Words and images: Sera Tikotikovatu-Sefeti
Imagine waking up to the sound of chirping birds, soft lapping waves and a soft breeze, uninterrupted by the sound of loud, noisy traffic and the fast pace of city life. That is what it’s like to live on Moce island in Fiji.
On Moce in the Lau group, 325km away from Suva, life is simple and still very rich in cultural practises that are in harmony with nature. The island has two villages, Nasau and Korotolu who serve one Ramasi (chief).
As you walk into the village, you will notice that there are no vehicles in sight. Strolling on the white sandy and grass pathway lets you enjoy the lush green forest. White goats look at you curiously as you pass, the sound of laughter spills from houses as people enjoy family conversations, and clean, fresh air provides your lungs with brand new energy.
The stress of city life melts away as you take in the island way.
The first thing you notice when you reach Moce is that the indigenous community makes full use of their natural resources.
Locals find creative ways to ensure their basic needs are met. For instance, water does not flow from a tap in the village, as it does in city and town. The people of Moce use plastic and cement water tanks.
Sefanaia Vuli’s plastic water tank was completely destroyed during the tsunami that hit Moce at the start of this year. Despite the damage, Vuli says, “It’s good to keep them both because we can store rain that can last us for months, even if we don’t get rain for a few weeks,” he says.
As a backup, the village also has wells.
If you cannot live without social media or the internet, you need to know that no mobile telephone network is available on the island. The only link is the school’s internet service, which is connected to the satellite through Digicel, and is only open to outside users for certain hours.
So what do the people do to pass time on the island, you may ask?
In the morning, you hear the rustling in kitchens and men prepare to go to their plantations. The boys in the village are encouraged to plant root crops and vegetables and have their own plots to cultivate.
So early morning, boys and men of all ages walk uphill to plant, sharing stories and banter, in a tradition that has been shared across the generations.
Year 10 class captain, Jone Taufa, enjoys starting the day this way. “I sometimes wake up at 5.30am or 6pm to uproot cassava and peel it ready for mum to cook for our lunch. I like going planting with my friends,” Taufa said.
Each year the community has a competition to see which man has grown the longest and heaviest ‘uvi’ in the village. It is a customary challenge passed down from generation to generation, according to the men in the village.
This challenge is an exciting event for all, with children and women gathering in the centre of the village for the announcement. Once the winner is announced, the root crops are shared with the chief, the church, and amongst the villagers. This practice brings about a communal bond between the villagers, and fosters teamwork with care.
This teamwork can also be seen in the latest initiative to build the school quarters for teachers transferred to the island. The men work together to cut down pine trees that were grown by their forefathers, more than two decades ago.
The village spokesman, Sisaro Dautu Snr., says, “We didn’t know how useful these pines were, but now we are seeing the difference they are making in the village.”
The timber from the pine provided relief for the principal of the school, Ifereimi Taufa, who initiated contact with the Ministry of Forestry and provided the machine to cut the pine into timber. He says the villagers are really grateful to the Ministry of Forestry for lending us the machine and the chemicals to kill pests in the timber. “It has also helped the villagers with fixing their houses,” he says.
There were a number of men from the village helping at the logging site, and the ministry sent two of its men, Tevita Rokonabobo and Eseroma Caginavanua, to assist.
“We help train and supervise the locals on how to work the machine, how to place the logs, the measurement, the posts, the different sizes according to the quotations given. There are a few houses we’ve already done, but I’m really impressed with the people,” Caginavanua said.
“There is a lot of manpower needed for this machine. In some other places, people request a caterpillar to pull the logs and place them in the machine, but the people in Moce just come together, they cut their logs, pull them and cut them with the machine that we provide,” he added.
Dautu Senior says restoring the pine planation is a point of discussion. “We now see the use of the pines, so we will definitely be looking into cleaning the area, so the pine shoots grow properly.”
Every morning by 6am, you hear the beat of masi making echoing in Moce. Walking into the village, you will see a ‘masi’ (paper mulberry) plant growing either on the side of houses or on several plots in the forest.
The island’s women are famous for their skill and talent in crafting masi, and at a time where the cost of living is really high, this is their main source of income.
Nasau woman, Tagica Uluilakeba, says, “my husband knows that when it comes to income, my masi production brings in more than $1000 a month and he is very supportive.”
Masi, or tapa, as it is commonly known in Fiji, is made from tree bark. Dye is extracted from mangroves to create a beautiful, printed bark cloth.
Sisters Losalini Tailasa and Tagilala Muriyalo are veteran masi makers, learning the craft from their mother.
Tailasa said, “I am more than 60 years old, and I can’t go out to the deep ocean to fish, so the only thing that has helped put food on our table is making masi.”
Muriyalo adds, “It has helped us both a lot. Sometimes, on really good months, the orders come from around Fiji or overseas and we can earn F$1000 or more, and that helps us buy food from the local shops or pay the divers for our fish.”
Taboo fishing ground
The idea of making use of the natural resources is not a foreign concept for i-Taukei. Traditional knowledge in ensuring sustainable management of marine and land resources has been incorporated into the traditional Fijian calendar, which provides a guide on basic environmental and cultural principles.
On Moce, there is a five-year ban on fishing in particular parts of the ocean. Rare exceptions are made for village functions or community events.
Village elder, Cama Uluilakeba, stated: “This was a way to allow the fish to breed and grow. We will see the result when the ‘qoliqoli’ (fishing area) is opened. The size of the fish we catch is almost more than 5 feet. “
The traditional skills of reading the stars, the waves, the wind and the waters, allows Moce’s fishermen to decide when to go fishing.
28-year-old diver, Tua Mua, shared his tips: “The best time to go out diving is when it’s dark, meaning the moon is completely covered, because just like us humans, the fish will be awake when the light is on,” he says.
“When it gets dark, the fish are sleeping, and so that gives us an opportunity to be able to catch only the right amount of fish to eat, sell, or distribute to others in the village,” Mua said.
The people of Moce don’t use detergent to wash their dishes. Ledua Vuli, a 16-year-old Moce Secondary School student says, “Conserving water is second nature to us because we don’t have flowing water, so we make use of what nature provides.
“When we want to wash the dishes, we come to the sea. We use the sand as a scrub and sea water to wash the dishes. It is normal, “she says.
Rather than drink water from the tap as we do in the city, Moce islanders drink bu or coconut juice, or eat fruit to stay hydrated.
Their power comes from solar energy. Everywhere you walk into the village you will see solar panels secured on their roofs, on a pole on the side of their houses, or on the ground if it is a really big solar panel.
They may not have running water, readily accessible internet or mains power, but for me, being able to drink fresh water straight from the sky, power appliances with the sun and soak up the easy-going island vibe is sheer bliss.
This story was produced with support from the Internews’ Earth Journalism Network.