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INSPIRATION: 30 Years Later: In Search Of Peniasi Qanilawalala

INSPIRATION: 30 Years Later: In Search Of Peniasi Qanilawalala
Photographer Rory Merry with the photo of Peniasi Qanilawalala of Taveuni Island. He took this photo 30 years ago. Photo: Arishma Devi-Narayan
October 11
12:10 2017

It was thirty years ago, in the weeks leading up to the 1987 coup that Irish photographer, Rory Merry set foot in Fiji to take photos around the country.

Now the 69-year-old has returned with 280-odd collection of photos he took of communities in Vanua Levu, Taveuni, Ovalau, Kadavu and around Viti Levu.

Mr Merry is back to reconnect with the people he took shots of and to present them the historic photos.

“To be honest, I originally came to Fiji because back then it was seen as a ‘place in the middle of nowhere’,” Mr Merry said.

“I spent around two months travelling across the country — from Taveuni and Kadavu to the Coral Coast – a whole load of places,” he said.

“I’ve got folder and folders of photos. I had promised I would give them back and here I am.”

As a foreigner to Fiji, Mr Merry was unaware he had arrived just prior to the 1987 coup.

“You know, not being from here, I didn’t realise the significance of this photo – an Indo-Fijian and native Fijian shaking hands,” he said showing one of his photos.

“But I distinctly remember my taxi driver saying to me ‘something is going to happen next week’ – and he was right, it did.”

While Mr Merry’s collection includes photos of kava ceremonies, teenagers riding horses, boats and hunting trips, he is determined to find one particular man he had met on Taveuni.

While exploring a piece of land, walking down a hill on the Island of Taveuni, Mr Merry came across a “wild, fierce and strong man with killer looks” approach him out of nowhere.

Peniasi  Qanilawalala with a sharp strong spear in his hand asked Mr Merry what he was doing there and told the photographer that he was not supposed to be there.

“I apologised and as we started talking he threw a spear straight into the belly of a tree.

“He said he was there to keep men and wild pigs off his premises.”

Peniasi ended up introducing Mr Merry to his family, further revealing a future grand plan.

“He told me he wanted to build a resort here, however I am intrigued to find out if this has really happened,” he said in excitement.

Mr Merry had spent at least four hours with Peniasi capturing him and his family’s story through photos.

In recalling his memories, the Irish photographer distinctly remembers Peniasi’s son, having bright blonde hair.

“This man told me whenever you come (to) Fiji you come home,” Mr Merry said.

Mr Merry needs to accomplish his mission, he must meet Peniasi. He leaves for Taveuni on Friday to look for Peniasi.

“I did promise the guy I would give him his photo back.”

After hisTaveuni quest, Mr Merry will continue on to the Western division before finally returns to his San Francisco residence.

Mr Merry pleads to the members of the public to come forward if they recognise any of the individuals in his photos.

If you do have any further information please contact Jyoti Pratibha at the Fiji Sun (phone: 9982077).

Edited by Karalaini Waqanidrola

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