By Theresa Ralogaivau

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, July 15, 2008) – Ratu Makutu Nagagavoka loves his vanua. Born into a life of privilege, being the youngest son of the late Tui Bua Ratu Isikeli Nagagavoka, this young chief was ironically accorded none of the associated privileges especially as far as school life was concerned.

Contrary to the norm, for his primary school years Ratu Makutu attended multi-racial Bua Indian School and finished off at Labasa Muslim College.

But he harbours no regrets or any wish to have attended the two top Fijian boys schools where many young chiefs are sent to by their parents for their education.

The schools he attended did two things; they educated him and instilled a desire to unite all races in his province.

Additionally they made him realise just how vulnerable the Fijian way of life, customs, art and craft and social values were in the face of fast paced developments.

Ratu Makutu, 37, works as an Assistant Roko Tui Bua based at the little seaside government centre of Nabouwalu in Bua.

[PIR editor’s note: Bua is located on the west coast of the island of Vanua Levu.]

Recently he represented his province at the UNESCO-funded Living Human Treasures Project workshop in Labasa, an initiative of the Fiji Arts Council to rejuvenate and safeguard the intangible treasures unique to the indigenous race like arts and crafts, languages and way of life.

The workshop only served to reinforce a long held dream to chronicle these treasures especially in Bua before they fade off and eventually disappear in the passage of time.

"We are fast losing our true dialects; many of our children don't even know how to speak it. They speak English and a concoction of different dialects which is truly sad," Ratu Makutu said.

"Not only that, most of our arts and crafts which are unique and identify us as indigenous are fast disappearing some have been lost forever."

For the next six weeks Ratu Makutu along with some other representatives from the Bua Provincial Council office will travel throughout the province gathering information on these indigenous treasures with the ultimate aim of documenting them.

"Our ancestors relied on word of mouth to pass down these treasures to their generations. But that won't work now because the younger generations are leaving their homeland in droves to attain higher education," he said.

The young chief believes for a Fijian quality education is a balance of the western education and learning about the vanua, their responsibilities to it especially in keeping their traditions alive.

"As a young chief of Bua, there is no denying that western education is enlightening but that needs to be accompanied by proper knowledge about the vanua," he said. "For me, as a chief, and I think this should be the same for other chiefs around the country, education accompanied by intimate knowledge of the vanua is essential if we are to make informed decisions on behalf of the people and to have the interests of the vanua at heart. We have got to start caring for our identity as indigenous people. We must be identified not just in name but also through our language, our crafts and art and way of life. We lose that and it's gone forever."

Ratu Makutu believes that is the challenge he must face as a young chief but he is waging a race against time.

"Many of our elders who are aware of our Bua traditions, the ways of making crafts unique to Bua and speaking our proper language have passed on," he said. "There are only a few left now. Probably less than ten with the true heritage of Bua to pass on. We've got to work fast in ensuring the knowledge they have is passed on before they die. The true essence of being a Fijian, being an indigenous of Bua is the vanua and all the treasures that belong with it, the language, the craft, the art, the way of living that make us Buan. It is my duty as a chief to safeguard that."

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