The island of Makogai

5 October 2015
Femke Lobach

DSC05106We just lowered our dinghy into the water to go ashore for the ‘sevusevu’* ritual with the chief of the village. This is our first time, it feels a bit weird and out of place to do this but we understand it is highly appreciated as it is seen as a sign of respect for the Fijian culture.

The chief of this village is a young guy with a friendly face. Instead of the traditional clothing worn at a sevusevu, he wears a worn out short and shirt. He quickly goes through the ritual with a shy smile on his face and thanks us in English for coming to his village. Apparently the village of Makogai has only six houses and families.

Their core business is saving clams, turtles and sea cucumbers from extinction. He explains this to us whilst showing us around. Of the twenty concrete basins, only six are filled with water. In one basin with salt water floats an obviously very sick turtle with seaweed growing on his shield. It hardly moves. It is so sad to see this beautiful creature like this. The chief explains that this turtle is very sick and they try to save it. While he talks I quickly look around and… I don’t see anyone working, anywhere?

Gijs asksDSC05115 if and how they circulate the water flow to keep the water fresh and salty. ‘It is a pity’ says the chief ‘the generator just broke down yesterday and a few men from the village went to the main island to buy some new parts’. Aha that explains why nobody is working.

He is full of stories this chief and very friendly. He shows us the ruins of the leper colony** that has once been the sole function of this island. At the edge of the village lies an Old Catholic cemetery. The grey crosses are overgrown with weed and trees, an eerie scene. I feel something crawl on my back, and I shiver; mummies can rise from the graves any minute now, but in my case it is a spider hanging in a web.

At the entrance of the village we read the sign: Makogai, nature reserve, fax number and phone number. I smile as the chief had just explained to us ‘we have no mobile phone connection, no Internet and no Facebook’. Facebook, in a village like this, is hard to imagine anyway.

Suddenly it is all clear to me, I have to smile but it also makes me sad. There is no village and no chief. The Reserve is no longer in use. It is a small community left behind.

The children can only go to primary school; they play, laugh and seem to enjoy village-life. But I wonder what will happen with them in ten years time? What will be their future with so little knowledge and so little opportunities?


*For a ‘sevusevu’ you bring dried kava-roots as a present to village of the bay where you lie on anchor. You give it to the chief of that village. Which is than followed by drinking kava. It is a complete ritual with a long list of instructions on how to dress, what to say and how to behave.

** One of the men of the village borrowed me a book about the history of the island “Image of Hope. A brief history of the care of leprosy patients; written by sister Mary Stella, one of the Catholic nuns who lived on the island when it was a leper colony from 1911 until 1969.


2 comments to “The island of Makogai”

  1. M,Wetzels says:

    Grappig verhaal,trieste voorgeschiedenis….
    Nog steeds bewondering voor alle leuk-geschreven reportages!

  2. Michel Greeve says:

    Nice story ! Enjoy, Michel