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Archived News: November 2005

From Fijitimes Online (30 November 2005)

Islander gives face to art

by Lusiana Speight

I ALWAYS thought a sculptor was someone who wore long loose clothes and worked alone in a studio apartment overlooking a busy street.

He was someone I pictured who liked listening to opera music while bringing his work of art to life with the most precise of tools and sculpting gadgets of the greats.

On first impression, Steven John does not fill the cut I had in mind.

First, there were no flowy clothes and there was no opera music playing in the background.

Instead, the music was soft Polynesian and not Walter Huston or Mae West. The man was like any other Rotuman enjoying life in the capital.

The tools of his trade — a kitchen knife which had seen better days.

I wondered how this care-free islander win the most commendable prize for his superb entry in this year's annual art exhibition?

His creation attracted attention at the exhibition and its realness in character forced many to make a double take.

Picture the face ... Steven John and the Fijian woman he sculptured

Steven's creation The Fijian Woman sits at the Fiji Institute of Technology School of Art, Culture and Design Gallery as in a serious mood pondering her surroundings.

The sculptor produced another surprise from his bag because the entry was the first to be bought at the exhibition.

"This is the first time I entered the exhibition. I wanted to do something different, something I would enjoy doing.

"I chose the Fijian woman because she represents everything about Fijian culture and she has contributed to Fiji being an ideal tourist destination. While creating her, I wanted to make her come to life as best I could so people would not only see the three dimensional woman but also the expression she portrays in the original picture."

Steven's fascination with sculpting is more like a life-long ordeal which started as pure child's play.

"I was born and grew up in Rotuma. When I was a little boy, I used to like playing in the sand with other children," Steven reminisces.

"We used to make sand castles a lot and one day I thought that instead of making sand castles I would make a face of someone from a picture.

"After making the creation, I was very pleased with it and I started to seriously think about doing it professionally."

His aim, however, was not received too well by his family and friends.

It was an entirely new thing, to be a sculptor, especially on the island, where carving was a past time.

However, not to be deterred the lad continued to make more faces in the sand and slowly developed his skill with time.

After reading a Fiji Arts Council advertisement in the paper inviting creative artists for this year's exhibition, the Rotuman decided to put his skills to the test.

"I wanted to do something which portrayed Fijian tradition and fuse my creative skills with it," he said.

"I went to the Museum and the Archives, looking for an idea and then I was just struck by the Fijian Woman who was sort of sitting. She portrayed a beautiful picture of Fijian women and history of this country.

"I wanted to do it as a tribute to Fiji and to appreciate Fijian beauty.

"Her tobe (virgin locks) was something I wanted to highlight because it showed she was single and a virgin."

Although Steven's sculptor may offend some, he says there is nothing sexual about his creation.

He just wants to do something which brought the picture to life.

"I knew if I want to make her look realistic as possible I need to include all fine details about her and also what she showed in the picture," he said.

"At the start I was a bit hesitant of sculpting the area below her chest because I was afraid my neighbours would see it and stone me with something.

"However, after one of my uncles Pita Mario saw it, he said that if only I sculpted her from the neck up, no one would know if she was female or male. So I decided to sculpt her as real as possible."

Steven says he prefers to use sunlight to make his work precise and usually did his work in the backyard.

"That way I was assured of making fewer mistakes. In the evening, I touch up on the work I had done in the day and patch small mistakes," he said.

"While working in the back I was sure I raised the eyebrows of our neighbours who watched what I was doing and I hope they will get to appreciate art more now."

Steven admitted that it is an expensive field to be in because of the price of raw materials and urged aspiring sculptors and artists to work and help develop each other's skills.

"I hope someone will help me with funds so I can generate some money from this instead of just a pastime," he said.

"Before, I never really thought about marketing my artistic skills and work.

"I just used to repair statues in church and never got paid for it because it was voluntary.

"Any money I received for fixing a statue would be used to fix the next one."

Steven says The Fijian Woman fetched him $2000.

It cost him $100 in expenses including three weeks of staying up late and working all morning to complete it in time for the exhibition.

