By Jona Bola

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, Oct. 11) - Being the Turaga-ni-koro or headman carries great responsibility in a Fijian village.

One does not need a university degree to be a headman, just dedication in a traditional setting. Simeli Ratulevu is just that.

Mr. Ratulevu is the headman of Korotogo Village in Sigatoka, Nadroga. But his role is a bit different from other Turaga-ni-koro in the country in that he is the guardian of a mangrove project along the village's shoreline.

Korotogo's people owe this elderly man a lot for being the front-runner in replenishing their ‘qoliqoli,’ (fishing) or traditional fishing ground. One cannot miss the mangrove strip as one travels down the Queen’s Highway.

Ratulevu, 72, is the man protecting those trees. He has lived most of his life in the village, which has undergone many changes.

"As the Turaga-ni-koro of the village, it is my duty to look after the well-being of the village," he said. "And I have been asked to maintain this mangrove plantation. To some it may sound funny that I have to look after trees that grow wildly along most shorelines in the country," he said.

Ratulevu said since being charged with the mangrove duty he had learnt it was these trees that brought fish and all other marine delicacies back to the village's shores.

"When I learnt that through these trees fish and other edible sea creatures like ‘kaikoso’ (mussels) and ‘qari’ (mangrove crabs) are coming on shore, I realized how important it is to us," he said.

He said it was one reason why he vowed to lead the mangrove campaign.

Ratulevu said looking after the mangroves meant walking down daily to the beach with a stick, clearing plastic bags and rubbish that got stuck on to the trees with the tide.

"I usually come down to the beach when it is low tide, and with the help of a stick and scissors, I take away all rubbish that threatens the lives of the trees," he said.

That is not all; Ratulevu organizes village clean up and planting campaigns.

"It is usually during the school holidays that students and youth in the village engage in cleaning and replanting mangroves," Ratulevu said.

"People might think it is an easy job, it is not but I enjoy doing it because we know the advantages of this project."

He said the people of Korotogo were already reaping benefits from the mangrove project.

"Before people from the village would go beyond the reef to fish, but that is slowly changing now.

"We can now stand a few meters from the shoreline, throw our fishing lines and get fish that was once disappearing from the area. We have seen large-sized crabs coming back," he said.

He said at one time the mouth of the river that runs beside the village was full of kanace (mullet).

"For some years we have not seen a single ‘kanace’ in the river but they are now coming in numbers to lay their eggs," he said.

Ratulevu said it was all made possible through the help of the Japanese Government and its Organisation for Industrial, Spiritual and Cultural Advancement (OISCA).

He said as long as he lived he would ensure the mangroves in and near the village continued to spread.

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