Monday, December 17, 2007


IT is a small fruit signified on the top end of our national flag and this fruit is customarily used as an essential ingredient that brought chocolates all around the world to life.

For decades this unique fruit has been in Fiji and the people of Namau Village in Naloto, Tailevu are trying to make the best use of it. Better known to them as Fiji's chocolate, cocoa farmers at Namau are on the verge of producing their own organic and pure cocoa products in the country.

Ultimately, they want to build Fiji's first chocolate factory, and thus be the first to make an truly original chocolate that Fiji can call it sown. The village is situated at about 60 feet above sea level, off Lodoni Road on a hill. It is part of the mataqali Navukuta with a population of about 158 people.

The twenty-three families that live in Namau depend essentially on the somewhat 18,000 cocoa trees that surround the village. These families work under the careful guidance of farm manager, Tevita Niumou_ a family man who has spent half of his life babysitting these green treasures.

Tevita says elders of the villager started cocoa farming in the 1960s and taught young youths the importance of the cocoa fruit. "I left high school in 1978 and began working with my father who showed me everything there is to know about the cocoa fruit," he said. Tevita's big dreams for his family and the whole village rests on the cocoa trees.

"Every household in the village has land breeding thousands of cocoa trees; it's our main source of income," said the 46-year-old. He said the village was recently visited by a couple from Sweden who recognised a cocoa fruit pictured on the national flag. He said the couple had inquired with the Ministry of Agriculture looking for the location of a cocoa farm and later found themselves at Tevita's front door.

"It was unbelievable when I later found out the tourists owned a chocolate factory in Sweden and were interested in our cocoa produce," said Tevita. "I gave them a tour around the farm and demonstrated our way of processing cocoa beans," he said.

He said the couple were amazed with the old system used by farmers and offered to donate machines that could extract cocoa liquid for the production of chocolates. Tevita says bumping into the couple from Sweden was sheer luck and it was even more interesting that the Fiji flag was the root cause of it.

He said the project to build a factory in Korovou has the full support of the Tailevu Provincial Council. At a recent meeting, council chairman Josefa Serulagilagi who is also the chairman for the Tailevu Cocoa Growers and Producers Association, said the couple were from the Cocoa Bello of Sweden organisation and had advised villagers not to sell cocoa seeds but to make chocolates here in Fiji.

Mr Serulagilagi said Tailevu cocoa businesses have been running for the past 20 years and the couple's guidance was of great assistance to the Tailevu framers. He said the couple sent experts after returning to Sweden to conduct a two-week training workshop at Namau and also invited eight participants including himself to Sweden for a two-week educational tour.

The objective, he said, was to see and learn how the finest chocolates in the world were produced and to expand their knowledge about manufacturing chocolates. Mr Serulagilagi said the trip was sponsored by Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).

He said there was even an organisation in Sweden that was willing to fund the establishment of the fist ever chocolate factory at Korovou town.
Adapted from the

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Times: What inspired you to write about issues regarding Fiji Indians?
Professor Lal: I wish I knew; for the creative process is mad, full of inexplicable twists and turns. Mysterious even. I suppose it is a desire to make sense of things. I don't quite know what I think, what I have experienced unless I imagine it in words. I feel unfulfilled if I don't write. I feel something vital is missing from my life if I don't read and write. It is an addiction. But there is another reason. The world which formed me, the self-contained, self-sufficient rural lifestyle, is slowly disappearing as people leave the village and as modernity laps its outer-edges. I want to be a witness to that world which was once so important for me but of which I am no longer a part. There is very little written about the village world; the fears and hopes of the rural folks, so you have to recreate that vanishing world through imaginative reconstruction. We hear a lot about the movers and shakers of the world, the politicians and the bureaucrats, but little about 'little people' who lie beyond the range of official statistics, beyond official recognition: the housewives, the lovers, the workers and primary school teachers; those who have lost out on life. I want to capture some of the inner lived experience of their lives.

Times: What are some of the difficulties faced by Fiji Indians in terms of identity here, in their motherland (India) or when they migrate to other parts of the world?
Prof. Lal: I think you become conscious of your unique identity when you step outside your own cultural world. You realise how Fijian you really are when you live in another culture, among other people. Your language, your sense of humour, your food, as well as habits are different, unique. As the years advance, you suddenly realise how important your place is in your life, how deep childhood memories are. I cannot make sense of my life without my Fijian
Times: How is that a problem?
Prof. Lal: In this country, we are called Indians, but when you meet the real Indians, you suddenly realise how un-Indian you really are in your habits of thought and behaviour. The Indian world of horoscope and hierarchy, the obsession with protocol and ritual, of one's proper place in the order of things, means very little to you. Self-made that we are, we are impatient with things set in concrete, with restrictive tradition. I have met Indians from the Caribbean, Mauritius, South Africa, Kenya, Singapore and Malaysia. One thing we all have in common is our unique identity. We have an affinity for the 'cultural India', not the 'political India'. We have more in common with each other than with Indians from India. In fact, there is a kind of tension which animates our relationship. I don't have any of that with people from the Pacific Islands.

