By Jon Bola

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, July 3) – Mention Qoma to anyone who has been to the island and the first thing he will tell you is the story of the bitu ni ceva.

It is about a bamboo plant that is sacred to the small island, which is home to the traditional fishermen of the Turaga na Ratu mai Verata.

They say when you ruffle the bamboo plant, a strong wind will blow making it impossible to cross to the mainland.

Usually, it is used to keep visitors on the island for longer periods.

Qoma is two islands a stone's throw away from Queen Victoria School in Tailevu.

[PIR editor’s note: Tailevu is located on the northeastern shore of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island.]

The Tui Nabulebulewa, the chief of Qoma, Lusio Ratumudu said they did not touch the bitu ni ceva.

"It was given to people of Qoma by Lutunasobasoba, who legend says brought the first Fijians to Fiji," Mr Ratumudu said.

The bamboo plant and a pool of fresh water by the sea were the gifts given to Qoma people and to this day, villagers still drink from the pool.

Visitors are not allowed to take pictures of the plant because villagers believe it is mana.

"According to legends passed down by our ancestors, the bitu ni ceva is significant for our traditional link with villages around Qoma and Verata. It is said that Lutunasobasoba was resting on the hill known as Wairiki, on the second island known as Qoma Levu and while he was resting he was disturbed by the sound of women patting clay and making pots for cooking. He was disturbed from his sleep by the sound and when he woke up, he plucked his comb that was tucked in his hair and planted it in the mud where he slept and left. A bamboo plant grew from the wooden comb that was planted and became the bitu ni ceva," he said.

Today, the plant is still standing among shrubs on Qoma. Mr Ratumudu said people are not allowed to touch it because as soon as someone does the seas would get rough for eight days and night and a strong wind.

"The plant was used by our forefathers and we still use it now. When we are out fishing and there is no wind to take us back to the village in time, a villager would go up to the bamboo plant and touch it," Mr Ratumudu said. "The southerly wind would blow and bring the canoes home. Because we are not using sails now, we always warn people not to touch it because when the southerly wind blows the passage between Qoma and Queen Victoria School would be rough."

He said whenever the passage became rough on a fine day, they would know that someone had touched the bitu ni ceva intentionally or did not mean it.

The other thing Qoma islanders are known for is catching turtles.

Legend has it that they can call turtles out of the deep when the Ratu mai Verata wants to eat turtle meat or for a feast or presentation for royalty.

They say Qoma people can dive and catch turtle in the deep and hence, the young men are known to be strong swimmers and divers and can hold their breath longer under water than other people.

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