In long-standing Fijian custom, each tribe has its own series of totems which usually include a fish, a bird, and a tree. “Nuqa”, the spinefoot rabbitfish are the traditional totemic fish of Yavusa Naisaqai, including Waitabu village.
When these fish spawn, their larval stages circulate in the open ocean until settlement time, when the juvenile fish come back to the reef and seagrass beds where they will spend the rest of their lives.
This settlement event, when thousands of tiny fish arrive on the shallow inshore reefs, has a specific linkage to Waitabu’s identity and is marked with clear ritual protocols.
In November 2021 there was an exceptionally large nuga settlement event.
There is a saying in Waitabu that if everything is alright in the community, the nuqa will appear. When they do, there is a ritual called “ta nuqa” (literally, fetching nuqa) performed at the beach to catch these tiny animals.
The harvest is carried out by senior village women wearing traditional dress, the formal sulu jaba (a long dress with bright colorful designs) , spreading out a 5-foot long gillnet and driving the fish by slapping the water with short branches of “Dawa” leaves (Pometia pinnata)
Thousands of shiny silvery rabbitfish are then scooped up and dumped into buckets.
Traditionally it is important that the first basket of fish be given to the village chief, the “Tui Nasau“, after which the remainder is divided up among the families of Waitabu and the neigbouring villages.
This exceptional harvest of November 2021 is taken to signify that the communities of the area are in good order and that harmony reigns.
Previously the most memorable “ta nuqa” event to most villagers was the one in 2004.
Before then, the juvenile rabbitfish had not arrived for several years. In December 2004, however, an abundance of this tiny fish suddenly appeared in the foreshore. The ensuing harvest was so successful that today villagers still remember the scene vividly.
It was significant because it was the first time that they had appeared for many years, and was interpreted as the rightfulness of the conservation and ecotourism project, the Waitabu Marine Park, established in 1998.
More details of the 2011 event can be found on pages 220 – 226 of the PhD thesis of Hao-li Lin , click here.