However having not even set foot on the island and mentally claiming that I knew the island well I cockily replied “really?” Because I have not heard of a Somosomo on Gau Island, the only island in Fiji with a village of that name that I know of is on Taveuni” to which again he replied, “no, there is a village in Gau called Somosomo and that is where I am from.” I ended the conversation there and proceeded to starting another conversation.
On my return to the motherland, I was telling this particular story to my workmates at the WWF South Pacific to which (in true Pacific style) they all burst out laughing and shook their heads in disbelief. Disbelief in the sense that we had just started a three year project with the said island and that in fact there was a village called Somosomo that fell into our targeted villages. This was promptly followed by a mental apology to the same friend.
Fast forward a few weeks I was assigned to accompany our conservation staff to Gau Island to capture some of the conservation stories of the eight villages in the Sawaieke district. The district of Sawaieke sits on the West side of the island and is also the chiefly home to the current paramount chief of Gau – na Turaga bale na Takala-I- Gau, Ratu Marika Uluinadawa.
And would you know it, Somosomo is a small village with a population of not more than 50 people that is right next to Sawaieke! Oh how my friends would definitely get a kick out of this.
Gau is Fiji’s fifth largest island. It is also part of a group of islands that make up the cluster of islands in the heart of Fiji known as the Lomaiviti group. As part of this group of islands they are the traditional tauvu’s to those from Vanua Levu (although there also other parts of Fiji to which they are tauvu’s with). As is the sign of close kinship between these Provinces we had a few members of our field team who are from Vanua Levu that were bombarded with copious amounts of kava and were subject to endless amounts of jokes.
Tikina-Sawaieke is the primary conservation site that the WWF South Pacific will be working in with the members of their community for the next three years. It has eight villages that include Sawaieke, Somosomo, Nawaikama, Nukuloa, Levuka-i-Gau, Lovu, Vadravadra and Yadua.
The conservation efforts
Gau island is significant for the Coral Triangle and is one of the hotspots of biodiversity within the South-West Pacific Priority Place; one of WWF’s agreed 35 most important locations for conservation, in the world.
The Coral Triangle is recognized as the global epicenter of marine biodiversity and a global priority for conservation. It is also referred to as the Amazon of the seas" and covers 5.7 million square kilometres of ocean waters. Its biological resources sustain the lives of over 120 million people.
The WWF considers the region a top priority for marine conservation, and the organization is addressing the threats it faces through its Coral Triangle Program, launched in 2007.
The conservation work is funded by WWF Austria, the first new WWF network office to contribute to the roll-out of WWF SPPO's Strategic Plan. WWF Austria are not only financing the project but are contributing communications outreach in Europe and also providing technical inputs.
On this particular field trip, several activities were undertaken to determine how best to implement current conservation practices from another of WWF South Pacific’s project site in the Macuata Province to the district of Sawaieke.
Since the stability of the environment and the community welfare are closely associated, a socioeconomic survey was undertaken to determine the social, cultural, and economic conditions including other living conditions of households. As a capacity building for the young people in the district, a total of 17 young men and women from the eight villages were trained to undertake this exercise.
The collated results from this survey will assist the conservation implementers in the form of WWF South Pacific’s conservation staff, its partner organisations and relevant government departments in identifying the main areas of concern. Following a week of surveying, a total of 98% of households were surveyed in the eight villages, which is a big task considering the surveying team would sometimes have to ask the hard questions.
The second set of field activities called the marine coastal survey was conducted in two folds; one was the beach profiling and the other the seagrass/soft bottom survey. These activities were undertaken by team of community volunteers alongside WWF South Pacific’s staff to survey and profile selected areas along the coast of Tikina Sawaieke
The marine team conducted marine ecological surveys of all marine habitat types including soft bottom shores, beaches, mangroves, seagrass a year after the first survey, resurvey of these key habitats will assess any mitigating actions by community reflected in its management plan. This will be conducted thrice during the project lifetime. The objectives are to strengthen effective protected area networks for the reduction of vulnerabilities and provide multiple benefits to ensure community livelihoods are resilient to climate change; Appropriate demonstrations of how on the ground livelihood activities are linked with policy processes to reduce existing and future climate related vulnerabilities; Increase the resilience of ecosystems that will assist species of special concern and the species that rely on them to adjust to climate change and its associated threats.
The seagrass/ soft bottom survey on the other hand provides a characterisation of the different species of seagrass in Sawaieke and its percentage coverage over a certain area. Seagrass meadows provide ecosystem services that rank among the highest of all ecosystems on earth.
The Hot Spring of Nawaikama
While on this particular survey trip, we came across a few villages that held ancient stories of interest. However, because I only came across to this one particular village I managed to capture the story of the hot spring from one of the village elders.
When I heard the name Nawaikama it never once occurred to me that there may have been some interesting background to the name. It was only when he started telling the story than I realised that the Nawaikama when literally translated to Fijian means “water that burns” resulting from the hot spring.
The village of Nawaikama is under the tikina of Sawaieke with its paramount chief the Turaga Bale na Takala-I-gau. The village Nawaikama is under the ruling clan of Vuniutoloa with its chief refered to as the Gone Turaga na Matanavure. It hosts Gau Secondary School and the jetty.
We were fortunate to have one of the elders, 63 year old Laisenia Tavaga to tell the story for the rest of Fiji to read.
“The story of the hotspring”, Laisenia begins, “dates back to when our ancestors were in the first village that we settled on.”
“Before the hot spring was made into a pool, which is what it is today, there were some children at that time that were playing around and accidentally stepped on a steaming hole in the ground.”
“After realising that there were indeed other places on the ground that had these steam coming out in the ground they called their parents to come and help figure out or explain how there came to be smoke coming from the ground.”
“So the elders in the village came and dug a hole around the steaming area to determine what exactly was under the ground. When they finished they noticed that there was actual hot water boiling in the ground they had just dug.”
“And having incredible foresight, they decided to dig out a pool and place rocks around the edge of it to contain the hot water.” He continued and said “since that time while our ancestors have moved three times and finally settling down in this area, the hot water pool and the rocks that border it still remain until the present day.”
The pool according to Laisenia also has some healing properties.
“We are very fortunate because when someone in our village gets sick he/she just needs to take a deep in the pool for however long they want or however many time they want to take a dip and they eventually get better.”
While there is another twist to the source of the hot spring, Laisenia points out that because we now live in a different time the stories of ancestral gods are no longer valid. But because I was interested to know what this other story is, I politely asked if he could indulge just this once.
The other story to this involves the two ancient ladies known to the locals as the “Marama Rua” who were flying over Nawaikama when the children of the village spotted them and started to tease and throw stones at them.
When the two ladies were faced this dilemma they decided to drop a few drops of hot water that they were carrying to take to their destination. When they dropped this hot water they were under the impression that it would have hurt majority of the children if not all of them.
So, when these drops of hot water spilled on the ground it created steaming boreholes which resulted in the source of hot water for the current hot spring.
Our survey team managed to take a break and took a dip in the pool. It definitely was soothing after a long day of surveying.
So while we came to the end of our trip, Gau Island provided a very important reminder to all of us. The richness of the natural environment and the interaction that the people have with it, is something that needs to be protected.
On a lighter note, the next time I visit Brisbane I will tell my friend that yes, there is a village in Gau called Somosomo and I have had the pleasure of drinking grog in their community hall and enjoyed the fresh fish they caught for our meals.
By: Jone Tuipelehaki