief, Gagaj Maraf Solomone. "Breadfruit, which our people largely depend on because it's almost an all season fruit, is largely affected. Before the fruits can mature they drop out of the trees - not in a few but the whole bunch of them."

Gagaj Maraf said when the problem was detected last year, the Agriculture Ministry introduced a type of ladybird which they said would eat the scale insect. "It's been a few months now and we have noticed that the trees are turning green again but only a few of them," he said.

"I think it's working but at the rate it is, it will not be surprising if the whole of Rotuma is affected before things start getting better." But whether the situation will improve is questionable, said Gagaj Solomone, who is concerned that the ladybird will also attack the vegetation once it eradicates the scale insect.

"The Agriculture people do not seem to know what will happen to the ladybird after it wipes out the scale insect," said Gagaj Solomone. "No on could answer me when I asked them the question.. they just laughed," he said.

Gagaj Solomone said the Government officials informed them that the scale insect was not a new pest. "They said Fiji has it although it's under control and that is most probably travelled to Rotuma on the new plants or the crops that are brought into the island." he said.

Gagaj Solomone said copra on the island was wasted because of a lack of copra driers. Several copra driers were built in recent years but most of these burned down. Another problem identified by many people the Fiji Times spoke to , was the excessive consumption of yaqona. While many expressed concern about the excessive consumption of yaqona, many more, particularly grog fans, denied that a problem existed.

"Instead of working the whole day and having good rest at night, the men are drinking at odd hours and sleeping during the best part of the day", said one woman. "This is the routine practically every day. Now many women are following that. Some men are even drinking grog at 10 a.m." Another observed that the increase of earning from copra contributed to the increase in grog consumption because it seems the more money they have, the more grog they buy although it is expensive. Agriculture officer Fakmanoa Tigarea, the only one based on the island, agrees. He said Rotuma could produce much better than it was doing but many were drinking too much yaqona and getting lazy. He said he had already talked to the Rotuma Council of Chiefs about the problem and was working with a development committee to address such problems.

From Fiji Times ( 10 March 1999, sent by Marlon Isimeli)

Islanders Fear Broken Promises

by Irene Manueli

Broken promises. That's what Rotumans think of when you talk about island roads.

"Government officials have regularly come and gone for so many years, promising to do something but nothing has been done, " said one islander. " I hope with all my heart that this time it is going to be different."

He was referring to a recent Public Works Department tour of the island led by Assistant Minister for Infrastructure Viliame Cavubati. Mr. Cavubati and his group -- which included the Divisional Engineer Eastern/Central Meli Brown, Chief Engineer David McNaughton, water engineer John Tavo, Marine department fleet superintendent Jone Kamikamica, and ramp engineer George Tavo --were on the island for about two days to inspect the Government infrastructure.

Islanders say they have waited too long for repairs. Some were skeptical about whether the tour would result in any action.

"We're too used to them (Government Officials) coming and going and nothing is done." said one islander. "Sometimes a team from Suva with their tractors come but after a week or two they leave with all their equipment , leaving an unfinished job," said another.

The main road, which is the responsibility of PWD, is a narrow stretch of about 18 kilometers.

If the words of Mr Brown and Mr Cavubati are anything to go by, the island's road will be attended to and hopefully, completed.

Mr Brown plans to deploy a road construction unit to Rotuma in four to six weeks depending on the availability of a ship. He hopes to move a unit which is on Koro Island to Rotuma and then to Gau.

The unit is equipped with a grader, bulldozer, excavator, loader and a tip-truck -- the basic equipment needed for proper road maintenance. The plan is to have the unit work on the island for a few weeks, then move to Gau but leave the trailer and the grader at Rotuma so that the PWD workers there can continue the maintenance work. PWD workers face problems with machinery and the lack of accessible sand and gravel. A portion of the Itumuta Bay is Government owned and this is the State's only source of sand. Lopta has been the only place identified as a source for gravel.

"We need to identify more sources, particularly for gravel, and then approach the landowners for it," said Mr Brown.

"It is my belief that if they (Rotumans) want their roads improved, it is only fair that they allow us to take some gravel and sand to do the work. It is for their development; if they have to be paid then why not? As long as we are not barred."

PWD's only other option, if landowners refuse, is to cart gravel from Suva. "This would just not be feasible; it is too expensive and a waste of time and resources," said Mr Brown.

