Picture: Apete Camaibau (left) in front of his voivoi shed.
Planting voivoi (pandanus) is largely considered a women’s role in traditional Fijian customary practices, however, for 70-year-old Apete Camaibau, it’s his bread and butter.
Of the many talents he possesses, and among his more conventional farming, engaging himself in voivoi planting is one of his more treasured activities.
The Vione man in Gau is a ‘voivoi’ farmer who does everything from the maintenance of his voivoi farm to the stripping of the thorns, to its boiling and drying, right up to the rolling of the long stacks of pandanus caricosus leaves.
The account of Apete’s 20 years of experience as a voivoi farmer illustrates a number of social instruments that impacts the progress of a man in a more female-centric agricultural venture.
His voivoi farm has a total of 3,000-4,000 pandanus trees which is not only for farming but also considered by him as his safe haven.
“Voivoi is known to be for ladies but for me, I see that men can also be involved in this and it has provided for my family needs and wants and has built a home over our heads,” he said.
“This is also a place where I go to and have some much-needed me-time and often, ideas would arise while I am surrounded by the voivoi, I would often talk to the plants and I find solace in it.”
Voivoi is made by cutting the leaves off the voivoi plant, stripping off the thorns, then hanging them out in the sun to dry.
Once dried, a mussel shell is used to scrape each leaf repeatedly until it smoothens and then is rolled, boiled and dried again in the final process.
Apete has secured his voivoi market with a Vanua Levu lady at the Suva Market selling the voivoi at $25 dollars per white coils with each roll containing between 80 to 120 pieces and $60 for the ‘somo’ (black voivoi).
The ‘somo’ or rolls of black voivoi is used for the stripes in the art of mat weaving, the black colour is a result of boiling the voivoi in a special leaf or batteries in water for a few hours.
The voivoi business has excelled over the years enabling him to build his family home. He has also worked tirelessly to build upon his voivoi dream and has also managed to build a shop that operated in the village until his Mataqali established its own shop in the village.
Not only did he build a home and a shop, Apete with the voivoi money put his children through their education.
“The challenges I face are the pests that often destroy the voivoi leaves and the change in the weather pattern, when it is rainy and wet I find it most hard to look after my voivoi,” he said.
With all the triumphs and challenges he faces, he has set a vision to better his voivoi business and to purchase a vehicle from the voivoi sales to assist with his market and to build a warehouse for drying of his voivoi during rainy seasons.
“Voivoi compared to other crops, will only be planted once and will continue for generations, whereas the other crops, after harvest you will need to replant,” he said.
“I would like to advise our youth, this can also be used as one of the short term commodities you can cultivate to generate income every month and can earn you approximately $2,000-$3,000 monthly while waiting for your yaqona plants to mature in 3-5 years,” advised the also skilled fisherman.