Etuate’s Intrinsic Ties to Kava

The life of 74-year-old Etuate Turavu Buakula of Nabukelevu in Kadavu is a shining example of what commitment can do to one’s wellbeing and the livelihoods of your loved ones.

Mr Buakula has been a kava farmer for more than half a decade, a little over 60 years to be exact, and one can say that kava flows in his veins just as seamlessly as his own red and white blood cells do, he is intrinsically tied to kava and kava to him is his lifeline.

From a very young age, he shouldered the responsibilities his parents asked of him, which were to look after his siblings, to provide for and to see them through school and to be the guiding hand in their life.

With that request from his parents, he sacrificed the pleasures of youthful adolescence and wants for the needs of his family and younger siblings, he threw himself into his yaqona farming to meet their educational needs without complaint and through this perseverance, he became the matriarch of the family. 

He has seen the fluctuation of yaqona prices over the years and because of this, he has mastered the art of farm management on his yaqona farm as a contingency plan should anything befall his farm.

He admits that his yaqona farming has seen better days from the mere start of $0.40 per kilogram in the swinging 60s and 70s. 

One could argue that yaqona is to Kadavu what happiness is to Fijians, both being synonymous with each other and capitalizing on this agricultural crop on Kadavu, Etuate saw it as his mainstay and the most viable option to meet his family’s needs and obligations throughout all these years.

As fate would have it, Mr Buakula wed the love of his life in 1980, by then, he had seen to all the needs and wants of his younger siblings who had all left their nest to pursue their own lives and achieve their goals, all owing to the fortitude and love their eldest brother had for them which was all borne from the land and kava.

This perseverance grew with the increase in the price of kava from the meagre $0.40 to $0.60 right up to $2.00 per kilogram in 1981.

He clearly remembers one of his best harvests in 1981 right after the increase in yaqona prices, it was just in time for his yaqona to be harvested and this fetched him five bales and seven sacks, earning him $1,900.00, an amount he found rewarding at that time.

On his farm after the great harvest of 1981, he kept pushing beyond his limits, surpassing his annual target of planting 5,000 yaqona plants each year as he felt better yaqona pricing days looming.

With his siblings completing their education and starting families of their own, he set out to make his dream of building his own family house a reality. With his own family to look after, he took his farming up another notch to accommodate all his children would ask of him, be it for their education or daily living.

From the same yaqona farm, he was able to put his son through to Ratu Kadavulevu School and for Etuate, he employed the same approach he had done for his siblings whereby he respected the decisions they made and this was also reflected in his children, his only role in it was to provide the support required to further their ambitions.  

His stride to put all his children through the best education possible bore fruition when his youngest daughter graduated from tertiary education in 2018, bringing an end to all his years of farming to meet the educational needs of his family members.

With the increasing demand for kava in both local and export markets, the sweet news of further increases in the price of kava was welcomed by all farmers, with the upward trend of kava demand and prices from 1986 through to 1987 up till the dawn of the new millennium as yaqona prices earned them $30-$50 per kilogram for waka alone, this was a positive indication for farmers and was just rewards for Mr Buakula as he had stuck to yaqona farming throughout.

The ravaging effects of Tropical Cyclone Winston in 2016 were both a lesson and a blessing to farmers of Kadavu.

For Etuate his 6,000-8,000 yaqona plants withstood the trials of TC Winston and remained undamaged, he shared he had always expected the unexpected and he counts himself fortunate that his farm was unscathed.  

He harvested a few of his yaqona after the devastation of TC Winston with the rest maturing in 2018 earning him a lucrative revenue and because his long-term goals of farming for the education of his siblings and children had been achieved, he then shifted his focus to his next goal which was purchasing assets for his family.

In 2018, he bought two vehicles to assist his family and their yaqona business and while one remained in Suva the other, a 4WD vehicle was taken to Kadavu as the rugged terrain and the road conditions on the island best suited 4WD vehicles.

This was in addition to a piece of land, he bought in Natabua, Lautoka which now houses a home he also built from the sales of his yaqona farm.

Over the years, he has learnt the tricks of selling in the yaqona market and from his previous encounters, he decided that it was more profitable to sell his yaqona as a farmer instead of selling it to middle-men who often profited off the work of farmers. With this thought in mind, he began selling yaqona from his home in Lautoka.

In 2019, on his piece of land overlooking the two villages of Nasau and Daviqele with oceanic views of Nabukelevu, Mr Buakula built his 5 bedroom family home which was completed in 2020.

With the challenges he faced lately with the sudden demise of his wife and son, Etuate remains the devoted provider for his family and has not shown signs of ever slowing down as he has yet again set another goal for himself which is to purchase land in Suva and build another home for his family in the Capital City of Fiji.

He has grown over the years from single-handedly attending to his farm, he now employs labourers to tend to his farm, who under his watchful eye this year planted 400 yaqona plants and targets to increase it to the usual 5,000 targets by December.

His daily routine of being on the farm before the break of dawn and being on the farm till dusk has paid off over the years for the determined Mr Buakula as he has achieved his goals and has managed his farm with practices learnt along the way.

He said that throughout the years of his yaqona farming, he has managed to circumvent unforeseen circumstances and has put in place strategies to mitigate losses from pests and diseases as well as natural disasters.    

Speaking in iTaukei, he shared some sound piece of advice, “Ena vuqa na nomu vei siga vinaka vata kei na nomu veisiga ca, ia, mo vakatulewa vakamatau, ka vakayagataka vakavinaka na nomu gauna, kakua ni o yalo totolo se yalo lailai, raica na ka o vinakata, ena rawa vakavinaka na ka o gadreva kevaka walega mo vakatulewa dodonu.” 

“There will be good and bad days, but you must use your time wisely, and make sound critical decisions, be content with what you have and don’t be disheartened, visualize what you want and you can achieve it, you will excel in what you hope to achieve if only you make the wise decisions.”