Song of the Hills
Every morning and evening, Nabavatu village was serenaded with these melodies, a delight for villagers who often sought out the Vaga or the Parrot, which by all accounts was a special occupant of the mountains with her brightly colored plumes and special talking ability.
But that was 40 years ago.
These days the village is oddly silent, the threadbare forest is quiet for the musical inhabitants of the hills have disappeared.
Nabavatu village within Dreketi district in Macuata province is located 120 kilometers west of Labasa town, fringing the border with Bua province.
This chiefly village is home to the Vunivalu Dreketi, traditional leader of Nabavatu, Nakanacagi, Vunisea, Nasigasiga and Nabiti within the Dreketi district in Macuata province.
It’s situated on a rocky hillside overlooking the deepest river in Fiji, the Dreketi River.
Fifty nine year old Esala Tawake, the village headman said they guessed the disappearance of these birds may be linked to the massive clearing of forests for farming.
“They lost their homes so they left,” he said.
“There are four clans from three villages that use the hills for farming root-crops and yaqona (Kava) so that comes to as many as 400 farmers so there is a lot of farming activity that has happened.
“Whenever one villager decided to do some farming, they went up the mountain, felled big indigenous trees like the Dakua, and usually cleared the land by burning so a lot of the forest was destroyed by fire.
“Back in those days, we didn’t realise or were even aware that we were doing something wrong or even imagine that one day we wouldn’t hear those songs anymore.”
Along with the birds that made their home in the shelter of the gigantic trees, wild pigs also dwindled in numbers and are now rarely seen.
Wild pig hunts that were a form of ritualistic celebration, a passage of rites of sorts for village boys into manhood, and cultural fun that often broke the dreariness of daily routine, is also a thing of the past.
Areas of land that were not farmed but had been inadvertently cleared were planted with thousands of pine trees.
Life carried on and the missing birds and pigs were missed but their loss never really raised any alarm until water supply started suffering as well.
Tawake said his village is known to be hydro paradise, with water springs bubbling all over the hillside but even these disappeared as well.
Soon the main water source at a spot called Namatakalou started to dry up thrusting the seriousness of the loss of the forest into the heart of village discussions.
Decisions were made and rules about forest clearing were implemented.
Villagers agreed they had to take the first step re-grow their lost forests
With the help of WWF South Pacific’s Sustainable Coastal Resource Use Management programme team, a reforestation initiative got underway on the hills where the Vaga once called home.
The tree planting exercise funded through the Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme was held over two days at the end of which about 1070 seedlings were planted consisting of indigenous and adopted tree species.
The list of tree species included teak, vesi, tavola, marasa, damanu, dakua makadre, dakua salulsau, kaudamu, mandarin, cevua, yasi and camquat lemon.
Trees were also planted near the water source at Namatakalou to protect it.
WWF South Pacific’s Sustainable Landuse Officer Unaisi Malani noted that reforestation has additional benefits for villagers.
“What they have planted is a big investment not only to the present villagers of Nabavatu but especially for the generation to come,” he said.
“Replanting of the local tree seedlings will limit the growth and introduction of exotic plants, and the fruit bearing seedlings may provide the villagers with food, traditional medicine and some form of income benefiting the households of Nabavatu.”
Tawake the village headman said they have also decided to harvest their pine trees.
“We believe the deep roots of the pine tree have literally emptied out water stocks and threatened the main one we drink from so we want it removed and replaced with the indigenous trees that we once had,” he said.
“We believe that all we have lost will return.
“It may not be witnessed by this generation but we want to give our future generations this gift and protect the source of a basic need which is our water supply.
“The wild pigs will occupy our forests once more and the Vaga and other birds that fill up the forests and the hillside with music will also come back.
“We look forward to that day.”