A ceremony to remember for four PNG men


FROM the way the four men performed the traditional ceremony of welcome of another country with such majesty, fluency and pride, one would have thought they were indeed natives of that country.
Well, to some extent, they were because of their maternal links, upbringing and education there.
Etonia Vuli Papy, Emmanuel Matia Aihi, Mara Katam and Ratu Samu Rokotuibau are back home in PNG after spending time in Fiji where their mothers are from.
At Nature Park on Saturday, Oct 10, they sat on the grass under the scorching heat of the Port Moresby midday sun to perform a Fijian traditional ceremony of welcome on Fiji Day to chief guests Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare and National Capital District Governor Powes Parkop.
Those who did not know the four would have mistaken them as Fijians. They were brought up and attended school in Fiji and were exposed to the culture too.
Nemani Batau, who has been in PNG for the past 10 years, organised the welcome ceremony and acted as the matanivanua (herald or chief’s spokesman) to Parkop and Sir Michael.
“The boys who performed the ceremony today are from PNG and have maternal connections back home in Fiji.
“In Fiji, such ceremony is accorded only to chiefs. So when Sir Michael and Governor Parkop came, we regarded them as chiefs. That is why we performed the ceremony.
“I could feel the spirit of our ancestors. I could feel the spirits of our people. They were here too.”
Mara Katam, one of the four men who performed the ceremony, told of how it brought back memories of their growing up in Fiji, “bringing Fiji closer to PNG”.
“The good thing about this is we come here and meet friends, families and some members of the Fijian communities that we don’t know.
“I attended secondary school and university back in Fiji, grew up in Fiji. We finished our studies there and headed back to PNG to look for jobs because we’re Papua New Guineans.”
Batau during the ceremony spoke of the close connection between Sir Michael and the man he called his friend and mentor Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, Fiji’s first prime minister who led the country to independence.
“These two are legends. Sir Michael learnt from our first prime minister. They had a very close connection.”
Sir Michael attended Ratu Sir Kamisese’s funeral in Fiji in April 2004.
The Fiji Day celebration in Port Moresby on Oct 10 was special as it was also the 50th independence anniversary. Fiji was ceded to Great Britain on Oct 10, 1874 and gained independence on Oct 10, 1970.
The ceremony performed including the presentation of kava and tabua (whale’s tooth).
“We welcome our guests with a whale’s tooth. The kava ceremony called sevusevu is to invite them to drink and be part of our family.”
For Etonia, Emmanuel, Mara and Ratu Samu, it was an honour to take part in such a ceremony – more so, on their home soil.

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