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‘Great Son of Fiji’ was humble, decent man

SUVA, Fiji (FijiSUN, Feb. 8, 2011) - Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu Uluivuda, Na Vunisei na Momo Na Tui Vuda, was 90 when he was called to rest among his fellow villagers of the Vanua of Vuda in the Yasana of Ba in Fiji.

[PIR editor’s note: Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu died at the Suva Private Hospital in Fiji on Sunday morning.]

He was President of Fiji from 2000 to 2009, excluding a brief period from December 5, 2006, until January 4, 2007.

He was the paramount chief of the Vanua of Vuda and was vasu to the Ai Sokula of Welagi near Somosomo, the home of the Tui Cakau to whom his mother Adi Rua was related.

He was sensitive about his culture and he was content to be known as Ratu Iloilo.

He retired from his Presidency position at the age of 88, and was reported to be the world’s oldest head of state.

Ratu Iloilo began serving his country as a teacher and later became a Roko in Macuata and Cakaudrove as an administrator in what later became known as the Ministry of Fijian Affairs.

He also was a mediator between landowners and loggers/millers in the 1980s before he became a Senator in the 1990s. He was President of the Senate prior to becoming Vice-President of Fiji on January 18, 1999.

He was in this position under President Ratu Kamisese Mara in 1999 and 2000. Ratu Iloilo was sworn in as President on July 13, 2000, but legal experts considered that he was constitutionally the President as of May 29, the date on which Ratu Mara was removed from office by the military.

Ratu Iloilo refused to intervene directly in the disputes among politicians, but quietly reached out to disaffected factions, including the Indo-Fijian community. In 2001, he persuaded the military to allow a return to democracy.

He had five children, three girls and two boys from his first marriage to Adi Ama Seniloli of Naua (Tui Kaba of Bau) who lived in Welagi.

He had no children from his second wife, a Rotuman lady, and his widow, Adi Kavu Seniloli also of Welagi in Taveuni.

Ratu Iloilo was a decent man who lived and served his country, and understood the world which he worked and grew up in.

He belonged to an era when loyalty to chiefs with "mana" was dominant in that rational world.

He reportedly told the Great Council of Chiefs on July 27, 2005, at the dawn of the 21st Century: "We should never forget Ratu Sukuna’s warning about the dangers of chiefs simply becoming decorations. He said if that happened, they were finished. He declared that chiefs can only be sure of their people continuing to follow them as long as they appreciate that the chiefly authority is better than anyone else’s. He called on chiefs to be educated and trained for leadership, and before we are in a position to advise our people on the right course, we must also make sure that we have the knowledge and the awareness required to fulfill this duty properly. If we do not have this, we cannot lead. When we are equipped with leadership skills which complement our traditional ranks, we are appropriately prepared to provide the inspiration, motivation and guidance expected of us."

Ratu Iloilo found solace in his faith when he delivered the opening address at Fiji’s National Day of Prayer on May 15, 2005, which was also observed in many other countries.

He called on Fijians to seek God’s wisdom to find the way forward for the nation, and said he considered prayer to be "as important to our nation as breath is to our lives".

Ratu Iloilo called on the people to pursue personal and national reconciliation and forgiveness, saying that we would reap what we sowed.

"Whatever you sow you shall reap. If you sow the seeds of harmony, peace and goodwill you will reap the fruits thereof. If you sow the seeds of discord, hatred and injustice you cannot expect to reap good results."

The humility of Ratu Iloilo was witnessed again and again.

Some of us observed this when he travelled up to Nabukaluka in Naitasiri to bury his fellow teacher friend and relative Ratu Joseva Wainiu of Naua, Bau in June 2007.

Ratu Lului of Somosomo, a relative of his spoke fondly of Ratu Iloilo, Ratu Wainiu and himself when they met at the Government House to reminisce as friends.

Ratu Lului echoed the sentiments mentioned above about chiefs, loyalty and Ratu Sukuna. As we mourn the passing of our former President, we salute his humility, steadfastness and courage against the enthusiasm or waywardness of some.

Ratu Iloilo’s decency, lifelong service to his country, fellow citizens of Fiji, his call for democracy in 2001 and his quiet attempt to forge reconciliation prior to December 5th, 2006 inscribes the stamp of the man.

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