Mr Brown , who was only recently appointed as divisional engineer, hopes to get more work done compared to the past years. He plans to do this by taking the risk and continuing with developments right through the hurricane season.

From Fiji Times (10 March 1999, sent by Marlon Isimeli)

Chief Calls for Bigger Population, by Irene Manueli

Rotuma's high chief, Gagaj Maraf Solomone of Noatau District, has urged his people to have more children. And, he has pleaded with those living in Fiji and doing nothing to return to Rotuma, where there is a lot of work to be done.

Gagaj Solomone's advice stems from his worry that there are not enough children at Paptea District School. The school, which has classes one to six and caters for the Noatau and Oinafa districts, has a roll of only 58 and is looked after by three teachers, including its headteacher.

"Look at the roll. It's decreasing every year, " the chief said. "Very soon there will be hardly any children and the Education Ministry will be forced to close it down." He said the birth rate in his district had fallen. Gagaj Solomone said there was also a high migration rate. "There are about 74 homes here (Noatau) and of these 10 are unoccupied," he said. "It's just not good. Many are living in Fiji."

Gagaj Solomone said those living in Fiji who have no jobs and have nothing to do "should return home." "Decent living can be made here if you work hard," he said. "They should return, work the land and reproduce."

Meanwhile, Rotuma's only secondary school -- Malhaha High School, has been undergoing upgrading and there is many more to come. Gagaj Solomone, who is on the school's board, said the school recently benefited from Japanese government aid worth about $39,000. The aid saw the construction of extra classrooms and equally important the addition of flush toilets. Although it is now equipped with a computer, the school is without electricity. "All the works have been done. What's left is for the wiring to be completed," he said. Two electrical workers from the Public Works Department, who were part of a recent Government survey team, were on the island two weeks ago surveying the needed work.

The team said work on the electrification project 'should be done by June'. This year the school hopes work will start on a new staff room and library. The project -- which is estimated to cost about $40,000 -- will be funded by Rotuman Methodists in Sydney, Australia.

"Work on this project is expected to begin in June," said Gagaj Solomone. "The group, to whom we are very grateful, will bring their own workers to build the buildings. They also plan to furnish the staff room and the library."

This picture appeared on page 3 in the Fiji Times, 2 March 1999.

From Fiji Times (10 March 1999, sent by Marlon Isimeli)

Rotuma Seeks Poll Candidates

by Irene Manueli

THE Rotuma Council is still to endorse a candidate for the general elections.

The sole Rotuma communal seat is held by Home Affairs Minister Paul Manueli who has not sought re-election.

Noatau chief Gagaj Maraf Solomone said no one had approached the council nor shown interest in the seat.

Gagaj Maraf said the chiefs had not been warned that Mr Manueli was to step down.

He said Mr Manueli last year agreed to stand in the general elections but on his visit to the island in January, he announced his withdrawal.

"He (Mr Manueli) said he felt the burden he was now shouldering was too much for him and that he was growing too old for politics," said Gagaj Maraf.

"At the moment nothing is confirmed.

"All we know is of talk that certain people are interested but no one has approached the council."

Gagaj Maraf said Mr Manueli told the council that the former secretary to the Office of the President, Marieta Rigamoto, was interested.

Mrs Rigamoto confirmed on Friday that she would vie for the Rotuma communal seat as an independent candidate.

Other people known to have shown interest in the seat are Kafoa Pene, the former principal of Queen Victoria School, and Firipo Nakaora, a former district officer.

Gagaj Maraf said the next council meeting would be held during Mr Manueli's visit to Rotuma this month.

"Everything should be ironed out by then. The council should decide on a candidate then," said Gagaj Maraf.

Mr Manueli makes his last official visit to the island this month. The council is preparing a feast for him.

Meanwhile, attempts are underway to form a Rotuman political party.The party, which had its constitution drawn up last year, is without a name and is yet to be registered.

Suva representative for Juju District, Susau Managreve. said the party had until March 18 to obtain 200 signatures on its registration application form.

"Once this is done, the party will call on applications from interested people," said Mr Managreve.

"The new party is to ensure that the member of parliament for Rotuma is accountable to the people of Rotuma."

Chairman of the Suva Seven Districts Rotuman Community John Konrote said a meeting would be called on Saturday to decide on the fate of the political party.

"Walter Rigamoto (the Supervisor of Elections) said we have until the end of this month to register the party," said Mr Konrote.