"I did not expect anyone to pay that much for my work but now it has been sold, I really want some help so I can continue my work and create figures or sculptors that people might want me to make especially for them," he said.

"I usually make small sculptors and larger statues from photographs. I usually make it a point to make my work as realistic as I can."

Unlike some artists, Steven never received any formal training and did not go to high school.

He is a simple island boy hoping to make it big in the world of art yet he does not have the necessary accompaniments.

The skills Steven has for sculpting may be the only thing which can guarantee an honest and prosperous future for the young Rotuman.

All he needs now is someone to help sponsor or finance his work.

If you are willing or interested, contact Steven on telephone 3302439.

From High Commisioner Jioje Konrote in Canberra (27 November 2005)

The premier and launch of Profesor Vili Hereniko's feature film The Land Has Eyes was a great success here in Canberra and Sydney last week.

The launch in Canberra on 21 Monday, November 2005, was organised by Mr Andrew Pike, Managing Director, RONIN Films, Australia and the Australian National University, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies. It was premiered in Sydney at the Hoyts Cinema, Stocklands Mall, Merryland on Thursday 24th November 2005.

It was so good to catch up with Professor Vili and his lovely wife Jeannette who came with Sapeta Taito (Viki) for the premier of the film in Australia.

My short presentation about the film during its launch in Canberra is attached (in pdf format).

From Fijitimes Online (24 November 2005)

Torn between two worlds

by Stan Ritova 

Sapeta Taito is torn between two worlds whether to pursue a career as an actor, after her excellent performance in the film The Land has Eyes, or pursue her dream of becoming a surgeon.

Whatever its going to be, the 19-year-old star of Vilisoni Hereniko's first Fiji-produced feature film, The Land has Eyes, will have to make a decision fairly soon because I am sure there will be a big change in her life if the film, shot mainly on Rotuma, takes off as I expect it to do.

The film is written and produced by Rotuma-born Vilisoni Hereniko, a full professor at the University of Hawaii where he teaches literature, theatre and film making.

The film, which has been screened in Fiji, is being shown in the Sydney suburbs of Merrylands and Mount Druitt where many Fijians and Rotumans live.

Sapeta told me in Sydney on Tuesday she would rather pursue studies at the University of the South Pacific in Suva.

"So I will have something to fall back on if things don't work out in the film world."

She is a first year Bachelor of Science student, majoring in biology and chemistry and hopes to later go to medical school and major in surgery.

"Surgery has always fascinated me," Sapeta said.

Sapeta and a group of young girls were auditioned for the films main role, Viki, on Rotuma in 2000 at a time when she was attending Rotuma High School at Malhaha.

"I was shocked when Mr Hereniko announced my name and didn't know what to expect," she said. "At the time I couldn't visualise a village girl like me becoming an actor but I decided to take on the role and do my best," she said.

Mr Hereniko, who was born in Mea Village, Hapmak, in the Itutiu District of Rotuma, and has lived in Hawaii for 15 years, said Sapeta did not have any acting experience or been in a movie theatre.

Mr Hereniko is married to Jeanette Paulson, the film's producer, who has been involved in television and film production in the US for 30 years.

"It was weird to see myself in the film. I couldn't stop laughing when I first saw it but I soon got used to it after I had seen it about 10 times during its screening for over a month in Suva and Lautoka."

The island was abuzz when news got out she had been named the main star of the film. She was 16 at the time and the envy of her school mates.

"My parents were pleased with the news as were my relatives," she said.

Filming began later in 2000 and Sapeta had to fit in school work with the filming schedule on the island, which was done over 40 days.

"I did my best. Some people told me I was a natural actor. "The film taught me to work hard and be successful because Viki in the film was ambitious and worked hard because her father had told to do so if she wanted to be successful in life rather then stay in the village and cut copra for a living."

She was born at the Morrison Maternity Ward of the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in 1986 and her parents took her to Rotuma when she was a month old and settled in Malhaha Village.

