Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fiji Military - Decline of a Once Revered Institution

On this day, 23 June, in 1944, on Mawaraka in the Solomons, my grandfather, Sefanaia Sukanaivalu, died a glorious death fighting for his King and country under the banner of the Fiji Military. For the bravery and courage he showed on the day, he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to Commonwealth forces.

Tua Suka was born on Yacata, Cakaudrove, on 1 January 1918, and joined the Fiji Infantry Regiment during World War II. By mid-1944 he was a Corporal in the 3rd Battalion, which took part in the Bougainville campaign. While attempting to rescue members of his platoon, he was shot by the Japanese at Mawaraka, which led to his being awarded the Victoria Cross.

The citation reads:

“The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the posthumous award of the VICTORIA CROSS to:—

No. 4469 Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu, Fiji Military Forces.

On June 23rd, 1944, at Mawaraka, Bougainville, in the Solomon Islands, Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu crawled forward to rescue some men who had been wounded when their platoon was ambushed and some of the leading elements had become casualties.

After two wounded men had been successfully recovered this N.C.O., who was in command of the rear section, volunteered to go on farther alone to try and rescue another one, in spite of machine gun and mortar fire, but on the way back he himself was seriously wounded in the groin and thighs and fell to the ground, unable to move any farther.

Several attempts were then made to rescue Corporal Sukanaivalu but without success owing to heavy fire being encountered on each occasion and further casualties caused.

This gallant N.C.O. then called to his men not to try and get to him as he was in a very exposed position, but they replied that they would never leave him to fall alive into the hands of the enemy.

Realising that his men would not withdraw as long as they could see that he was still alive and knowing that they were themselves all in danger of being killed or captured as long as they remained where they were, Corporal Sukanaivalu, well aware of the consequences, raised himself up in front of the Japanese machine gun and was riddled with bullets.

This brave Fiji soldier, after rescuing two wounded men with the greatest heroism and being gravely wounded himself, deliberately sacrificed his own life because he knew that it was the only way in which the remainder of his platoon could be induced to retire from a situation in which they must have been annihilated had they not withdrawn.”

Sukanaivalu plaque on Yacata

On my home island of Yacata, Tua Suka’s bravery has been retold over the years, especially among his family members, some of whom including his namesake, Sefanaia Sukanaivalu Nailatimate, later joined the Fiji army. Other relatives including, a grandson, are now currently serving members of the Fiji military. In 2013, a plaque commemorating his gallantry sacrifice was erected in the school grounds named in his honour on Yacata.

Yet the once revered reputation of the Fiji military of the days of Tua Suka are now in tatters and the decline will continue unless real and dramatic changes occur at its leadership helm.

The ongoing interest in, and foray into, national politics by the Fiji military lies at the heart of its problem. That interest is fuelled by a tragic misunderstanding of its role which in turn provided its misguided and corrupt leadership a potent tool to forcibly insert itself into the national politics of Fiji. In so doing, the military has since become intoxicated with the allure and incessant rewards of power, making it impossible to disentangle itself. Like being caught in quicksand, the more it pigs out on its political agenda, the deeper it sinks into the evil clutches of power. Sadly for Fiji, that political episode has now taken up over a quarter of century of life time and does not look to be receding.

What then was Tua Suka and his brave comrades of the time fighting for? Men of his generation had a profound belief of service to their country, their chiefs and people. As a Bati clan on my island, we all took his ultimate sacrifice as a given, something that is often drilled into us by our clan elders. Our role, as is traditional to all Bati, is to safeguard the lives of the people and uphold the chief’s authority. That same belief and loyalty led to my ancestors refusing to join the Tongan warmonger and Enele Ma’afu lieutenant, Wainiqolo, on his failed quest to defeat Tui Cakau at the battle of Wairiki, Taveuni, in September 1862. As a mark of loyalty to our paramount chief, the Victoria Cross medal was in fact handed to the Tui Cakau family for safe keeping over the years.
Sefanaia Sukanaivalu in civilian
It is the role of the Bati to carry out the chief’s authority on behalf of the people. At the national level, the military performs no different a role on behalf of the elected government of the day. It is not for the military to question or debate the policy or direction set by government. Therein lie the nub of the problem that now besets the current military in Fiji and only a radical resetting of its role can it reclaim its once revered status.

