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At the beginning

We were supposed to leave on Monday, November 10 but unforeseen circumstances caused a two-day delay in the boat schedule.

The boat was chartered by the NCBBF team and a handful of Rotumans took advantage of the special fare to the island.

While the two-day last minute delays frustrated most of the passengers who had braved the rainy weather on Monday and Tuesday, none spoke out against the inconveniences caused.

I was told delays were a norm that happened almost every time a boat leaves for Rotuma -- either fuel problems or some mechanical fault that needs fixing.

I took it as a sign that maybe I wasn't ready for the island or the island wasn't ready for me.

I headed for the wharf on Wednesday afternoon thinking if there was another delay then it must be a clear sign I wasn't ready to embrace my cultural identity.

At 6pm, it started to drizzle as if Suva was giving us a special farewell.

And as the ship pulled away slowly but steadily out of the harbour, I knew we were going to Rotuma for sure.

Reaching home

Beauty in song ... Maru Taukave (left) and Crystal Kaurasi pass their time at Rotuma High school with a song. They were belting out Shayne Ward's Melt the Snow

Unlike most people, I had a pleasant boat trip. I didn't feel sea-sick going and coming back but I often wondered what it would feel like.

Watching the waves smash onto the side of the ship, the sun setting over a clear horizon and stillness were some of the things that made the boat ride enjoyable.

I guess we were lucky good weather was on our side.

We finally reached Rotuma on Friday morning around 8am.

I was still asleep when we berthed at Oinafa jetty.

As soon as I reached top deck, I rubbed my eyes and asked Anare, one of the fisheries officers from the Department of Fisheries where we were.

"We're in Rotuma," he replied with a laugh.

Instead of taking snap shots of people at the wharf, I zoomed in to take pictures of waves crashing in between two black rocks and a clear sandy path leading onto the lush greens.

This picture for me was Rotuma in its natural beauty.

The turquoise coloured sea was breath-taking as the morning sunshine beamed over the island welcoming the new arrivals especially a ‘susu madrai' like me.

Off to Ahau

Vehicles lined the jetty ready to provide transport to whoever needed it.

Onto the back of a closed truck we hopped and straight to Ahau government station in Itu'tiu we went waving goodbye to fellow passengers who by now had become friends or most likely a close relation.

And just like pictures I've seen, the road was creamy off-white sand. For a few seconds, the ride was smooth and easy going until we reached the transition to gravel road.

Holding onto the side of the truck, I didn't mind the bumps because it gave me something to remember the roads by.

We were welcomed by the Rotuma Council chairman Tarterani Rigamoto who showed us the two-bedroom council residence. The setting was very interesting like a small town in a confined space. A wooden pavilion sat opposite the rural hospital facing an open ground where I presume important functions and events were held.

On the other side, quarters for government workers were built close to each other. Beside the hospital overlooking Itumuta was the District Officer's home standing tall with its colonial structure intact.

Beside the DO's home were government quarters for Telecom workers. A stepping stone away was the blue and red Post Office building.

There was a convenient store next to the Post Office and the Police Station right after that.

A house for the weather man and other quarters for the island doctor and nurses crowded the perimeters of Ahau.

Work begins

A council meeting convened half an hour after we arrived at the council chambers. While the charter gained 100 per cent support from Rotuma according to Mr Rigamoto, it was obvious that questions of sovereignty, equal representation in government and national identity lay lingering in the minds of some chiefs and representatives present at the meet.

"At the end of the day, Rotuma will have to follow whichever government of the day," said Mr Rigamoto and that was a fact many would choose to ignore.

The dependency of Rotuma on Fiji is transparent in terms of infrastructure, communication, transportation and development of the island as a whole.

A walk to the post office to find out how much money is remitted to the island, a surprising ‘more than a million' annually came the reply from post master Lord Wilson Thomas.

Sure enough, every five minutes some one walks into the Post Office and fills out a form to receive money.

With my work cut out for me, I set out to find out from the people what made life pleasant or difficult for them.

I noticed that while the charter presentations were being made, most of the grassroots people were interested in development and politics was far from their minds.

When I asked a few if they understood what was being said in the presentations, they shook their heads but maintained a straight face as if to show they knew what was going on.

But when presentations were made on export opportunities from Fiji to overseas markets, the people quickly tuned in to see how they could earn a few dollars from selling their rootcrops.


With an abundance supply of natural resources, I count Rotuma very fortunate. There was a time when reports circulated about food shortages on the island.

Post office shop assistant Lily Fonmoa said this was not true because there was never food shortage on Rotuma.

"There were delays in the shipment of food items like tinned stuff but Rotuma is never short of food especially when people have their own plantations and the sea for fishing," she said.

"They can survive even if these tinned stuffs are not on the shelves. Apart from that, delays in shipment from Fiji are the only problem we have to stock up on food items."

Even though it's convenient to buy a tin of fish rather than catching a fresh one from the sea close by, people of Rotuma have something else to look forward to.

