Flying Fijians coach Ilivasi Tabua was lost for words as he received a hero's welcome in his village of Naivicula, in Wainibuka, Tailevu, yesterday.
The national hero was accorded a full traditional ceremony by his elders who have come to see him as an icon. Mr Tabua said he had not expected to receive such a reception and was humbled by what his fellow villagers had prepared for him.
"I was just expecting a small lunch but what I have received today is far more than what I imagined," he said. "I am really happy to see that they are happy ... I am lost for words to describe how I am feeling right now."
Mr Tabua said it was in Naivicula that everything started for him. "To me, this is home and I am really just lost for words to be accorded this reception," he said. "To know that some of my relatives had to come down from the mountains and travel the rugged road to reach the village is just awesome," an emotional Mr Tabua said.
"I am just so grateful. I just really don't know what to say."
The Yavusa Naloto, consisting of the villages of Naivicula, Naveicovatu and Nasau, all converged on the Naivicula Village hall to salute their son. Mr Tabua was dressed in masi and yards and yards of sulu material.
His traditional Fijian seat, of specially made mats made by the women of the three villages, was changed every hour or so.
Each time, Mr Tabua was asked to stand as a new ibe was spread for his comfort before lines of people from the clans of the Yavusa Naloto made presentations of food, mats and yaqona. His cousins continually teased him with dance moves that kept the village hall alive and bubbling with laughter.
He was then treated to a feast of the Wainibuka delicacies of prawns and lalabe (wild ferns).
Mr Tabua said he hoped the village would be able to celebrate a much bigger and better Rugby World Cup 2011.
And, there was none better to share his moving home-coming then his mother, Paulina Tamanivalu.
"This is an occasion that we, as a family, will always treasure because of the achievements of Ili," she said. "We are all proud of him and I hope that I will still be around to see him take the Fiji team to the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand," she said.
Adapted from Fijitimes.com October 21, 2007