back to new archives for 15-17 June 2000
Pasifik Nius - USP Journalism Programme
Fiji is suffering from George Speight's armed coup.

Over a 100 shops in Suva have been burnt and looted.
Masked men have terrorised villagers, chasing them from their homes. But while the television cameras focus on Speight and his policies of racial division, the villagers of Savu offer a glimmer of hope.
--- Reporter PHIL THORNTON and photographer, JOE YAYA visited the people of Savu to hear their story.

The good Samaritans of Savu

When gangs of masked men attacked Indo-Fijian villages in the province of Naitasiri, the villagers of Savu were quick to offer protection and shelter to the villagers.

George Speight, leader of Fiji's armed coup, has a lot of Indigenous-Fijian support in the area, and it is alleged that his supporters had targeted the Indian farmers - beating them, ransacking their homes and stealing their valuables.

"They were very scared," says Levani, "these bad fellas attacked them with cane knifes and chased them from their houses." Levani, 32, has two children and lives in the village of Savu, 48 kilometres from Suva. Savu is on the banks of the River Waidina, in the district of Viria, province of Naitasiri.

The province of Naitasiri advances deep into the rugged interior of Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji. This is tough country. No sealed roads. No hospitals. No police posts. City folk call the unsophisticated bush people, 'Kaicolo'. And with promises of a better life, more say in the political process and a convenient racial target, Speight has convince many bush-people to support him.

But not all bush-people have taken sides with Speight and his armed thugs. The Savu villagers say the problems in Suva do not involve them, but they're not prepared to stand by while their innocent neighbours get battered.

When the mob went on their rampage of looting, the people of Savu gave protection and shelter to 11 Indian families. "I've known these Indian fella's a long time. We took them in for seven day. The men came to our 'grog house' and their women slept in the houses," says Levani.

Levani explains that the people of Savu are strong Christians and it was not unusual for his village to help people in trouble.

"We've been taught to love each other. Under the skin we're all the same people. We teach our children to be good people."

An Indian man given shelter (who asked not to be named) thanked the villagers of Savu for their kindness and said: "Many of our neighbours were beaten and chased into the jungle. We're lucky to have these people to help us."

The 58 families who make up the village of Savu are farmers.

They grow green-ginger, cassava, bananas and taro. These people aren't wealthy, but the dark river soil is fertile, and produces enough fresh vegetables to feed the village and to sell what's left at Suva Markets.

"We've plenty to eat here. There's hens, cows, pigs, vegetables, and in our river there's fish and kai (pippies)," says Levani.

Savu village is modest. The wooden houses are small, one or two rooms at most. A woman uses an outdoor shower. The 'grog-house' is a large corrugated tin shed. A grass mat covers the floor. A plastic washing-up bowl serves as a yaqona [grog/kava] dish. Tin cans cut in half are used as ashtrays.

The people work hard. It's reflected in their muscular bodies.

It's early Saturday morning and the village Chief and most of the villagers are up and out in the fields planting dalo. In spite of the hard work and the lack of modern conveniences, the villagers of Savu are content with their lot.

Fine rain falls over the village of Savu, the gentle words of sung hymns tumble from a house, a puffed-up rooster struts and men and women slowly make their way home from a hard mornings work in the fields.

"We're very happy with our lives here," says Levani.
 
© USP Journalism Programme

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