Friday, 11 July 2008

Elias memorable moment - Fiji Times Online

Elias memorable moment - Fiji Times Online

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Elia Gasaiwai still reminisces about the days when men and women from his village would go to the reef in front of the village and return with their catch in just a few hours.

They would return from fishing every day with enough for the whole family and there was not a day they would come back home empty-handed.

He is now 64-years-old and said those were the good old days when everything was in abundance, especially fish.

They never used fishing lines but women would go out to the reefs with their small nets and the men with their spears.

The spears were often made of a long thin bamboo stick with several sharp, short iron rods tied with a wire at one end.

"It was also fun to go with other boys and look for fish. When we see a school of fish gathered we would take a stone and throw it towards them and they would swim towards their own fish holes where some of us will be waiting," he said.

"The fish are not able to escape and the only thing they do is go on top of the reef and hide their heads any where they can find space in the rock with their tails exposed. That is when we spear them or even catch them with our hands."

Saturday was the day when men would go out and fish for their Sunday lunch and they would return home with so much fish, recalls Gasaiwai.

He said it was his mother who introduced fishing lines to the women in the village and he believes this was the cause for overfishing in their fishing grounds.

"My mother is from Lau and she taught the village women how to fish with fishing lines and hooks and how to know when a fish bites," he said.

In 1964 Gasawai went to Suva to work and when he returned 15 years later, the fishing ground that used to be full of fish and marine life which he remembered as a child was gone.

In its place was dead coral, fewer and smaller fish.

Pointing towards the reef in front of the village he said: "Look over there, that reef used to be full of corals but you cannot see them any more. They are gone and that was caused by my people because when we had no fish they would go out into the sea and break the reef to catch the fish that were hiding in holes."

"And we were doing that because we did not have enough fish.

"We felt the impact of having less and less fish and more and more time spent looking for fish and seashells.

"I am one of the few who has passed through the time of abundance and the time of poverty in this reef."

But then they heard about having marine protected areas so they approached Marine Ecology Fiji consultant and ecologist Helen Sykes.

"She came here, took a look at our reefs and said 'No' because the condition of our reefs was so bad and did not look like it could recover but we insisted and finally persuaded her to come. And she is the one who has been motivating and encouraging us to go on and do things by ourselves," he said.

"She taught us not to depend on other organisations all the time to fund us and I think that is why we have come this far."

However, he said one of the difficulties they faced was from poachers.

"The problem about this qoliqoli is that all these villagers in the area can fish on any of our reefs because it is a common qoliqoli," he said.

"Some of them do not care about the tabu because they believe it also belongs to them so that is why they come out at night and spear dive at the marine park. But it is sad that they do not understand that it is the marine park that will replenish their reefs because we need a reservoir and that is what this marine park does.

"When it is full they spill over to the other fishing grounds and our women are now discovering the benefits of this marine park. They are now catching fish and big octopus, clams and seashells on our fishing ground."

Gasaiwai said he was the proudest man at the 10th anniversary of the Waitabu Marine Park because he had been there at the start of the marine park until its 10th anniversary.

By Friday afternoon before the celebration the whole village was into the last stage of their preparation because the next day was the special day they had eagerly awaited for the past 10 years and everyone was excited.

On Friday night Gasaiwai called his people together to the bure they had built at the marine park.

He reminded them that the next day was the one they had been waiting for so long and they had to make it the most special by working together even if it would mean a small turnout from the invited guests.

On Friday night everyone was preparing food as the village had bought a cow to feed the visitors and nearby villagers who would attend the celebration.

The women also decorated the bure at the Marine Reserve Park where the celebration was going to be held.

Before dawn the next morning, everyone including the youth was up and about cooking while the older women were raking flowers from the vau trees near the bure.

There are about 22 families in the village and a population of 80 people who all turned up at the celebration. Many of them did not sleep that night as they wanted the day to be the best and it was.

Everyone turned up in their colourful clothes including the children and Gasaiwai said they wanted to include their children in the celebration because they were going to benefit from it.

And if they learnt to appreciate their marine park there would be more fish for them and their future generation. - Ms Nakeke is a Ocean Science Reporter with SeaWeb. SeaWeb is a non government organisation that helps the media promote and protect a healthy ocean.

Elias memorable moment - Fiji Times Online

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