Why my work at UNDP is a passion. A personal story as a member of a traditional fisher tribe.

November 11, 2020

Ladies from my district, Noco, being shown our Marine Protected Area Map by Marine Scientist, Ron Vave. (Photo: Winifereti Nainoca)

Confucius once said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. I love and enjoy the work I do, especially since through our UN Development Programme projects, we have the opportunity to work directly with the communities on the ground. I love all aspects of the work, but some aspects I love more than others because they are personally relevant for me. One of these is marine management and conservation since I come from a fisher tribe.

This personal context is so valuable for me since my ancestors were welcomed to resettle in a new place because of their traditional skills as fishermen. It also provides the passion I have to carry out the Marine Areas Conservation & Management work in UNDP, especially for the Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded Ridge to Reef (R2R) in 14 Pacific Island Countries (PICs). As an indigenous person, with roots deeply embedded internally, I find UNDP work very relevant and rewarding since the focus of a lot of our work is from community to government level. The Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) have used Natural Based Solution (NBS) for centuries and it is amazing that NBS has a lot of emphasis in our work, inevitably reviving some TEK that is now in danger of being lost.

Back to my roots, it was during the time of preparation for the occasion of the then Prime Ministers’ children to be traditionally taken [1] to their mother’s village in the Rewa Province in the 1980s, that I learnt about the true origins of my people and how being traditionally skilled fisher people helped in their re-settlement. The whole province was getting ready since the children’s mother (the Prime Minister’s wife) happened to be the paramount chief of Rewa, the Roko Tui Dreketi [2]. The eight villages from our Noco district (one of the five districts in the province) were arriving village by village to the Noco gathering at a particular venue in Suva, each village bringing and traditionally presenting their contributions. These contributions included mats, mattresses and beddings (apart from food) to help with the catering in Rewa. Our village elders decided that our village, Naivilaca, would be the last to arrive at the venue where the contributions were being collected. When we entered the hall at the venue, the Vanua[3] of Noco and Tui Noco, the chief of the district of Noco were all present. I was sitting with my older sister about two rows behind my father who was traditionally presenting our village’s contribution to the Tui Noco and the Vanua of Noco. In my father’s speech he apologised, saying that we were not being disrespectful or disobedient by also bringing some contribution to the gathering. He said this because we are traditional fishermen (gonedau) by birth and our traditional duty at such occasions is to bring fish. My father explained that we had met our traditional obligations by sending fishing equipment and fuel to our village. In traditional Fijian presentations, the presenters have to make the other party (the receiving party) feel that the presenters did not go out of their way to come and contribute to a traditional function. This is because meeting traditional obligations is an important part of reaffirming and consolidating kinship ties (veiwekani). My father added that we would gladly contribute to this function and do more, because of the gratitude we felt about the generosity and hospitality kindly rendered to our ancestors. Our contributions were a response to how our ancestors were welcomed to stay by their ancestors. Tears were flowing freely on both sides of the floor. Some significant historical event was being fondly remembered.

I learnt that my ancestors were originally from Bau, a small island in Fiji, off the east coast of the main island of Viti Levu. They had left their original home for reasons I am not sure of, and were looking for a new place to settle. They were skilled and traditional fishermen (gonedau) by birth. During their journey in search of a new home, some of their families were left at particular points along the way until they arrived in the province of Rewa. This is why my people have kinship ties in other villages along this route taken a long time ago when they left Bau to look for a new home. Finally, my ancestors arrived in the Rewa province. The then Roko Tui Dreketi kept the older brother as his traditional fisherman and now these kinspeople of mine reside in Nukui Village in Rewa. The younger brother, my ancestor, resided in Naivilaca village in Noco, a district also in the Rewa province, and became the Tui Noco’s fisherman. As a result of this separation of brothers, my kinsmen that reside in Nukui village (Roko Tui Dreketi’s fishermen) belong to the yavusa[4] Matanikoro (I) while we as descendants of the younger brother belong to the yavusa Matanikoro (II).

My people still derive their living from the sea, but some now commute to the capital Suva, about 40 minutes away, to work. My ancestors were welcomed because of their traditional skills and some of my family still fish for a living, carrying on the method of livelihoods practiced by our ancestors.

The added value and valuable opportunity for me is to now, through our UNDP projects such as the Global Environment Facility (GEF) funded Ridge to Reef, get involved with the communities in locally managing marine protected areas. I love it!


[1] Kau mata ni gone – when the eldest child (and siblings) are traditionally taken to their mothers’ village.

[2] The title of the paramount chief of Rewa.

[3]Vanua in this case means the people as “Vanua is a word that symbolises the concept of interconnectedness of all creation in the Fijian worldview, since it refers to the living things with their social knowledge, practices and systems, and their surrounding environment” Nainoca, W. U. (2011). The influence of the Fijian way of life (bula vakavanua) on community-based marine conservation (CBMC) in Fiji, with a focus on social capital and traditional ecological knowledge (TEK): a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Resource and Environmental Planning at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand (Doctoral dissertation, Massey University).

[4] Yavusa is defined as “the largest kinship and social division of Fijian society, consisting of the decedents of one originator (vu)” (Cappell, 1991, p. 291).