Entering the ancient ruins of Naikawakawalevu in Tailevu is like walking into a picture of an old village setting in history books. It takes at least 45 minutes to get to the village from Suva and once there, the outside looks like any other village.
A church hall to welcome visitors sits on the right as one enters. Concrete and wooden houses nearby with vegetation and chicken running around complete the village-type impression.
But this village is different. Originally called Molituva in the days of tribal wars, the area has a lush green environment and hidden relics of what used to be a prehistoric fortified ring ditch where its ancestors sought refuge away from hostile tribes. While those days may be part of history now, the natural village setting has remained to show and tell about the life of the early settlers.
The history of Molituva even received air time on local Fijian television program Na Noda Gauna.
The hope its significance will never be lost is once again rekindled in this feature. Eco tourism
Descendants and villagers of this settlement have kept their dream of turning their historical village into an eco tourism venture.
But like all business ventures, financial feasibility is a much needed asset and something the village lacked to boost their tourism reverie. Government attention turned to Molituva, Kuku in Tailevu, after the story was aired on television and with a new sub program of the Ministry of Tourism called Community Based Tourism targeted at developing tourism projects within local communities Molituva is on its way to becoming one of the first eco tourism businesses under the CBT program.
The underlying focus of the CBT program is to work with resource owners from local communities to develop sustainable tourism related ventures that will provide jobs and opportunities for the unemployed in the area. According to CBT project manager on site, Semi Buwawa, the ring ditch fortitude was discovered in 2004.
Mr Buwawa attended a funeral where the body was buried at Molituva. It was at this particular event where Mr Buwawa inquired about the history of the area and eventually the prospect of turning Molituva into a tourist attraction site was practical. A survey was conducted within the Tailevu South district and Molituva was picked for its abundant natural resources and the villagers' enthusiasm to see tourism thrive.
"Discussions were held with the villagers, the Turaga ni Koro, Roko Tui Tailevu and other stakeholders to turn the ancient village into a tourist site," he said. They were enthusiastic and welcomed the idea. They saw it as an opportunity to revive old cultures and traditions. "CBT is meant to empower local communities, assist villagers in their own development and raise their standard of living.
"A proposal was written after the discussions were held and this was submitted to the Ministry of Tourism for approval. "After we were given the go ahead, we started working closely with the villages. Work started in April this year." Mr Buwawa is the architectural engineer for the tourism site which is located behind the village where the original settlement was established.
He said work was almost complete on the five traditional Fijian houses including the bure kalou (Fijian temple) and five small bure each expected to showcase traditional handicraft like mat weaving, traditional cooking and entertainment.
Beam of hope
After presenting our sevusevu to the Vunivalu (chief) of Molituva, Iferemi Boginitu the tour of the old village began. Apart from the superb bure construction taking place on a piece of land surrounded with a ring ditch, the landscape of the old site where the village was located is amazing.
Clear pathways leading to the left and right lead to dead ends and while the village was said to have been located in the middle of the area, one wonders how villagers got there in the first place. According to Turage ni koro Mitieli Bainivalu, the people of Molituva originated from Verata and settled in Delaidamanu.
"There are a lot of ditches and in ancient times these were used to keep the enemies away. "The ditches were dug almost 10 feet and at the time they did not have machinery or technology so they dug by hand. "Wood spears were stuck inside these ditches which were filled with water from the river.
There were different paths leading to different places and only the villagers of Molituva knew the right path to take to reach the middle." He said the area was now used as a burial site and with the eco tourism scheme underway youths in the area were helping with the cleaning and clearing of forest and overgrown trees.
Mr Bainivalu said the tourism initiative was equally important to tradition as it revived the ancient art of bure building and cultural handicraft, cooking and weaving. He said youths were also able to learn new skills and appreciate the significance of culture and heritage.
Mr Boginitu believes the efforts and collaborative work between government and local communities is a stepping stone to foster good relations in future. He said it was vitally important for people to realise the significance of ancient Fijian villages whose history should not be lost through time. Mr Boginitu said the people of Molituva are proud to have an ancient site
The next step
Work on rebuilding the old village fort at Molituva began in early April and is expected to finish within the next month. Present at the site were youths and men of Molituva working side by side on perfecting the bure kalou which stands a towering 60 feet.
CBT human resources development manager Sakiusa Sokotukivei said five bure building experts were brought in to help the villagers with the construction. Youths in the village are also attending training courses in tour guiding at the Training Productivity Authority of Fiji which will help them show visitors around the place once eco tourism begins.
"I help coordinate and facilitate all CBT training. Youths in the area attended a one-week training session at TPAF and this will be helpful whenever tourists come to the site. "The tour guiding training is mainly targeted for unemployed youths. "The women are also keen on handicraft training and would include women who are not working.
"Some would even be able to start their own small businesses. The youths in particular will learn the importance of team building, communication, assertiveness and self awareness." The main target market for this one-day cultural excursion are passengers from cruise ships, tourist groups and local schools.
Similar projects on community based development by CBT include piggery and vegetable farming at Naduru and the establishment of an industrial kitchen at Vunimono where people are taught how to cook. If there is one point to stress in all this, it is the lesson learnt from turning an age-old village into a booming development where the whole community benefits in terms of tourism, employment, learning new skills and trade.
The most important of all these is reviving long lost Fijian tradition and culture while at the same time appreciating what is left of an era that brought us where we are today.
Leaders express pride
For both the Turaga ni Koro Mitieli Bainivalu and the Vunivalu of Molituva, Iferemi Boginitu, re-establishing the ancient village is not only a boost for the tourism industry but also a memoriam of the lives lost during tribal wars fought on the very same ground.
Mr Bainivalu said he was happy and proud to be part of the eco tourism development because of the opportunities it gave the people of the village. He said they were able to share the stories passed down through generations about the village.
Mr Bainivalu said Molituva was part and parcel of the identity of the people in the area and it was equally important to participate in something that would benefit the people both traditionally and economically.
Mr Boginitu agreed people should learn to appreciate their culture and heritage and felt it was something their ancestors would have wanted. "They want us to succeed. They want us to improve our lives. I am very happy with this initiative and it will benefit our people," he said.
Adapted from Fijitimes Online