Peni takes life head-on

Ratu Peni Rareba shows his freshly harvested yaqona plants. Picture: VILIAME RAVAI

“I WAS given a knife, a file and a box of matches to start my life inside the heart of Nakorotubu highlands.”

That is the story of Ratu Peni Rareba from Matainananu, Bureiwai, Nakorotubu in Ra after he was released from prison a few years ago.

Ratu Peni, 52, is a living example of hard work and how you can achieve a successful life by using the land.

Ratu Peni is well known to his family and his friends by the name Reba.

He said after his elders passed on, he decided to leave his village and start a new life in the highlands of Ra.

“I lived alone in the jungle with no shelter; while there I realised that no one was going to help me so I had to be strong to face the difficulties. I wanted to start a future for myself,” Ratu Peni said.

His only companion was a cane knife, a file and a box of matches. With the knife he began to cut down trees to clear the land for his farming.

“Cutting down the trees took three to four days, because I was using a knife.

“I slept under the fallen trees at night because there was no shelter to stay in.” Ratu Peni said he managed to clear the bush to start his farming after three years in the jungle. “After clearing the land then I decided to look for yaqona stems.”

Ratu Peni travelled to Wainimala and worked in a farm there for a week so that he could be given some yaqona stems to plant.

“From Wainimala, I went to Taveuni then to Balekinaga, that is another village in Ra to get yaqona stems to plant.

“From all those places I visited, I used my traditional iTaukei connection to get those yaqona stems.”

Ratu Peni was able to plant more than 6000 yaqona plants and built his small shelter to stay in the jungle.

“While staying in the jungle, I ate fresh prawns and fish from the stream and wild yams from the forest.

“I planted dalo and cassava as part of my daily routine.”

But Ratu Peni’s sweat and hard work was destroyed by a monster storm. In 2016, Category 5 Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston struck and all his newly-planted yaqona plants were damaged.

“There was nothing left, all 6000 plus yaqona plants were destroyed. But I managed to start all over again and rebuilt everything to survive.”

This time Ratu Peni planted more than 10,000 yaqona plants and through its harvest he was able to build a two bedroom farmhouse for himself.

“I have everything I need here, the struggle and hard work has been worth it. Right now, I just need help from the government if they could build the road to my farm,” he shared. At the moment, Ratu Peni has two boys helping him at his farm.

“Just my advice to the iTaukei people is not to sell their land and use their time and land wisely because money is always there,” he said with finality.

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