"At the meeting this Saturday we will determine whether or not to pursue the formation of the party. "

From Fiji Times, Wednesday (3 March 1999, sent by Marlon Isimeli)

by Irene Manueli

The Untouchable Paradise

Lying about 600 kilometers north-west of Fiji, is the small but fertile island of Rotuma.

In fact, the island is closer to Wallis and Futuna, which is about 400-500 kilometers away, than to the rest of the Fiji group.

With its lush vegetation, pristine beaches and tranquil seas, Rotuma is not surprisingly referred to as an untouched paradise.

The island has kept a steady population of 2500-2700, according to the District Officer Semisi Kauata.

Mr. Kauata said statistics showed that while there was a high migration of young people to urban centers, this was balanced by the emigration of the older generation to Rotuma. The most common diseases on the island are the lifestyle oriented - diabetes and hypertension.

Travelling to the island is expensive. By sea, it costs about $200 return trip per person. By air its $550 return per person.

Ironically, while its isolation is one of the reasons the island has retained its natural tranquility, it is also the main problem to maintaining infrastructure such as roads, upgrading water supply, and sewerage and electricity. Some argue that Rotuma's isolation is for the best.

Assistant Minister for Works, Communications and Energy Viliame Cavubati said he believed Rotuma's fertile land was beyond comparison to the remaining Fiji Group, including the garden Island of Fiji - Taveuni. "It's simply amazing," My Cavubati said over dinner on the MV Natokalau on Sunday.

He was returning from a two day visit to the island. It was his first visit. Mr Cavubati said he noted the abundance of fruits, coconuts, and root crops on the island. At the moment, the sweet oranges which Rotuma is know for are in season. Fruits that grow in abundance on the island include oranges, wi, pineapples, water melons, dawa, coconuts and sugar cane. "The land is just so fertile; for instance, in Fiji we will need to dig very deep in order to plant dalo but in Rotuma, this is not that case," he said. "I am now convinced that Rotuma needs two ships to visit its shores every month."

Mr Cavubati plans to put out a tender for a second vessel to service the island under the inter-island Government franchise scheme. "Currently, we are paying the Bulou Ni Ceva $10,000 to make the monthly trip," he said. He is confident that the Kadavu-owned Bulou Ni Ceva will secure the tender to provide the second trip. "The last time we tendered for a vessel to service the Rotuma route, only the Bulou Ni Ceva replied," he said.

The Government tour, led my Mr Cavubati was to survey road, water and the recently completed jetty in Oinafa. Meanwhile the council of chiefs is considering a proposal for Air Nauru to service the island. If the proposed venture materialises, Rotuma will see its fruits and vegetable produce sold to Wallis and Futuna, and Tuvalu. The islanders main source of income is copra.

The chiefs from the seven districts form the council. They are Gagaj Maraf for the Noatau district, Gagaj Kauterfon for Itutiu, Gagaj Titofag for Juju (chairman), Gagaj Mora'a for Pepjei, Gagaj Kausiraf for Oinafa, Gagaj Osies for Itumuta and Gagaj Tuipeua for Malhaha.

Besides its vegetation, Rotuma is blessed with an abundance of fish. Exclaimed a first-time visitor to the island : "There must be so much here because one man went fishing in the morning and within less than an hour he returned with a bundle of large-sized fish". She indicated the fish were about 40-50 cm long. A variety of fish, including lobsters, are enjoyed by the islanders. Local businessman Ian Croker has setup a venture of selling fresh fish, to mainland markets. There is also talk of a group -- made up of Rotuman businessmen --who plan on setting up a separate fishing venture. Nothing has eventuated.

From Bruce Tizard-Varcoe in England (March 2, 1999)

The Pacific Islanders Rugby Team had a resounding victory over 'Old Actonians III's' rugby team on Saturday 27 February, with a winning score of 75 - 5. Fereti Atalifo (blindside flanker), Delai Morris (right winger) and newcomer Viggo Kamoe Wesele (Prop) all played and thoroughly enjoyed the match, with Fereti scoring his first try for the team at the start of the second half.

Fereti's wife Letila, Alex Morris and myself were amongst the large group of supporters. The weather was good - blue sky and sunshine (ideal for us) and back in the clubhouse after the game, our Captain brought out his guitar and started off the singing which was excellent.

Viggo Kamoe Wesele, whose father comes from Malhaha, has been here in England since last October doing Naval Officer Training in Portsmouth along with a colleague of his who also played on Saturday. They both return home to Fiji in early May.

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