Words to Live by
The conservation movement and WWF-Pacific has been made poorer by the loss and untimely passing of one of its Conservation Programme pioneers, the late Mrs Penina Rogoyawa Namata.
If there was ever any two words that would best describe the late Penina, as she was affectionately referred to by those who worked with her, it was poise and dignity. With a wealth of knowledge and quiet resolve, Penina interwove her skills by helping community women recognize their different interests in community issues which also strengthened their ability to work together.
This was evident as she helped weave that dream into reality for the women of Navakasobu and Korovuli in Macuata as a project assistant for one of WWF Pacific’s earliest projects in Fiji, the MacuataKuta Wetlands Restoration initiative in 1998.
In her words, the late Penina writes;
“I remember our first visit during the drought of 1998, when the pond was devoid of life: dried up, the parched surface cracked by the merciless sun. I remember the various workshops and the women’s pride as they documented their traditional knowledge and the importance of the pond to their traditions and cultural obligations,”
“I recall the women’s tenacity as they carried out the restoration work according to the action plan they designed. I smile remembering how the men and the young people of the village joined in to remove water lily bulbs – the dreaded enemy of the kuta –from the bottom of the pond with their bare hands, My heart is heavy as I remember other women from the village as well as colleagues who have passed on or moved away . I wish they were here to see their ‘green’ dream come true and to share in the women’s happiness.”
“I see the future too, the new generation of Navakasobu women, and I know that kuta will live on in the community for a very long time.”
She modeled her beliefs every day, having established an organic farm on her native island of Cikobia, where she helped women identify opportunities by value adding to local products such as converting root crops into flour.
Cikobia is one of the furthest islands located off the coast of Udu point in Vanualevu.
It is at Udu, that Fiji’s biologically diverse reef system also known as the Great Sea Reef begins, weaving its way, creating and sustaining marine life for the many villages and communities from the four provinces of Macuata, Bua, Ra and Ba.
From those formative years of just three staff of the Great Sea Reef programme, Penina Namata was part of a dynamic team who visualized the growth and expansion of conservation work across Fiji, her contribution also reached the shores of Fiji’s coral coast particularly Tikina Wai and Malomalo village in Nadroga where together with the Fijian government, they had put a stop to the harvesting and sale of live rock in aquarium trade for the Malomalo community in 2004.
Live rock refers to the coral rubble, base limestone and reef rock that is covered with pink to purplish coralline algae used as bio-filters in aquariums. In nearby Tikina Wai, Penina worked closely with the last remaining woman, Tai Butani to protect mangroves and revive and transfer knowledge of traditional salt making to younger women within the community. Today the activity thrives as a tourism stopover in Lomaiwai Village and the traditional salt production is the main attraction.
Penina’s work did not stop there, as a consultant for WWF-Pacific, hers was a life dedicated to conservation, improving community livelihoods, microfinance and skills training, she believed in the cause and was very passionate about her work.
In Sawaieke-Gau, WWF was approached by the district traditional head the Takala-i-Gau to assist in managing resources from which a marine biological baseline assessment of Tikina Sawaieke’s marine resources was undertaken to map out marine habitat health towards establishing and monitoring the communities marine protected area.
It was in Gau, that she together with the WWF team developed the district marine protected area (mpa); an extensive 20km barrier reef located 7 kilometers from shore that protects the deep lagoon which characterizes the entire coastline with a diverse array of marine habitats and mangrove forests which line the shoreline.
She also contributed to major scientific writings and was much loved and admired by both the communities she worked with in addition to her conservation colleagues locally and internationally.
Today, the Great Sea Reef programme has grown in leaps and bounds to become the flagship conservation programme for WWF-Pacific Fiji championing the cause of sustainable development and empowering communities.
In her words from “Weaving a dream into reality,” the late Penina said in 2002, as she stood looking over the lush green pond full of the long cylindrical shiny green kuta leaves waving in the breeze of Laulevu pond in Navakasobu, transformed over a twelve month period from a pink covered pond (pink flowers of the waterlily).
“I give thanks for the scene before me, where the dormant kuta has sprung to life and fulfilled the women’s vision, a blessing for this rural community. Visions of old merging with dreams of new, honest, sweat and sheer dedication make the beautiful sight before me special.”
It is this dedication that epitomizes her passion as a conservationist, mother, colleague and dear friend which has inspired a new generation of conservationists to rediscover traditional skills, knowledge, values and practices and build community confidence.