We met Panea, a seventy year old man originally from Tuvalu who had moved with his family to Kioa Island, Fiji as a young boy. Panea’s mother delivered him in a ‘drua’ (double hulled outrigger canoe) – guess after having ten children it’s nothing to deliver a baby in a canoe. Panea claimed that he is one with the sea and is truly passionate about all the fruits that the sea has to offer.
Panea told us that Kioa is inhabitated by Polynesians originally from Tuvalu. Because of weak soil and overcrowding on their home island, the Tuvalun’s decided to buy Kioa, a rich fertile island off of Vanua Levu. These Polynesians earned some money in WWII working for the American military and was able to buy Kioa for the grand sum of $15,000. It was with some trepidation, however, as they feared the climate and whether they would be eaten by Fijian cannibals. In 2005, the residents of Kioa were finally granted Fijian citizenship. These people, like Panea, are very warm and traditional people. The women make woven handicrafts as evidenced in Panea’s thatched roof hut with woven floor mats. Traditional ‘drua’s are used for fishing (we were approached by a lobster fisherman in his ‘drua’ when sailing off of Kioa Island).
Panea relocated to Albert Cove, Rabi Island, Fiji, after he had suffered a stroke nearly ten years ago. Albert Cove is possibly one of Fiji’s best kept secrets – beautiful soft golden beaches, crystal clear water with coral heads loaded with tropical fish and no road access to the nearby village, Nuka – about 3 to 4 miles by sea. Panea decided that living in this paradise cove would help him recover from his stroke by changing to a subsistence lifestyle rich in swimming, collecting rain water, fishing, spear diving, gardening and raising chickens and pigs. His garden is rich with bananas, coconuts, papayas, breadfruit, taro and flowers. He now lives alone in his thatched roof hut as his wife has passed away. His daughter lives in Suva but his grandchildren who live in Nuka visit him on weekends. We even got to meet his 14 year old grandson who hiked along the rocky coastline at low tide – about 3 to 4 miles from Nuka – to visit and fish with his grandfather.
We felt that Panea really enjoyed the presence of occasional cruisers who anchor in Albert Cove. We brought gifts of tea, rice, sugar, water, parachute chord, knife sharpeners, a fishing net and swim fins and in return he was very generous with sharing papayas, kasavas, bananas, coconuts, fresh eggs, smoked fish and freshly caught fish. We had a knock on our boat one evening around 8:30 p.m.; it was Panea in his little rowboat dropping off some fish that he had caught on a hand-line.
The one thing that Loren had on his bucket list for his cruise with us was to catch a lobster and he had just the right man, Panea, to help him find one. They made two trips on pretty windy days, even spotted a few lobsters, but those darn critters evaded them. Well, guess Loren will have to hook up with us next year for that lobster.
Panea shares his home with a few ‘Banaba’ families who we saw infrequently. When we saw them, they were either fishing with handlines in their outrigger canoes or walking along the beach. Rabi, like Kioa, also has an interesting history. Micronesians originally from Banaba in Kiribati (Gilbert Islands) settled here. After WWII, the British bought Rabi for the Banabans who had suffered several injustices by greedy phosphate mining companies and an attack by the Japanese in WWII. Contempory Banabans are now citizens of Fiji living on the island of Rabi, close to the islands of Kioa and Vanua Levu. The citizens of Rabi live according to a different set of rules than the rest of Fiji; in fact about all they have in common are their monetary, postal, educational systems, kava drinking and Methodism. The local language is Gilbertese, and the social order is that of the Gilbert Islands. In Nuka, the capital village of Rabi, there are even two police – one Banaban and one Fijian.
It was hard to leave but we had to get Loren back to catch his flight back to the states…Panea extended an invitation to Loren to spend three months with him…will be interesting to see if Loren returns.