Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Something Customary for Today - 12/11/2009


Petero Bai grew up in Dorokavu along the banks of the Rewa River. He listened to various recollections of his ancestors’ skills in carpentry, woodwork and associated vocations.

He knew of their pursuits and distinguished skills in building and constructing both structure and edifice for Roko Tui Dreketi, paramount chief and commander in chief of Rewa and the chiefdoms of Burebasaga.

He also took mental notes of volumes of oral histories of old Fijian wars and how various chiefs and warlords heavily relied on his ancestors’ dexterity and competence in building specific structures with proficiency only found in formally qualified personnel.

Petero grew up knowing he is part of an institution that existed for Fijian chiefs and their connections, and a people who constructed everything from battleships, temples, chiefs’ houses, warheads and tools as part of their traditional duties. It is something he believes has today established the Dorokavu people as an integral part of Fijian society as far as customary roles go.


Petero is of Yavusa Nakamakama, one of numerous tribes of people who migrated from Nakauvadra, a sacred ground which Fijian clans and tribes resided before a colossal migration to various parts of Fiji.

The Nakamakama people were under the command of Rokola. He is today known to many Nakamakama people as their paramount chief and ancestor.

Oral and recorded histories state that the Nakamakama people travelled to Dorokavu, Kadavu and Bau.

Little is known of any other places their people might have gone to. A large contingent settled on the banks of the Rewa River because Roko Tui Dreketi was a powerful chief whose favourite pastimes included owning hundreds of double-hulled canoes and associated structures.

The carpenters of Nakamakama became his favourite subjects because they edified his power through their skills and uniquely-built ships. They traveled fast over Fiji waters at the time.

Petero’s ancestors stamped their mark as a hub for assembling Roko Tui Dreketi’s power tools. As he grew up, Petero witnessed his grandfathers’ and then his fathers and uncles’ traditional roles as carpenters for Roko Tui Dreketi. The work was always centred in a special workshop (volau).


Dorokavu is located just two villages away from Lomanikoro. It had faced some effects of climate change through the years because of constant flooding and subsequent river bank erosion.

“Our elders consulted with Roko Tui Dreketi and he directed that we shift from Dorokavu to Nukutubu,” Petero says. That’s where they are today, directly across the river from Lomanikoro and Burenivudi, Roko Tui Dreketi’s official residence.

Because of Rewa’s notoriety and power, missionaries from the Wesley and Catholic faiths risked their lives and evangelised its chiefs and people. Nukutubu became one of the first Rewa Villages to receive Christianity. It is one of the Catholic Church’s major parishes in the Rewa Delta today.


Petero believes the traditional role spells out a lot for the people of Nakamakama, saying that it has helped them become conscious of their existence in Fiji.

“Since our ancestor Rokola led our people from Nakauvadra, we have maintained our role wherever we are today,” he says. “This skill is natural; a lot of us create plans or build structures just by looking at something.”

“Our ancestors built battle ships and war heads for Roko Tui Dreketi and chiefs from Bau and the Kingdom of Tonga during the war in Fiji before Christianity came.”

“We built Burenivudi and various other structures as directed by Roko Tui Dreketi and in all these, we see a reflection of ourselves and what is required of us,” Petero says. “Our traditional role speaks for itself in the Vanua and we carry out those tasks even without being traditionally approached.”


Ro Dona Takalaiyale, of Roko Tui Dreketi’s Kingmaker Clan, spoke of a major highlight of the traditional role of Nakamakama in recent times.

They had built a special structure called a Doka lili, which provided a special cover for the casket of the late Gone Marama Bale na Roko Tui Dreketi Ro Lady Lala Mara. The structure was taken to Nasali Landing from Nukutubu and placed on a military-built platform which carried the casket in a vehicle from Suva to Rewa.

There were no specific measurements but Nakamakama carpenters set to work on the order in a specially constructed yard in Nukutubu. The result was talked-about for weeks in Rewa.

“The Doka lili fitted perfectly on the military platform; that is how they work,” Ro Dona says. “That signified their power and knowledge.”

After its completion, they loaded the Doka lili on a boat. But the boat became “too heavy all of a sudden”. Many men tried but could not do it.

“Our clan leader then called all the women to gather coconut husks and come down to the beach,” Iosefo says. “They started throwing them at the boat, calling out our ancestor’s name to get off.”

They believed Rokola’s spirit had boarded the boat and it was a bad omen for Nakamakama.

“We believed that if we didn’t ask him to disembark, he would travel with Roko Tui Dreketi to the spirit world and in the process we would be without a leader and we would lose our power and our skills.”

The boat was finally pushed to the river after the traditional flushing out with coconut husks.


Today, Petero, Iosefo and the young men of Nukutubu are receiving refresher courses on their skills in the village with the help of Government.

Through the help of Commissioner Central Col Mosese Tikoitoga and State funding, they received building materials free of charge to construct two boats which they will sell and then develop a business plan to redefine their carpentry skills.

“It will keep our people together and help them redevelop their skills in carpentry,” Petero says. “Most importantly, we will somehow acquire some formal skills which will help us find jobs.”

The boats cost $1100 each and Petero says it will take them one week to complete. He reveals Col Tikoitoga has plans to bring materials for three more boats which would fully equip them for the future.

“It’s a major task and because there is a need to impart these inbred skills, building boats and sharing our stories have become quite important for our survival today.”

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