"There are no bad regiments, there are only bad officers." (Field Marshall Lord Slim)

Leadership of the Fiji military calls out for a significant overhaul and yet there is now an embedded culture of denial and refusal as a result of having tasted political power. This culture will only worsen as military recruitment now pays more than a tertiary graduate. As well, the skewed loyalty chain ingrained into new recruits will only cement the role of the military as a “political arbiter”. The increasing obsession for cadet training in the school programme of some of the main schools in Fiji, under the supervision and support of the Fiji military, will only serve to promote the same regressive militaristic mindset.

To effect the radical changes required of the Fiji military, starting from its culture, may need revisiting the 2004 Defence White Paper. Relevant questions were asked in that review whose conclusion was emphatic in that “..Fiji does not face an external military threat but the principle challenge was domestic instability.

It is more than ironic that, in near 30 years, it is the Military that has been the cause of domestic instability in Fiji.

A number of key questions in relation to the future of the Fiji military were raised in that review and these need to be considered and implemented on the return of a non-military aligned government. They included the following: 

  • Does Fiji need a military for defence purposes?
  • If not, how will the non-military functions (navy, engineers, and youth training) be redeployed?
  • If it does need a military, what for?
  • As a backstop to assist the Fiji Police Force (FPF) maintain order?
  • For peacekeeping? And if so, at what level?
Given that the misguided and tragic forays of the Fiji military into the national politics of Fiji has resulted in untold national catastrophe, it is only fair and democratic that the whole population have a say in determining its future. This can be achieved by away of a referendum where citizens can have their say once and for all, over an institution that has terrorized them and inflicted untold hardship on the citizens of Fiji.
Laisa Vulakoro beside uncle Sukanaivalu plaque on Yacata

I for one will be fully supportive of this as it will be one sure way of restoring my grandfather, Sefanaia Sukanaivalu VC, and his legacy and belief in a military that serves the people and is subservient to those elected to represent them. Then, only then, can the Fiji military be cleansed of its sins as a blighted institution led astray by its misguided and politically ambitious leadership to achieve personal and sectional interests.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

2013 Sukanaivalu VC Scholarship Timeline

  •  31 JANUARY 2013 
  •  28 FEB 2013. 


 TALEVONI:  7752397
Jerry Volavola 

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Buli Serekali ni Tatadra kei Yacata

Au veisureti yani meda wasea mai na noda dui Tatadra (dreams/visions/plans etc) me baleta na noda koro lomani o Yacata ena yabaki qo 2013, ena dua na SEREKALI
Me va (4) na qaqana (4 verses) ena VOSA VAKAVITI. 
O ira kece era na dua mai na nodra serekali ena soli yani e dua na nodra EBook - Fijian Customs & Culture, kena cover e toka qori e ra. 
Noqu inaki me mai soqoni kece sara na serekali ka biu ena dua na EBook kei na kemuni taba ka veisoliyaki lesu yani se volitaki me biu nai lavo e rawa ena dua na tobu ni sasaga ni dua na noda project e nakoro. 
Mo ni qai tarogi ka vatulewa kece kina ni bera ni lewai e dua na ka. 

  • Vei kemuni na tiko ena Facebook, ni qai biuta mai na nomuni SEREKALI kina YACATA URBAN COMMUNITY PAGE.
    •  kena vo ni qai vakauta mai kivei: sai.lealea@gmail.com
    Au kila ni na dua na yabaki vinaka vei Yacata na 2013 kevaka eda veiwasei ena ka yaga mai na dui vuniyaloda sara ga. Au sa masu ka vanuinui vinaka kece sara tu yani.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Laisa Vulakoro to Lose Hair for Cancer Appeal

Fiji Times News

Laisa the Lioness and the Broken Bamboo 

by Matt Wilson

SINGING star Laisa Vulakoro is nervous. This icon of the entertainment industry, once described by a writer as Fiji's "first living national treasure", is fixated on what she has agreed to do on August 4.