Sapeta's parents, Jioje and Mue Taito, moved back to Fiji so she could complete her secondary education at Lelean Memorial School at Davuilevu, near Nausori. Her two brothers, Fuata, 15, is a student at Lelean Memorial and Tausia, 13, attends Dilkusha Boys School, at Davuilevu.

Mr Taito is training to become a Methodist minister and will graduate from the Methodist Ministers' training school at Davuilevu later this month. Mrs Taito is a teacher. They will be posted to Malake Island in Ra early in 2006.

Sapeta played hockey and netball at Lelean Memorial School but hasn't had any time to play her favourite sports at USP because she has had to concentrate on her studies.

"I had to do three units this year for my science degree. I've sat my exams and I am looking forward to the results.

"I haven't given acting any thought but it will be up to Him (Jesus Christ) (what happens to me in the future)." She will pursue studies at USP while she awaits the outcome of the film, which is based on a true story about Mr Hereniko's father who was accused of stealing his neighbour's coconuts and was convicted by an English magistrate because the Rotuman interpreter allegedly "deliberately twisted the story" during translation and was fined 10 pounds. Mr Hereniko said he made the film to vindicate his late father who died when he, the youngest of 11 children, was 14 years of age.

Fiji's High Commissioner in Canberra, Jioji Konrote, accompanied by Consul-General in Sydney, Ratu Meli Malani, launched the film at screening at Hoyts Theatre in Merrylands.

See Stan Ritova's review of the film at Fiji Online

Extracted from (21 November 2005)

Almost unnoticed, coconut oil is taking off among the Pacific islands as an alternative to imported, costly and polluting, diesel oil. Jeremy Hamand reports here on the spread of this latest biofuel, drawing in part on internet exchanges among islanders linked to the Small Islands Voice website.

Coconut oil takes off as a biofuel in the Pacific

by Jeremy Hamand

“We live on islands where the most noticeable product is coconuts, but until recently almost no vehicles here used coconut fuel,” says Giff Johnson of the Marshall Islands. Things have changed dramatically in the last year or so, he explains. “Tobolar Copra Processing Plant’s vehicles have now started using coconut oil as a substitute for diesel fuel, and Pacific International Inc. has moved its entire fleet of heavy equipment vehicles and its many ocean-going vessels to the cheaper and cleaner coconut oil fuel.”

It makes economic sense: in the Marshall Islands, coconut oil sells at about US$2 a gallon – compared to the price of diesel, which has hit US$3.50 a gallon at local gas stations following the recent oil price increases.

Cleaner and cheaper

The same considerations apply in other Pacific islands, where there are great opportunities to use coconut oil as a fuel, according to Jan Cloin of the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission. “Coconut oil can be blended with diesel fuel, and under certain conditions totally replace it. Coconut oil in Pacific islands countries is increasingly used in both transport and electricity generation through its lower local cost. Other benefits include the support to local agro-industries and a decrease in emissions.”

In Fiji, the Electricity Authority are testing a larger 3.3Mw Cat engine running on coconut oil at their Sigatoka power station and are looking at that and other fuels from biological materials such as crops, animal wastes as an alternative to diesel. With diesel at over $900/tonne, biofuels at up to $700 are a workable replacement. On a recent survey to one of the remotest Fiji islands, Rotuma, it was observed that the island had the potential to use the coconuts lying around to displace almost entirely the need to import diesel, as the production available locally was estimated at about 2,000 tonnes per year of copra, which would produce around 1,600 tonnes of coconut oil, and if refined into biodiesel would produce around 1,500 tonnes.

In Samoa, too, the Electric Power Corporation is currently running a trial using 15 per cent locally produced coconut oil mixed with 85 per cent diesel in some power generators. So far, they have had good results, and, with the present diesel prices, at lower cost.

A coconut oil/diesel fuel blend currently being used in Vanuatu initially mixes 20 parts coconut oil with one part kerosene. This blend is then mixed 2:1 with diesel to give an effective 64 per cent coconut oil biofuel.

For the complete article go to <> For another approach to exploiting coconut oil check out the Kokonut Pacific Website.

