Landing’s one stop shop in the ’60s

Ram Singh’s shop at the Matainabou Landing, Nakelo, Tailevu. Picture: VILIAME DROVAKAVULA

In the early ’60s, Matainabou Landing, Nakelo, was the hub for the people of Tailevu and the outer islands in the Lomaiviti Group.

At a time when they had very limited access to shops, it was the only place within an acceptable travel distance where they could access basic necessities and things not readily available at the village canteen.

Sneh Lata Singh is 75, but she can vividly recall that time and how the landing was a constant hive of activity.

She said her father-in-law Ram Singh’s shop was the centrepiece of all the action.

Ms Singh said she moved to Nakelo when she married Ram Singh’s son, Maan Singh (now deceased) in 1966.

She came from a family that owned and operated a business in Suva but said the Nakelo store was far more busier than her family operation.

“I was 21 years old when I got married and my in-laws and his sons were running the shop at that time,” Ms Singh shared.

“I’ll never forget my first Saturday morning at the Matainabou Landing store, I looked outside and thought there must be a wedding or special occasion about to take place.

“If I remember correctly, there were about 300 people in front of the shop.

“I asked my husband what was going on and he said ‘this is normal, they are here to do their weekend shopping’.

“I was shocked because we would never get this kind of crowd in Suva at one time.”

Ms Singh said she soon grew accustomed to the shop being jampacked with people from around the Tailevu Province and the outer islands.

She said some of them came from as far as Koro, Batiki, Ovalau and Gau and in the midst of trading she also found it very interesting to hear their stories.

Ms Singh said business was booming at that time because their store was a one-stop shop.

“We were a general merchandise store – we sold everything from groceries to fishing gear, clothing and anything and everything.”

Ms Singh said before he passed away a few years ago, her husband shared the history of the store with her.

“He told me the shop was a bakery that was owned and operated by a Chinese man.

“My father-in-law was the chief baker at the bread shop at that time.

“Because he was getting old and there was no one to continue the business, he sold all his property to my father-in-law for only $1000.

“And that was how the business started, they continued selling bread but extended into a general merchandise store which has continued to thrive until today.

“My father-in-law was a very astute businessman, he saw that people who travelled by punt from the outer islands that came to the landing, had to go all the way to Nausori to buy fuel for their boats.

“So he decided to establish a service station and managed to capture that business.”

Ms Singh said over time they built two big bulk stores on-site as customer demand for goods grew.

She said most of their goods were imported directly from overseas.

“People mostly bought groceries and other goods in bulk, especially the ones who came from the island.

“They usually packed their goods into trolleys and would pull them to the small jetty located directly opposite the shop.”

Ms Singh said one of her more vivid recollections, apart from their overcrowded shop, was the way people of all races casually mixed around with each other and the ease with which they would converse in the different dialects.

She said because of the popularity of the business and the fact that her father-in-law was a very well-known businessman in Nakelo and very widely respected, he used to be invited to open schools or to be the chief guest at village soli.

Ms Singh said her father-in-law would always return home with bales of grog.

She said she didn’t realise how well-known Ram Singh was until she travelled one day to Nadi to visit family and told people in the area that she was his daughter-in-law.

“I was surprised that most of them knew my father-in-law.

“Most of them asked after him and as we conversed, I realised that most of them were from the Lomaiviti Group.

“They all had stories to tell about how they would come to the shop and they  all said Ram Singh was a good man with a big heart.”

Ms Singh said she always considered herself lucky to have brought her children up in Nakelo and the interactions they had with the people there.

“I am so glad they did not grow up in Suva, they would not have the kind of experiences they have had over the years and become the people they are today.”

She said the shop infrastructure had not undergone any major changes in 100 years, apart from a fresh coat of paint every now and then.

Like most small businesses that are casualties to development, Ms Singh said their business began to decline when a bridge was opened that allowed direct access to Nausori from Kiuva.

“As soon as that happened, our business started to go down because people just went directly to Nausori and Suva.

“Only people from the outer island continued to come, so things changed really quickly.”

Ms Singh said a few of them would visit the shop from time to time to sell fish and crabs to the shop, while others would tie up their boats and travel to do their shopping in Nausori Town before returning to the islands.

Ms Singh said COVID-19 had also contributed to a further decline in business but she and her five children and ten grandchildren have no plans of leaving Matainabou Landing.

“Life is still good here.”


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