"When I think about it I get emotional. I want to cry," says Laisa during a break at one of her regular performances at Suva's Holiday Inn.

Along with other volunteers Laisa will take part in a public hair shaving ceremony organised by WOWS, the child cancer relief committee. Its purpose is to raise money to support young sufferers who become bald when they receive chemotherapy treatment. Those who sacrifice their hair on August 4 at the Vodafone Arena will demonstrate solidarity with them in a dramatic and personal way.

For Laisa, shedding her tawny locks is bound up with her own self-image, and her experience of surviving an attack by an aggressive brain tumour. It is linked also to her admiration for Tae Kami, of Tonga, who died of cancer in 2008 at the age of 15, after publicising her fight with cancer on the internet and in the news media.

Laisa talks with candour and poignancy about her traumatic confrontation with the disease and what it will mean to shed her hair on August 4. She describes her initial resistance to the idea and the tortuous journey to acceptance.

"My hair has always been precious to me," she says. "I am extremely sensitive about it. My Zodiac sign is Leo, the Lion, so I see myself as a Lioness, a protector and a provider. Next to my voice, my hair is physically the most important part of me. It is my mane, and I have tried to be a trend-setter by wearing it in many different styles. So yes I am nervous about losing it again. It had to be shaved four years ago for an urgent operation to get rid of a tumour. I was more terrified about losing my hair than having my head cut open. I asked the doctor to just remove the hair covering the area he was going to open up. He did that.
"When the staples had to be removed from the incision, my husband Brian convinced me that half a head of hair made me look like a clown! He thought it would be better to cut it all off and let it grow back evenly. I reluctantly agreed."

Laisa reflects on Tae Kami, who regarded Suva as her second home.

"I am very much influenced by Tae's example and impact she had on people, including the late King George Tupou V of Tonga."

Laisa with relatives and friends on Yacata at recent unveiling of plaque for VC hero and uncle Sukanaivalu
Tae attended the Holy Trinity School for three years and had treatment at the Suva Private Hospital. Her short life and what she asked her parents, Taholo and Sina, to do to ease the plight of young cancer patients, is the inspiration for the Tae Kami Foundation and its offshoot WOWS. WOWS is in partnership with the Fiji Cancer Society.

Tae uplifted and impressed thousands of people with a heart-wrenching and powerful account on her website of her suffering, her hopes, faith in God and acceptance of His will. WOWS derives its name from Tae's anthem Walk On Walk Strong, written and recorded in the last months of her life.

As Tae neared her end, Laisa was in the midst of her own ordeal. She had been having headaches and body spasms. Finally she was diagnosed at the CWM Hospital in Suva with meningioma, which compresses brain tissue and can also affect cranial nerves and blood vessels. Laisa's tumour was large and had started to invade a vein. She needed an operation urgently. There was no time to lose. Her life was at stake.

"I was asked later whether I was frightened of death," says Laisa. " My answer was that I refused to see it as an option."

"God had given me a son, Geoffrey Lote, who was then just four months old. I told myself I had to stay alive for him. I have to look after him. Death was not on."

Accompanied by her husband Brian Minikin, Laisa went to Perth, Australia for treatment. The meningioma was removed in a six-hour operation at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.
"We did not have the money, but the specialist Dr George Wong operated at any rate. The payment could come later."

Laisa was discharged after three days; she had been told she would have to stay in hospital for at least a week and a half.

"Dr Wong told me they had removed the meningioma and all should be well. I felt strong. My husband picked me up and we went home to Fiji."

