Night had descended on Dravuni and the villagers were settling down for their evening meal when we headed for Natavasara having beached the outrigger. A benzine light at home was a telltale sign that there were activities there and mum and dad were definitely present. Josaia called out to them as we walked into the house and he presented me to my surprised and unsuspecting parents. Their reaction was mixed – surprise for seeing me; anger knowing that their firm instruction for me not to come home had been overturned; and bafflement mixed with questions on Josaia’s involvement in all this. But at the end, parental love overcame all emotions as mum rushed to hug me, her tears were overflowing. Dad, somewhat reserved, followed also with a bear hug. Later in life I did realize that if it was somebody else apart from Josaia, the reception I got would have been quite different.
In the early 1950s, brother Simione had to be hospitalized at Yaro Health Centre in Nakasaleka for extended observation and for some superficial surgery of his larynx, requiring him to miss school at Naqara District School (on Ono Island) for a good part of the year. But it also required mum and dad to be present at the Centre to care for him there. This meant therefore that Natavasara would be empty in their absence and I was unable to return home during school breaks. I had to stay back at Naqara Village with my aunt, mum’s youngest sister married into the community. My great grandmother, Elenoa also hailed from the same village.
The first school break came and the instruction was received that I was not to travel back with my fellow Dravuni students. I had no choice in the matter and reluctantly stayed back. I filled my time with my own boyish escapades (but that is another story).
At the next school break, I had heard that mum and dad were back on Dravuni temporarily. However, the instruction was still the same: for me not to return home. Saddened by the news, I got busy putting together my secret plan. When the Dravuni students were packing their bags in the dormitories, I was also doing the same. But I was in no way going to my aunt’s house, just a stone’s throw from the school compound. I followed my fellow Dravuni students instead to the seashore. But when I tried boarding the camakau (outrigger), the crew under firm instruction from my father stopped me. Whilst they felt sympathy for me, they were determined not to breach dad’s trust.
All I could do at the time was to cry, and I didn’t care what my fellow students would say. The Dravuni outrigger sailed away at the same time when the outrigger for Buliya (next island to Dravuni) was getting ready to sail away with my fellow students from that village. Josaia, captain of the Buliya outrigger, heard the commotion and inquired. On being told about the situation, he bawled out his own instruction to get me on board the Buliya outrigger.
“I will deliver you to Dravuni after we have dropped off the Buliya students,” he said to me loud enough for all to hear. There was no hint of a conspiracy in his tone but only a sense of quiet determination of something he had to do.
He kept to his words. After dropping off the students at Buliya, he with a helper set sail for Dravuni. The sun was fast setting. I didn’t know what to expect when we got to our destination. That was the least of my worries. I just wanted to get home.
Now, you are wondering what Josaia had or had to offer, that he had felt inclined to do what he had done. Josaia was from Buliya, the second island community that is of the same clan as Dravuni, namely Natusara. The paramount chief of the clan is in Dravuni – it being aligned to the Roko Tui Dreketi of Rewa, whilst the chief in Buliya is aligned to the Vunivalu of Rewa. My family Natavasara particularly has a close and special relationship with Buliya as a whole but especially with specific families in a mataqali and tokatoka there – mataqali and tokatoka being family groupings: the former being larger than the latter. Josaia was a member of one of these family groupings and one who had a special, time-honoured relationship with dad specifically. This special relationship is rooted in history and tradition and once in a while, it would express itself in ways that confounded logic.
When great grandfather Simione Ravana had completed his 10-year duty as a catechist away from Dravuni in 1895, he opted for self-exile and went to live on Naqara, the village of his wife, Elenoa. Self-exile was his way of expressing his displeasure and discord at the political shenanigans that had taken place on Dravuni and which had overturned time-honoured structures and conventions in the village. He did not want to be a part of any of it!
Simione Ravana brought up his young family on Naqara comprising and including my grandfather Livai and great aunt Kelera. Livai went to Europe with Ratu Sukuna in 1917/1918, returned to Naqara, and got married to grandmother Lanieta from Nakoronawa, Nakasaleka. Dad was born in Naqara in 1924.
It was in 1925, after 40 years of absence, including 30 years of self-exile, when a delegation from Buliya came to ceremonially request the family to return to Dravuni. The family did return. But grandfather Livai, at 36 years old, opted to single-handedly look after and cater for the Buliya people who volunteered to rebuild Natavasara that had obviously suffered from decades of neglect.
Such event of history has its deep roots in the distant haze of cultural, traditional and clan relationships. Much of what has happened to shed light on the subject has been lost either due to the reorientation of history or to, simply, collective amnesia. However, those who have an inkling of the past and who feel inclined to a sense of commitment, duty, reciprocity and respect that the past engenders will always be obligated to feel and do what is right. In this case, Josaia was obligated to offer solace to a young boy from a family with whom he had a special relationship; and dad especially was equally obliged to demonstrate acquiescence, reticence and dignity that tradition and protocol demanded notwithstanding what may appear as a breach of trust.
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