Reviving the Fijian pride -Tulua ni vuki

Former education minister Taufa Vakatale relaxes at her home at namadi Heights, Suva. Picture: SOPHIE RALULU

“TULUA ni Vuki Tulua ni Dro”, a song written about former education minister Taufa Vakatale in the ’40s, is among a list of old chants, songs and meke that will enthral audience in an upcoming concert to celebrate Adi Cakobau School’s 70th anniversary.

The October 5 concert hopes to showcase and revive interest in compositions sung and chanted by students of the school from as early as 1948.

It also draws inspiration from the school choir’s historic tour of New Zealand in 1961, under the auspices of its first principal, Frances Lilian Charlton.

“Tulua is a song about a naughty child and it is about me as a young girl at ACS,” Ms Vakatale said with a smile during an interview at her 55 Salato Rd home, Namadi Heights.

“I didn’t know it was about me until my teacher told me a few years before she died.”

Written by Ulamila Bulamaibau, a former teacher of Ms Vakatale, Tulua was made popular on radio decades later by late Sakiusa Bulicokocoko’s rendition of the song, which showcased his signature witty wordplay and humour. Ms Vakatale was nine years old when she enrolled at ACS.

Three years younger than other students, she was considered the cheekiest but later achieved many firsts, including being the school’s first Fijian principal, first woman to graduate from New Zealand with a BA in 1963, Fiji’s first woman deputy prime minister and in 1998, the first Fijian woman to address the UN General Assembly in New York.

“I was naughty in a very innocent way but I was clever. In my class girls were typically three or four years older than me. While they studied during prep time I often played around because I was stiff bored and nothing challenged me. During exams, I’d quickly finish my papers and rush to play marbles,” she said with a grin.

“I remember being a disturbing element in school, going from room to room and causing uproar during classes, even in my senior years. That cheeky attitude never left me. I was even sacked from the cabinet in 1995, because I opposed French Nuclear testing in the Pacific.”

She said ACS instilled in her confidence, something which came in handy when working a place dominated by men.

“I was the only women in a lot of places but I never felt threatened. I treated men as society equals and never as people that I had to be afraid of.”

Ms Vakatale vividly remembers the first few songs and chants she learned at ACS in the late 1940s including O Bawa (a lullaby), Uca na Uca, O O Duna and Duri Toka, among a few. During those days, songs were sung without accompaniment and occasionally derua (bamboo instrument) and lali (wooden drum) were used.

During the historic ACS choir’s 1961 tour, she was studying history and geography in New Zealand with fellow old scholar Suliana Siwatibau, who later graduated as a botanist.

The two were included in the tour and performed many short skits adapted from a book she found in an Auckland bookstore. “We performed skits like Wrong Hand, Buy the Gloves and Peach Pie Girl.

Many years later when I became a teacher, the late Ratu Edward Cakobau would jokingly call me “the peach pie girl” whenever he saw me,” she said.

“The 1961 tour, was a success and I hope the upcoming October 5, concert would be a success as well.”

Adi Lusi Tuivanuavou, the chair of the ACS 70th Anniversary celebration committee said old scholars representing different decades would be part of a strong choir that will sing many old chants and songs including the famous “Waterlily” song.

In past weeks, choir rehearsals have been taking place at Charlton House on Suva’s Knolly Street, bringing together different generations of the ACS family, from senior civil servants and lawyers to private sector executives.

Last weekend, old scholars from all decades including current students gathered at the school for a full choir rehearsal.

“While planning the celebration, we reflected on the principles and foundations of ACS – we wanted to celebrate and highlight how those principles and values have contributed to developing a young woman,” ACSOG executive Ro Mereani Rokotuibau said.

“Music, meke and chants came out strongly as one of these extracurricular activities – so that was part of the reason why we wanted to have the concert. It’s about keeping our meke and chants alive.”

Vocal music by the ACS choir was recorded in the 1950s, and is part of a collection in the British Library. The school entertained Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip during their Fiji visit in December 1953.

Their performance of the traditional Fijian farewell song “Isa Lei” was also included in The Secret Museum of Mankind, vol. 1. Ethnic Music Classics: 1925-1948.

Apart from Tulua ni Vuki, other compositions in the upcoming concert include Na Noda Tabua, Vucu Ni Tauvu, Sa Na Vakarau Me’u Sa takali and
the meke titled Sa Basi’a.

Na Noda Tabua, is about the tabua (whales tooth) and the occasions where the kamunaga is used while the lyrics of Sa na Vakarau Me’u sa na
Takali expresses a senior girl’s feelings when she is about to go out into the world after being at ACS.

“She reminisces over all aspects of boarding life including the morning parade, compound work, weeding and other duties and the fun shared while
studying. This was composed by Ana Dreu Vesikula when she was a student at the school,” ACSOG President Ilisapeci Movono said.

“The school choir used to do overseas tours – and the meke and chants were performed in those tours. One of the meke that will be performed on
the night – Sa Basi’a – was about the school choir’s tour to Australia in the 70s.”

The meke was composed by Mr and Mrs Kalouniviti, parents of Fiji’s Ambassador to Indonesia, Seleima Veisamasama.

“Generally, most young people these days do not take pride in our own Fijian identity and are more aligned to the western culture. We are doing this
with the hope to try and revive the Fijian pride,” Ro Mereani said.

“Quite a few of the chants, songs and meke were composed by old scholars while they were students. This is a refl ection of the type of well-rounded
education the girls received at the time, under the first Principal and those that succeeded her,” Mrs Movono said.

“Students were encouraged to reach their fullest potential, whether it be sports, singing, drawing, craft, composing – apart from being academically
competent. Those “composers” went on to be professionals in different fields.”

Taufa Vakatale with students of Adi Cakobau School while she was a teacher. Picture: SUPPLIED

During those days songs were sung without accompaniment. Picture: SUPPLIED

Taufa Vakatale in front of the teachers quarters at Adi Cakobau School while she was a school principal in the 1980s. Picture: SUPPLIED

Taufa Vakatale (second from left) at Adi Cakobau School performs a meke in 1988. Picture: SUPPLIED

Taufa Vakatale during an open day at Adi Cakobau School in the 1980s. Picture: SUPPLIED

Taufa Vakatale (back on the right) with her classmates from Adi Cakobau School. Picture: SUPPLIED

 

 

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