Times: Have attachments to Fiji changed?
Prof. Lal: Our attachment to Fiji is a function of generational change. I was born and educated here. I am a part of its history and culture. Its landscape moves me: the feel of warm rain on freshly mowed lawn, the smell of burning cane, and the swollen brown rivers. Fiji will always remain my spiritual and emotional home. I am not sure that it will be so for my children who have been formed by other influences and who have spent virtually all their lives in other cultures. They don't necessarily share my passion or obsession with Fiji though they honour it. They are, in a sense, citizens of the world.

Times: What feelings do Indians have when they are forced to leave because of political upheavals and land lease expiry?
Prof. Lal: People leave Fiji for a variety of reasons. Many feel uprooted and unwanted, trapped and terrorised. Many leave because they are fed up with uncertainty and diminishing opportunities for themselves and their children. But the emotional bonds linger, especially for the first generation; the umbilical chord is impossible to break. They keep in touch with developments in Fiji through a variety of ways. Travel and technology have revolutionised notions of attachment and citizenship. It is no longer a case of either/or; attachment to a country cannot be measured by a piece of paper. It is a commitment of the heart and the mind that matters.

Times: You grew up in the village but people like you managed to be immensely knowledgeable about the wider world probably more than most children today. Tell me a little about that life that you exposed in the book Turnings Fiji Factions.
Prof. Lal: The world which formed me has vanished. I grew up without paved roads, and running water, without electricity. Both my parents were illiterate. I was the first one in my family ever to complete high school and go on to university. There was no counselling about careers. There was no television, radio was new, there was no Internet, no iPods, and no mobile phones. It was, in some ways, the dark ages. Yet, people of my generation from that kind of background have travelled places, made something of themselves. We were from the village but were immensely knowledgeable about the world. There was a hunger to know more. I really am not sure if that is the case today. We had teachers who took their profession seriously, not as a stepping stone to another career. Our pursuit for excellence was driven by desperation. There was nothing to return to if we failed. There was no safety net, no one to lean on for assistance. So we strove hard and burned the midnight lamp to be successful today.

Adapted from the

Friday, December 7, 2007


AFTER nine years of darkness, 68-year-old Dionisia Yagose can see thanks to a team of specialists who removed her eye cataract for free.
Mrs Yagose of Tokou Village on Ovalau could not stop crying as she was overwhelmed at seeing her grandson for the first time.
It was wonderful to see my one-year-old grandson, she said.
I was blind for nine years and I see this as a new lease of life.
Mrs Yagoses blindness was caused by a cataract.
I never thought Id see again. Im very happy and thank God for working through the doctors to make me see.
I was so happy after the surgery I cried and cried.
Her nephew Inoke Vuivuwa, 44, thanked the doctors and nurses for giving his aunt her sight back.
We were so happy and could not believe it when she returned last Friday, he said.
We called all the family and had a feast to celebrate. Mr Vuivuwa said Christmas would be wonderful for them.
This is an early Christmas for everyone. We spent nine years guiding her and now shes walking around on her own.
She knew people by their names and voice only. The day she came out of the hospital she kept asking whos this, whos that, when she met someone.
Pacific Eye Institute director Doctor John Seeto said Mrs Yagoses condition was related to age.
Everyone who reaches that age will suffer from cataract, he said.
She was totally blind, incapacitated. Cataract is one of the main causes of blindness.
Mrs Yagose was among 400 people on Ovalau who benefited from the Fred Hollows Foundation team of ophthalmologists led by Dr John Szetu.
The team was able to restore the eyesight of 40 people.
Foundations executive director Carmel Williams says there is a severe shortage of eyecare professionals in the Pacific which must be remedied in order to reduce blindness. More than 80,000 people are blind in the Pacific Islands.
In Fiji there is a backlog of about 6000 cases needing surgery.
This will continue to grow by about 800 new cases each year, unless we have more eye doctors and nurses available in the country.
Adapted from Fijitimes Online