From Fijitimes Online (20 November 2005)

Just enough to stay afloat

INTER-island travel has always been a difficult task for the Transport Ministry to maintain because of the great distances between islands and high operational costs.

Due to the substantial costs involved and the normally low returns, trips to outer islands have long been regarded as uneconomical and not worth the while of local shipping operators, despite the obvious need for the service.

Which is why many within the industry are grateful to government for the "shot in the arm" by subsidising shipping costs under the franchise scheme for selected companies to service these uneconomical routes.

In fact some shipping companies are adamant that without government's help, they would not even survive.

For next year, the Government has earmarked $2.2million for the scheme to improve services to Kadavu, Rotuma, Lomaiviti and remote islands in the Lau group.

Western Shipping Services, which services the Rotuma route, receives about $14,000 per trip, enough to make a little profit at the end of the day.

A few other companies are on a temporary franchise system, one of which is Seaview Shipping Services, a company that runs the Lomaiviti, Kadavu and southern Lau routes.

"I am very grateful to the Government because even though it is on a temporary basis, they are still paying us something," says managing director Durga Prasad.

Without the franchise, he says, "nobody can afford to operate."

"It is not a profitable business. Whatever we make today is gone tomorrow. We are just surviving."

Other companies under the scheme are Sali Basaga Shipping, Khan's Shipping, Western Shipping, Lalavata Shipping and Kapaiwai Shipping.

Kadavu Shipping, which was previously in the franchise, is expected to be back in the scheme with the imminent departure from the dry docks of the provincial vessel, Bulou ni Ceva.

In the past the scheme has not always worked, with some companies having been struck off the list due to poor maintenance standards and failed financial management.

A recent example of this is Khan's Shipping's Temauri, which took in water this week off Kadavu, damaging mechanical equipment.

Skeptics within the industry are doubtful as to whether this time the Government has got it right.

Local Boat Owners Association secretary Leo Smith predicts that ship owners will eventually find it difficult to provide the service despite the subsidies because of the increased operational costs.

And, he says, it does not help when politics is involved in the awarding of contracts under the franchise scheme.

In a letter to Finance Minister Ratu Jone Kubuabola early this year, the Association pointed out that there "considerable inconsistencies in the assessment and award of franchise subsidies."

"We had applied for a shipping franchise to supply Lomaiviti, Rotuma and Kadavu with a new catamaran that we had acquired but the board deemed us unfit to provide the service," he said.

The board in this case is the board of the Fiji Shipping Corporation.

And its CEO Waqa Ledua is quick to defend the actions of his company.

He says all companies who wanted to be part of the subsidised shipping service had o provide all the necessary requisites.

One requirement was that applicants provide them with financial statements for the last three years, something Consort Shipping did not do, says Mr Ledua.

"In 2004, the Corporation put out a pre-qualification tender to invite tenders from shipping companies and we considered items like their financial statements and the ships they operate.

"Consort Shipping did not want to submit their financial statement for the last three years.

"Two other companies were eliminated from the tender process because of that. The proof of success or failure of the scheme is whether these islands are visited at all.

"Most of these islands are now regularly visited by two ships twice a month."

Mr Ledua says the purpose of the franchise scheme is to enable commercial shipping companies to service remote islands.

He says having two ships operate the same route will give passengers an opportunity to choose the best service available.

"It will provide commercial competition, keep fares down and encourage owners to improve the conditions on their vessels."

While the scheme has been designed to assist local shipping operators stay above water, it is seen as a way of countering the increasing urban drift of islanders.

"One of the objectives of the franchise scheme is to encourage regular services and as a result it will see more goods and services within the islands which would in turn encourage people to stay on the islands," says Mr Ledua.

Lau Provincial Council spokesman Niumaia Gucake says while the scheme has helped operators stay afloat financially, it has hardly had a positive impact on islanders in the province.

"The scheme only allows the shipping services to continue the schedule but nothing changes for the islanders," he says.

"The price of goods still remains high as ever and so do the boat fares."

