House built on rock
As Verevere Village buried a favorite son returning home to build his family and home in the fight against climate change, traditional bonds were strengthened and the commitment to protect their home was reaffirmed and renewed with vigor.
Kuliniasi Qorowawi Junior was one of five young people who returned home for Christmas to build houses and start a family. All his plans were derailed when he died suddenly in Lautoka Hospital of “leptospirosis” on January 20.
His tragic death shone a light on his ambitious dream and reminded the people of the Nakorotubu coast of the importance of building their homes on solid foundations in the face of their greatest invisible enemy rising from the ocean, climate change.
Sea level rise and coastal erosion have affected this bay and the coast all the way to Dawasamu, the entry point of severe Category 5 Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2016, the most destructive to hit the hemisphere south to date.
No village was spared by Winston, which affected 62% of the Fijian population and caused $2 billion in damage. It killed 44 people, injured hundreds and left 131,000 people homeless across the country.
Overlooking the Basaga toba (bay) and Viti Levu bay beyond, which his maternal ancestors had crossed 176 years ago to put down a Tui Cakau rebellion in Natewa, Qorowawi was laid to rest with his ancestors on a hill.
When Nakorotubu’s army descended from Bureloa in the yavusa of Tokaimalo and set course for Natewa, they asked for help from their kindred on the coast of Ra.
Similarly, villagers along the coast heeded the unspoken call of the vanua for a son of the vanua of Tokaimalo and took the opportunity to bid farewell to the young man of Verevere, whose disappearance brought villages from the hinterland to join the family by the ocean in what has been described as the biggest funeral in years on the Nakorotubu coast for years.
Hundreds of people converged on Verevere to say goodbye to Kuliniyasi.
Former Ra teacher and historian, Ilaitia Bale Turagabeci, who delivered a eulogy on behalf of Kuliniasi’s vasu (maternal family), said their relationship began when the first native arrived in Nakauvadra from Vuda.
He said a lot went down the coast to the bay. While the people of Verevere stayed deep.
The others moved along the coast and the yavusa Tokaimalo moved to the kubu ni (point of) vanua o Tokaimalo, along the ridge that rises between the villages of Saioko and Namarai, and settled in the dense jungle of Bureloa.
He said that when the Tui Cakau uttered a tagi valu (battle cry) and the help of the Nakorotubu army was requested, by Bau via Tailevu, against the Tui Cakau rebellion in Natewa on the other strait side, yavusa Tokaimalo followed its link along the coast for labor. .
Mr Turagabeci said that after Nakorotubu’s army put down the Natewa rebellion, they listened to another tagi valu (battle cry) on the way back. This time from Tui Lakeba, for help against his rebellion in the village of Kedekede in 1851.
Men from Verevere were part of this group. He said evidence of their involvement in this raid at Kedekede remained in the names of the Coast of Ra which were given to children born of relationships some warriors had with women at Lau that year.
Upon their return, the then Tui Cakau summoned the chief warriors to his main village of Somosomo on Taveuni where he offered them a qusi ni loaloa (a piece of land), in thanks to the warriors for his victory. In 1853, Kuliniasi’s maternal ancestors settled in Taveuni.
His great-grandfather – Akuila Turagabeci – who became Tui Yacata, retraced his grandfather’s steps to Bureloa, where he died and was buried in 1981.
Mourners from 17 villages – neighboring Mataso, Saioko, Nadavacia, Naiocobau, Namarai, Nabukadra, Nayavutoka, Naqele, Bure, Dogoloa, Silana (Dawasamu) – were joined by villagers from Matainasau and Boteinavalu in Wainimala, Upper plateaus of Naitasiri, Burenacau, Bucalevu and Tobu of Nakorotubu Vanua (inland), Ovalau, Nasau, Nailuva, Sabeto and Yakete in Ba, and Lepanoni, Deuba.
Adhering to strict individual COVID-19 protocols in tight groups, mourners hailed a life well lived and a legacy he left behind.
A day before the funeral, the yavusa Tokaimalo entered Verevere through their traditional gate, through Nabubalawa’s house.
Responding to the visitors’ gesture with a whale’s tooth, Tevita Ratu said the yavusa Tokaimalo were always welcome in Verevere because of their ancient traditional ties. He said the tragic end to a young life had a profound effect on them and all the inhabitants of the villages along the coast and beyond.
“This is the first time we have witnessed such an outpouring of grief in all our years here,” he said. “Most importantly, the lesson this young life has taught us.”
Kuliniasi was only 27 when he died. His fiancée and only child had been looking forward to him joining them since before Christmas. Four weeks later, tragedy struck. Mr. Turagabeci, who raised Kuli all his life, said the fallen hero of good deeds, was exemplary in the way he lived his life – soft-spoken, humble, determined and resistant to all challenges.
