By Geraldine Panapasa

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, May 29, 2009) – Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna was not only a visionary leader, statesman and scholar but he had the foresight to set up the Native Land Trust Board to safeguard our heritage and that is our land. This is what Losalini Tugia believes is the gist of the Ratu Sukuna Day celebrations at Ratu Sukuna Memorial this week.

Chairperson for the Ratu Sukuna week-celebrations committee, Ms Tugia said programs were organised for students of Ratu Sukuna Memorial throughout the week to commemorate one of Fiji's most respected statesman.

The programs held in the afternoons at RSMS started on Monday with the culmination yesterday.

Director of the Institute of Fijian Language and Culture Ro Misiwaini Qereqeretabua was present on Monday to open the celebrations after an afternoon devotion.

Ms Tugia said the annual celebrations were a reminder of the legacy set by Ratu Sukuna for the people of Fiji.

"This is an annual celebration that the school puts up and usually runs for a week," Ms Tugia said trying to beat the sound of students participating in a singing competition which was part of the program.

"On Monday, there was a short skit by Form Seven history students on the life of Ratu Sukuna right from when his parents were married until his death.

"Our theme last year was Ratu Sukuna The Scholar and this year's theme is Ratu Sukuna The Statesman which was decided by the committee.

"The celebrations were held from 2pm to 3.30pm during the week. On Tuesday we had an oratory and poetry competition in Fijian and English for the junior and senior categories.

"The winning students received prizes. On Wednesday we had another quiz competition. There were five representatives from Form Three to Form Seven taking part in the quiz.

"Yesterday was the culmination of everything. Students had put up classroom displays to commemorate Ratu Sukuna Day.

"These were judged and prizes were given out. We also had mafti day where students came in Bula and they were also judged for best dressed."

Ms Tugia said a singing competition was organised and students enjoyed the day while acknowledging the exemplary work of Ratu Sukuna.

Ms Tugia said Ratu Sukuna was a man of two worlds and the epitome of a Fijian person.

She said Ratu Sukuna was a good role model and inspiration for a Fijian child.

"We always say he had the foresight to safeguard our heritage and culture. Students have been encouraged to emulate this very hardworking man who despite holding a high status in society had a common touch with the people," she said.

"He was responsible for the establishment of NLTB and all Fijians have to thank him for safeguarding our heritage.

"Every year, we try to put together a program the students would enjoy so they would be inspired to emulate Ratu Sukuna as they mature.

"This has been a memorable week for all of us."

Minister for education Filipe Bole said RSMS commemorated the day with a low key celebration.

He said for the ministry, teachers and students, Ratu Sukuna remains an exemplary role model as he was a man of discipline and persevered to achieve his goals.

Ratu Sir Josefa Lalabalavu Vanayaliyali Sukuna is one of our heroes who will be remembered, not only as the "Father of Modern Fiji", but also for his contribution to education," Mr Bole said.

"His illustrious career, his achievements, his wisdom and his foresight speak volumes of a great man whose influence on our people has been immense.

"The legacy he has left behind remains a challenge not only for our students but also for modern day leaders.

"Ratu Sukuna's education complemented his lineage, he was a descendant of Bauan and Lauan royalty, and no other chief held a university degree.

"It was by hard work, however, that he earned the respect of his people."

Mr. Bole said Ratu Sukuna respected ascribed leadership and at the same time advocated formal education for chiefs.

Ratu Sukuna also promoted the learning of traditional skills in handicraft, fishing, farming so as not to estrange us from our own identity.

"Travelling from village to village, Ratu Sukuna listened to the common people and took their concerns back to the colonial authorities," he said.

"The adage "man's greatest gift is remembrance" reminds us to remember our heroes who have sacrificed their lives for the betterment of our nation."

The national holiday today is a holiday to commemorate the life of a scholar and statesman, Ratu Sir Lala Vanayaliyali Sukuna (1888 - 1958).

Ratu Sukuna's date of death is celebrated as a national public holiday on the last Friday in May every year.

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