A living historian

Suliano Jese Koroinacika at his pineapple plantation. Picture: SUPPLIED

At the age of 85, you’d expect Suliano Jese Koroinacika to be weak and feeble. But instead, he is as fit as a fiddle, as they say.

He can still farm for hours on his plantation, walk up a steep hill on a hot day, climb ladders to do repair works on his roof and recall events from his childhood.

Unmistakable with his white hair, the Taveuni islander is truly awe-inspiring.

“Many people my age go weak and basically remain indoors but I am still fit,” Mr Koroinacika said.

“I always loved to plant but now I am doing it full time because I am retired and have all the time in the world to do it.”

Though Mr Koroinacika hails from Matuku in Lau, he has lived on the Garden Island for most of his life.

His dad attended St John Cawaci on Ovalau during his school days and befriended a young chief from Taveuni, the father of Ratu Takemo Ratakele, the former president of the Senate and current Tu Wei, the paramount chief of Cakaudrove’s district of Wainikeli.

When the chief left school to go to his village, Naselesele, Mr Koroinacika’s dad followed him.

On the island, he later met and married Mr Koroinacika’s mum, a woman of rank from Lamini Village, Somosomo.

Mr Koroinacika said he was a hardworking man during his prime and had many trades.

He planned and helped built the huge concrete cross erected at the top of Wairiki Catholic Mission in the 1960s.

With the support of mission priests he also built many buildings within the Holy Cross College compound.

“When I was young I had 12 cars, I worked in hotels as a tour guide and took tourists around the island and told them the history of Taveuni.

“I worked for Burns Philp and I enjoyed life like every young man. I drank and went to parties.

“But when I decided I had to change, I turned my back on all those things and started looking after my health.”

Mr Koroinacika retired from active work at the age of 64 and has been a full-time farmer for the past 20 years.

His piece of land holds no idle plots.

Every inch that can be used has a vegetable, fruit plant or root crop on it.

He said the secret to longevity and living a healthy life was making good and proper use of time.

“I’ve lived long because I make good use of time. I sleep at the right time. I eat at the right time. I don’t abuse grog and eat the right food. Once you learn how to use time wisely you will naturally get rid of things that take you down.”

As for diet, Mr Koroinacika lives largely on food he plants in his compound.

“For meat I eat a lot of fish. I lunch mainly on greens such as bele and rourou and I eat root crops that I plant such as yam, cassava and vudi. For breakfast I love my porridge with milk, so that’s probably the type of food that I spend money on the most.”

Mr Koroinacika is the oldest living person within the Wairiki parish compound and knows the history of the church like the back of his hand. To demonstrate how good a historian Mr Koroinacika is, he was able to answer the meaning of the word “Wairiki”.

“Wairiki comes from the word Waireki.

According to what I was told by church elders before me, when boats came here, crew would stop for a drink and they would love the water from the streams in the church compounded. “Waireki loosely translates to water of joy.

Water within the church compound is considered the best tasting water on Taveuni.

It is cold and comes from ground springs.” As a young man, Mr Koroinacika was also involved in politics.

“I was involved in politics during my younger says. I was a political rep from Cakaudrove together with the then late Tui Cakau.

“This was in the 1970s.”

He was also a guard of honour during Queen Elizabeth II’s maiden visit to Fiji in 1953 and was a student at Wairiki during Japan’s invasion of the Pacific during World War II.

More Stories