Members of the Oceania National Olympic Committee (ONOC), Brian's employer at the time, stepped forward to donate the $20,000 bill for Laisa's operation. Dr Robin Mitchell, Laisa's family doctor, and then secretary general of ONOC, was instrumental in this act of generosity. So was his wife, Dr Rosemary Mitchell.

"I can never express fully how much we appreciated their kindness and support, especially that of the Mitchells," says Laisa.

As predicted by the doctors, Laisa's self confidence had been dented. But as a natural optimist she pushed back. Nine months after her hospitalisation and surgery, Laisa became manager of the Fiji women's indoor volleyball (Kulawai) team which she led on successful visits to New Zealand, Korea, China and Thailand.

Laisa took to the stage again in May 2009 to sing at a volleyball money raiser. She had never suffered stage fright before but on this occasion she was nervous. It was the meningioma factor.
Laisa beside memorial plaque to uncle and VC hero Sukanaivalu at home on Yacata Island

In August Laisa made a guest appearance at the annual WOWS walk for cancer children and sang Tae's Walk On Walk Strong. "I felt fine, perhaps because I could identify with the occasion in light of my own experience," she said.

From then on Laisa became a dedicated supporter of the WOWS committee and cause. Her career meanwhile was back at full throttle. She made tours to New Zealand with fellow star Seru Serevi, to promote Fiji as a tourism destination and performed concerts in New Caledonia. Laisa served for a while as a Visiting Fellow in Music at the Fiji National University. She now has a professional association with the University of the South Pacific where she mentors budding music talent.

Laisa appeared as a guest judge on the popular Vodafone MIC talent show on TV One. She continues as a director of the Fiji Performing Rights Association and performs three nights a week at the Holliday Inn.

Laisa is about to release her latest album, Bitu Kavoro - Broken Bamboo. She says it is about broken promises, and relationships and other things in life that are damaged.

"I was a broken bamboo, but I have grown again. Tae was a broken bamboo; she said God had healed her; she was ready for heaven. Many children who are broken by cancer can be made whole, with timely treatment and care. If their cancer has gone too far, their suffering can be eased."

Laisa confides that she had been brooding about the prospect of the WOWS committee requesting her to join with those shaving their hair. She did not want to do it. Last year she dealt with the issue by staying away from WOWS members. If she wasn't with them there was less chance of the request she dreaded. The WOWS committee noticed her absence.

In May, this year, her good friend Dom Sansom, chair of the WOWS Save Or Shave (SOS) committee, called Laisa while she was visiting Australia's Gold Coast on holiday. The question Laisa had evaded had caught up with her. Dom asked her to take part in the 2012 SOS.

"I told Dom I needed to think it over," says Laisa. "I said my prayers about the decision I had to make. Then I began looking for signs that would guide and convince me. "On my first Friday back at work performing at the Suva Holiday Inn, sitting right on the front row were Taholo and Sina Kami, Tae's parents, and their friends. They were wearing WOWS T-shirts."
Laisa had seen her sign. "I said OK God, I will do it."

Now Laisa is ready to lose the hair that has helped to define her as the queen of the rhythmic and distinctive Fijian vude music. She likens it to "baring my soul". But as she thinks about August 4, Laisa has developed a clearer and more grounded perspective.

"When I learned what Tae and her family went through, and after thinking of the pain of so many other children, I know that losing my hair is insignificant. If by doing this I can help a whole lot of kids with cancer and their families to have their burden lifted then that is my reward."

"On August 4 I will be full of emotion as I go on to that stage to have my hair cut off. But now that I have made the decision, I am ready to do it for the children who need help."
Tae is buried in the cemetery at Kolomotua, near the little Kami family home she loved in Tonga's capital, Nuku'alofa. The epitaph on her gravestone reads simply "Faith, Hope, Love."

Laisa says she is acting for all these virtues - but most of all for love.

* Matt Wilson is a public affairs consultant and writer.