Nabutautau, a historic Fijian village, sits in a valley seven-hours away from Suva, Fiji’s capital city. To get there, one drives into the highlands on dusty rocky roads through sweeping trees, giant bushland, and forests – a spectacular sight! I was with a group of almost thirty adults and children making this journey for two days of historical story-telling as well as a 3km downhill river hike.
Nabutautau is infamously known as the village where Methodist Missionary Rev. Thomas Baker was killed and eaten in 1867. It was a time when “civilisations clashed” and resistance against colonial occupation was on the rise. Over a century later, in 2003, the descendants of Rev. Baker and the people of Nabutautau held a reconciliation ceremony, old wounds were laid to rest as forgiveness and restoration brought in a new era for the village district.
Most of our group hiked down to the river the morning after we arrived while I stayed to run the Vunilagi reading session. The books came out of their boxes and I watched in delight as the children gravitated towards them with – what I can only describe as – a voracious “hunger.” Books opened, images were absorbed, words sounded out. The children went from book cover to cover to cover, taking in the pictures, giggling, talking, critiquing – all before one book was read to the group! When children are taught the value of reading they discover new worlds for themselves. It amazes me, time and time again.
During the reading session I met Adi Losana Naimasi, the village kindergarten teacher. She is quiet, articulate and very intelligent. Later that afternoon I found out more about this young woman, affectionately known by her kin as Dilo, which is an abbreviation of her name.
As a single mother of three young children, Dilo returned to her mother’s village of Nabutautau and, after educating herself through second-hand “Early Childhood Development” books from Australia, became the village Kindergarten teacher. An avid reader and promoter of education, Dilo told me that even in a rural village like hers, books were a way of informing oneself as well as an ‘escape.’
The quiet woman that I met earlier in the day vanished in the afternoon sun, her passionate and strong voice emerged.
‘The women in this village are hands on, not only in the house where we cook, clean, and raise children but outside in the plantations where we plant crops and weed the gardens. Many of our men drink too much kava in the evenings and cannot wake up early to do the work so the women plant cassava, yams, dalo (taro), and vegetables. Dalo especially is supposed to be planted by the men, but here, it’s the women. We can’t wait around for the men to do it, the seasons wait for no one and we do our best to help one another in the plantations.
Dilo told that although culture and traditions are important parts of her identity, they can also be repressive.
‘In the traditional Fijian setting women usually sit at the back and remain silent while men make all the communal decisions, but when something goes wrong it’s the women who get blamed for any problems which arise. In the village men call the shots but are invisible when it comes to family needs and these are traditions which nobody talks about because it’s either hidden or ignored.’
I asked, are there any men who do things differently and don’t conform to the norm?
‘Yes, a few men here have a different mindset concerning women. I have an uncle who takes care of my very sick aunt by doing tasks which are traditionally expected of women, such as cleaning, laundry, and cooking. When it was brought up during a village meeting, my uncle informed the people that he will continue to fulfil his marriage vows towards my aunt. This clearly shows that his priorities are not only with traditional customs.’
She spoke about what could be done to shift the culture to one which recognises and respects women as being valuable members of the community.
‘As mothers, we are responsible for raising the next generation of children who will shift parts of this traditional culture towards women. I have a young son who I teach respect. Something as simple as washing his plate after eating can turn into a lesson. Here girls are expected to do all domestic duties, but I’ve told him that as everyone eats, not only the women and girls, it’s important that we all help out with the cleaning. I want him to grow up appreciating and respecting women in every sense. I think he is now beginning to understand, he sees that I am a single mother raising him and his siblings.
You know, there’s a saying which says that behind every good man stands a great woman. But the truth is that in rural villages like mine where women do almost everything, women are not behind the men, they are the actual fore-runners!’
That afternoon I stood with Dilo, surrounded by green hills and vegetation, and I was speechless. She did not want to be pitied or seen as a victim; her sharing about life as a woman in a rural village, reflected her strength, determination, and resilience. With these qualities she, and other women like her, survive the challenges of traditional village settings. Dilo, a hard-working single mother, is well-read and informed, she teaches children “respect” beyond gender lines and is thus raising a new generation of children.
Her final piece of advice for other women is to “put on a brave face for your children and continue to move on, there is light at the end of the tunnel”.
Reference: ‘Fijians killed and are a missionary in 1867. yesterday their descendants apologised.’ Telegraph. World News UK.