Agriculture, fisheries, quarantine and pest control officers visited each district informing people of trade relations between Rotuma and overseas markets.

Senior agriculture officer Lau-Rotuma Sanaila Turaga said this was a new shift from subsistence to commercial farming.

"We have set the people with a planting program that the Tuvalu market has come up with for export of rootcrops like dalo, cassava and kumala," he said.

"Our project awareness was supposed to commence in October but there were no boats coming here.

"The first trial shipment should have gone to Tuvalu in the first week of November if we had come in October.

"But this will begin very soon. The council made arrangements with Tuvalu and we're here to guide them."

He said Tuvalu's close proximity made trade suitable as the produce would remain fresh until it reaches Tuvalu.

Mr Turaga said the market offered a good price and it was a blessing for Rotuma.

According to administration officer for the council Penamino Tavo, this was an encouraging notion for Rotuma to sell their produce outside of the island.

"The council and Government already held discussions regarding the export of food crops. We've reached a stage where the only thing left is for Government to finalise its quarantine protocols.

"Then Rotuma will be able to move forward," he said.

"A Hot Treatment Force Air treatment plant will soon be established here on the island where all fruits will go through treatment then certified acceptable.

"We hope by next year all these will be realised."

Mr Tavo said the main source of income for Rotuma was agriculture and fishing but with new projects installed for Rotuma including a seaweed-export venture to Asian markets there is certainly hope for farmers on the island.


I spent my nights sleeping on the wooden pavilion with Karalaini Waqanidrola from the NCBBF team savouring the natural air con.

On Monday, I woke up early to realise it was another working day for those who had jobs at the government depot in Ahau.

I also realised external exams were still in progress and the first school girl I met was Sixth former Tupou Pene the daughter of Sergeant Pene at the police post.

"We usually wait for the carrier to pick us up. The bus used to take us to school but it doesn't run anymore," she said.

"Why?" I asked.

"I don't know," she said. This was a clear indication of a challenge many students face on Rotuma.

I later found out the buses were the responsibility of the council until last year when operational and maintenance costs were too high to keep the bus service constant. Mr Tavo said the two buses parked idly at a garage just beside the pavilion were old model buses with body parts difficult to find.

"The buses need repairs and maintenance. The parts are difficult to get from Fiji but these buses are old models that were being phased out," said Mr Tavo. "Students paid 30 cents return for 16 to 26 kilometre runs a day. That is far beyond economical. The bus service is not running economically and it is more of a social service rather than a business," he said.

In the meantime, the council has approved in principal to transfer its licence operations to Sisters Company who have made life a little easier for school students of Rotuma High.

Memories live on

On my last day, the District Officer Rotuma Nicholas Ting drove me around the island one last time.

We came to a scenic view comparable to Waikiki beach and I noticed parts of land being washed away.

"Effects of global warming," quipped Mr Ting. I wondered if global warming was a real threat and maybe in another century Rotuma would be no more.

I pushed aside the thought and took one last look at home.

In between realising the need for development and addressing stagnant problems on the island, I was able to meet relatives, family and make new friends. It was through my one week-interaction with these long lost ties that I realised how much I needed the island to help find my true cultural identity.

And when I did find it, I was all the more proud to call myself a Rotuman Islander.

Source of income

Speaking on behalf of the Rotuma Council chairman Tarterani Rigamoto, administration officer Penamino Tavo said agriculture was the main source of income for Rotuma.

He said a lot of people were dependent on root crops and vegetables. He said another source of income was utilising marine resources such as fishing.

With the seaweed export initiative to Asian markets, Mr Tavo said a similar project on seaweed production happened some years ago but was a failed project.

Divisional fisheries officer eastern Aminio Raimuria said awareness and training programs were held around Rotuma.

He said the earlier seaweed production was focussed in Motusa in the late 1990's.

Poor road conditions

Poor road conditions are a contributing factor to worn-out vehicles says administration officer for the Rotuma Council Penamino Tavo.

This was after concerns were raised about transportation problems on the island.

"The condition of the roads is appalling. Demands from the Land Transport Authority to pay doesn't match the work carried out on roads," said Mr Tavo.

"There was an agreement by Government to upgrade the road in principal. These roads are a contributing factor to the worn-out vehicles."

A typical Sunday

On a typical Sunday morning, trucks and carriers stopped at Ahau to pick up church-goers.

Filled to capacity, the trucks hurriedly drove away to be in time for church services. Rotuma is a multi-religious island with people belonging to different religious denominations.

Catholicism, Methodists, Assemblies of God and Jehovah's Witnesses including other smaller churches around the island are built close to each other.

While many churches seem to be centuries old, one particular church with distinctive designs to those in Bemana and Naililili is Our Lady of Victories in Sumi, Rotuma.

Parish priest Father Emiliano Lasaqa has spent almost two years on the island learning the culture and language. "There are seven Catholic parishes on the island and only one priest. I found it difficult at first coming here but as time passed I learned the language," he said.

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