Early Schooling was Fraught with Loneliness and Drudgery

In my blog post, ‘Benefit from the Exhibition Continues’, I referred to Dravuni Primary School (classes 1-4 only) and the kindergarten. These are learning institutions on the island that did not exist at the time when I was attending primary schooling. There certainly was no pre-schooling opportunity at the time.

I attended Naqara District School (NDS) on Ono Island from 1953-54. All children from Dravuni, Buliya – next island to Dravuni; Naqara and Nabouwalu – two villages on Ono Island attended this school. Later, after I had left to seek schooling in Suva, the Dravuni and Buliya communities established their own primary school, Natusara Primary School (NPS) on Natusara, also on Ono Island. It was only years later after that when Dravuni sought to establish classes 1-4 on the island; those in classes 5-8 still attend NPS and board there.

I hinted at the loneliness, for me personally, when I was attending NDS in an early Reflection: ‘All is Forgiven Despite Breach of Trust’. I had mixed blessing in a way. Unlike some of my peers, I did not attend schooling in 1952 – the year I was turning 6 years old. The school policy then was those whose birthdays fell in the second half of the year could only attend school the following year. So, at least for me, I was spared one year when my tender boyhood could have been fully exposed to the trials and tribulations of an unsophisticated rural boarding school. However, I suffered the loneliness for not going home during the school break as I had mused in my Reflection.

When it came to drudgery however, no one was spared. An essential item for any pupil was a cane-knife because we cleaned up the school compound and all our food gardens; we cooked all our meals and washed our clothes. We did everything since no parents were there to help out. It was only on certain auspicious occasions, when parents and family members would come to the school; and those were occasions we looked forward to since there would be food galore. Apart from those occasions, the regular menu for boarders was lemon tea (ti drau ni moli) and boiled cassava, three times a day, five days a week – excepting week-ends when we would supplement with vegetables and/or our own harvests from the sea or mangrove swamps.

Drudgery and toil, in retrospect, did fuel our sense of adventure and creativity to some extent. An area where this was most evident was in the way we built our beds. We had bure provided for dormitories, certainly, but were bed-less. A good number of us built our beds from sticks of qaro or nokonoko, nailed or tied together for stability. Some would dig holes for the bed posts since there was only earth floor. For ‘mattresses’, we would cut green ferns (koukou), that grew well on the dry slopes near the school, and have these dried in the sun. These would then be stacked in layers on the rough wooden bed and mats placed on top of them. Et voilà!

Image credit: Illustration made during childrens’ drawing workshops, part of the Dravuni: Sivia yani na Vunilagi – Beyond the Horizon project, May 2017

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