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70th Anniversary of the Arrival of the People of Tuvalu In Kioa Island

October 26, 2017       Kioa Island, Fiji

The Prime Minister of Tuvalu, Honourable Enele Sosene Sopoaga;
The Chiefs and Community Leaders of Kioa;
The Chief Celebrant, Pastor Tehulu Mika;
Fiji’s Roving Ambassador, Ambassador Litia Mawi;
The Commissioner Northern, Mr. Jovesa Vocea;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen, Girls and Boys.

Talofa Temalu, Ni sa bula vinaka, and a very good morning to you all.

Today marks another historic and joyful occasion for me and my wife Sarote as we join you in celebrating 70 years since your elders from Vaitupu in Tuvalu settled here in Kioa Island. And I wish to convey to you all our warmest greetings and congratulations on behalf of the Government and all Fijians.

I also extend a special welcome to the Honourable Prime Minister of Tuvalu and your delegation, many of whom I met when we were in Tuvalu recently. 

Ladies and gentlemen, just over three weeks ago, my wife Sarote and I had the pleasure of representing Fiji at Tuvalu’s 39th anniversary of independence.  Our memories of that visit are still very fresh and I believe will linger for quite some time especially given the great honour that Tuvalu bestowed on us.  We were treated to feasts since the first day of our arrival on Thursday 28 September until we departed on Tuesday 3 October.

We learnt the fatele.  In fact, Sarote was the first to join, and somehow His Excellency the Governor-General and the Honourable Prime Minister convinced me that the fatele could take away the pain from my knee, so I joined with the rest of my team!  Well, I have brought a bigger team with me today just in case we have to join the Honourable Prime Minister again in the fatele!  And I am glad to see that the Commissioner has also come in full force with Government’s Heads of Departments in the Northern Division.

Back in Tuvalu, we also witnessed a type of choir competition we had never seen elsewhere in our lives: the boisterous conduct of the choirmasters and mistresses were exceptional!  I believe that they could easily outperform any choir conductor in a competition that aims to stir the spirit and emotions with excitement. The conductors certainly added life to the vibrant island melody and made the competition truly memorable. 

And there were other great things we learnt whilst in Tuvalu. The peoples’ belief and devotion to Almighty God was almost unparalleled! We noted this with great admiration.

We also noted how the Tuvaluans are not waiting for the world to come and save their islands from the rising sea level. They have started to take action against climate change by extending the shorelines, among other projects. They are doing whatever they can.

Whilst in Tuvalu, our Government asked me to re-iterate Fiji’s offer to assist the people of Tuvalu just in case our collective efforts to address climate change are not heeded by the major polluters of the world.  Fiji is offering all Tuvaluans another home. Somewhere else to go. Fiji is promising not only to open our homes and our hearts, but also to help keep alive the spirit of Tuvalu and its people, including your history and customs.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased that the Honourable Prime Minister of Tuvalu is here today to witness the manner in which you the people of Vaitupu have settled in Kioa Island where you have called home for the past 70 years.  The 37 early settlers who arrived on October 26, 1947 have certainly grown in numbers. We now have among us today the second, third and possibly fourth generations of the early settlers.  And I am particularly gratified to see and feel that you have preserved your unique culture and traditions, and the spirit of your motherland - Tuvalu.  The canoe fotila, the use of the fou, the preparation of fakala or great feast and the accompanying fatele are symbolic of your authentic and rich culture. Sarote and I are most honoured to be accorded with these traditions for the second time within a month. Vinaka Vakalevu and Fai’eksia!

As we were making our way to your beautiful island this morning, I reflected on the wisdom of your elders to settle in Kioa 70 years ago.  They may have moved for various reasons – perhaps as a continuation of our Pacific Islands’ fame as prolific seafarers. They were certainly in search of new land! 

I also reflected on Fiji’s willingness to accommodate the people of Tuvalu at that time.  In my view, both our forefathers had forbearance and foresight.  What they did was to pave the way for our people to live together, side by side. And we have done this successfully for the past 70 years! 

And whilst we are Fijians now, I applaud you the people of Kioa for maintaining your distinct culture and traditions.

As a nation, we are going through major positive transformations. The consistent socio-economic progresses we are experiencing are helping us to address and bridge any gaps that exist in our society.  Every effort is being exerted to ensure that no one is left behind as we modernise our beloved nation.

Our Constitution in particular is geared towards providing equal opportunities for every single Fijian, without exception. Opportunities such as the right to a decent and sustainable life, free of any form of discrimination.  Opportunities like access to the basic necessities of life, to affordable quality education and improved health care, among many others. We have begun the journey, and we will eventually get where we want. Our ultimate goal is to leave no one behind. 

And our focus, as you are all aware, is not limited to our domestic interests. We are taking on unprecedented leadership roles within the global community. Our Prime Minister Honourable Voreqe Bainimarama, with the strong backing from our Pacific Islands leaders and people, is ready to take on the presidency of COP23. We are determined to persuade the world to take decisive action against climate change to help all our low-lying countries in the Pacific and around the world. And to help save Planet Earth and humanity.  We are ready to paddle forward together with our Pacific neighbours to tell our story by bringing our islands’ vulnerabilities to climate change to the forefront of global attention. 

We realise that we have to strongly advocate the message of climate change but in the Pacific spirit of respectful listening and consensus building. We will stand shoulder to shoulder with each other, engaging in vigorous talanoa sessions that are aimed at decisive action against climate change. 

Beyond the message of climate change, we are promoting the concept of leaving no one behind. It is a genuine Pacific concept. Today, as we celebrate your 70 years of settlement in Kioa, I ask that we reflect on this concept.  That we reflect on this unique arrangement that has allowed us to live together in unity and harmony for the past 70 years. And I ask that we continue to build on this concept for the sake of our children and future generations, not only here in Fiji but also in Tuvalu and throughout the Pacific.  This should be our renewed Pacific Way.

May Almighty God continue to bless us all.

Fakafetai lasi and Vinaka vakalevu.