Former Fiji Sevens star Mesake Rasari said when he heard the news he had traveled from Vunidawa to Naitasiri. “Da veimositi vakaveiwekani (We feel the pain of family),” said the towering giant whose exploit on the rugby pitch in the 90s is remembered by his broad smiles on the way to the try line.
Mr Ratu said he rounded up around 50 young people from Verevere and took them to Nadi to join him in the tourism industry when he saw their way of life changing on the coast.
“I realized that when the nearby village school held its awards, no child from Verevere was among the recipients,” he said.
“Our children were falling. They listened to the radio more, not the elders or the word of God. “I decided then that we needed to put young people in a different setting to encourage change.
“We had to show the vanua and the different families that they were burdening young people with all kinds of obligations, church, vanua and family, and not giving them advice to have their own family, traditions and culture. Our identity,” he said.
“If we don’t know each other first. Know our purpose on this Earth, we cannot worship God in all its fullness.
“So in 2013 we started a colony at Nawai in Nadi and trained our children to be aware of these obligations. A second Verevere, where we launched this concept to reconnect our young people with their identity, their nature and God. “One thing we have seen is that with modernization and capitalism, our young people are changing their behavior.
“When smartphones arrived, the situation got worse. “Our young people never listened to the advice of our elders, they were always absorbed in their devices.” “We started a program to educate our young people about the customs of yesteryear, traditional practices that we no longer practised, ancient practices that saved our coastline from the advancing sea.
“Before, our fathers planted viavias (coastal hymenocallis) after piling up sand on the bank. The sea respected us then,” he said.
“We were one with nature and our environment returned our respect.”
“Before, when a rooster crowed at your door, we knew visitors were coming. We would start preparing.
“We teach our young people to be proactive. When our elders met, the young people were to be called to officiate around the bowl of kava. Today, they just come to serve when there is a gathering. We are re-establishing our connection with the vanua, our environment and, most importantly, our God.
Mr. Ratu said that respecting God translates into respecting his creation, which justifies our role as stewards of his blessings for mankind. Mr Ratu said young people learn to act on sight. “Our young people now choose any plastic they see anywhere.”
“This boy’s funeral is a testament to his life. Its greatness and the amount of help to make it such reflects its commitment to people, the environment and God.
Verevere, he added, was a retirement village. “Our seniors are mostly dependent on state welfare.
“Today our young people are in solesolevaki (combined effort of cimmunak to plant for religious and vanua obligations).
We have filled the empty spaces in our land with roots and planted along the shoreline to help stop erosion,” he said.
“And we do our best to protect our resources. Fish is abundant in our bay. We fish just enough for each village event to ensure sustainability.
Mr. Ratu said they encourage their young people to build their lives on solid foundations. “Just like the biblical advice to build a house on rock, solid and unshakable.
“Our young people are now striving to change their ways and follow Bible principles.
“It’s only when we agree with our creator that everything else can fall into place.” Although there were occurrences of fuel being found in the bay and beyond, they were suspicious of their role in the national commitment to adhere to the global pact – the Paris Agreement and to reduce emissions by 2 .5 degrees.
“We are doing the best we can.”
The women of the coast are the backbone of all the villages on the coast. Earn between $18 and $80 per product they make for Rise Beyond the Reef (RBR), a non-governmental organization that promotes women’s livelihoods in rural settlements.
More than 50 RBR workers accompanied Kuliniyasi’s body from Lautoka Hospital to Verevere.
Kuliniyasi, a former graduate of Montfort Boys Town, joined the organization and put the finishing touches on the products made by his “nana” (mothers). Mr Ratu said there was no point in “talking big” at international conferences, such as COP26, on climate change if “we fail to do the little things that surround us, like the plastic that surrounds us”.
“No need to talk a lot on the big stage when you do the opposite at home. »
“We are only becoming hypocrites.” For a village with a high number of elderly people, there are about four elderly people close to 90.
The loss of a young man full of promise has had a profound impact. Kuliniasi Qorowiwi Senior, his namesake, said if he had a choice, he would rather be in the grave than his loved ones.
“We have lost something good. A rare treasure. If all villages had the foresight and determination of this man, our Fiji would be a better place,” the Verevere elder said.
“We live in a house built on rock, Jesus Christ.”
ILAITIA TURAGABECI is a former senior reporter for this newspaper, now attached to the Methodist Church in Fiji as a media/communications consultant. He has maternal ties with the deceased.
History being the subject that it is, one group’s version of events may not be the same as another group’s. When we publish an account, we do not intend to cause division or disrespect other oral traditions. Those who have a different version can contact us so that we can also publish your account of the story — Editor.