Government, he says, can reduce freight for commodities like copra which costs $88 a ton.

"The people of Lau are already suffering and if it increases, it will only allow us to go to our graves as soon as possible," he said.

From Vilsoni Hereniko in Wellington (18 November 2005)

Here is a group photo of the Wellington Rotumans who met at Ravai and Arthur Shaw's house to host a barbecue for me and the film, The Land Has Eyes. It was a wonderful occasion with lots of food and laughter. We even had a Q and A session after lunch, and before I left to the airport to catch my plane to Auckland.

From Fijitimes Online (18 November 2005)

Upgrades for island airstrips

THE airstrip on the island of Ovalau is currently undergoing a major overhaul as part of Airport Fiji Limited's commitment towards infrastructure safety on outer islands.

AFL has also indicated that following the upgrade of the Bureta airstrip, the Vanuabalavu airstrip and the Rotuma airport will undergo similar works next year.

AFL's General Manager for Engineering and Infrastructure Rupeni Mua said the $642,000 project in Bureta should be complete in eight weeks. Mr Mua said afterwards, the airstrip would only be open to scheduled flights to minimise risks and disruptions.

AFL manages 13 outer island airstrips as a non- commercial function so capital developments at airstrips are funded by government. "We want to ensure that the infrastructure on outer islands, especially those that deal with aviation safety standards such as runways meet requirements and are of the highest safety levels," Mr Mua said.

From Fijilive (9 November 2005)

Envoy sets sights on Parliament seat

Fiji's envoy to Australia is poised to replace the Information Minister Marieta Rigamoto as Rotuma's representative in Parliament.

Major-General George Konrote is one of four high commissioners who will vacate their missions at the end of the year.

Konrote has indicated his intention to vie for Parliament next year.

It is likely that he will be the Rotuma Council's nominee for its single allocation in the 30-member Senate.

However, with long-time Rotuma MP Marieta Rigamoto indicating she will not contest the 2006 General Election, Konrote could also be the top candidate for the lone Rotuma seat in the 71-member Lower House of Representatives.

Konrote's replacement at the Canberra mission along with new appointments to the high commissions in London, Wellington and Tokyo will be decided by the Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase later this month.

From USA National Public Radio (5 November 2005)

Listen to an interview with Vilsoni Hereniko on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition," Saturday 5 November. He is interviewed by acclaimed Senior National Correspondent, Linda Wertheimer.

From Fijitimes Online (4 November 2005)

Disabled athlete a medal prospect

FIJI disabled athletics champion Fuata Faktaufon will spearhead Team Fiji's campaign at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

Faktaufon will compete in the disabled men's 100metres and has been strongly tipped to win a medal at the meet.

A medal win by Faktaufon will be added to Team Fiji's medal tally.

Section manager Jone Robanakadavu will accompany the former Suva Grammar School student to the Games.

Robanakadavu said Faktaufon's build-up was on track for the games in March.

"Training is in its fifth phase now and we will build up to the competition phase and he should be at his peak just before the games," Robanakadavu said.

"His time right now is 11.77seconds over 100m. We are looking at 10.9sec before we leave.

"So right now, he is a medal prospect. If he wins a medal it will be included with Team Fiji."

Meanwhile, more than 526 athletes with disability will converge to the Post Fiji Stadium in Laucala today for the annual Fiji Disabled Athletics meet.

About 20 institutions for the disabled - with the furthest being Savusavu Special School - will compete in the track and field events at the one-day meet.

For the young athletes, there will be the Qito Lailai competition.

The meet starts at 8am.

Yesterday, the Fiji Vocational and Technical Training for persons with dis-abilities received a timely boost with free t-shirts from DHL Express.

From Bruce Richmond in California (1 November 2005)

Nicholas Mario from Tua‘koi Village recently graduated from Bryman College in San Jose, California. Nicholas received a Diploma as a Homeland Security Specialist. He is living in San Francisco and plans to continue his studies and seek a degree in homeland security.

Nicholas Mario
Friends of the Rotuman community attending the graduation ceremony

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