Olympics | SPORTS

Fiji’s Golden Gift

  Satendra Nandan is Fiji’s leading writer. His fourth book of essays, Dispatches from Distant Shores, will be published later this year.   A well-wisher I have never met—someone who
16 Aug 2016 10:45
Fiji’s Golden Gift
Satendra Nandan


Satendra Nandan is Fiji’s leading writer. His fourth book of essays, Dispatches from Distant Shores, will be published later this year.


A well-wisher I have never met—someone who likes my writing in Fiji, wrote a rather moving line:

Satendra, Nation united in joy and celebration, cheers.

He’s a journalist and, therefore, I could see how carefully the words are chosen.

First comes the idea of a nation united, in a momentous moment of joy and celebration.

If winning the first Olympic gold medal for Fiji, in fact in the South Pacific, is historic, it’s also celebratory in a special way.

Almost a million people within Fiji are celebrating; and almost as many outside Fiji who have some ties with Fiji, historical and human and sporting.

My friend’s note captures the joy of this Fijian victory. A country so recently devastated by a cyclone, needs all the help it can get. And this Rugby Sevens  gold medal is truly a shot in the arm of a small nation with a big heart.

That it should happen in front of Fiji’s Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, has its own significance. No person has attempted to create a new Fiji with more visionary determination than this naval officer who knows his sea of islands and the islands of his people.

And this Fijian victory and much more is built on a team made of individuals. On the decency of its people, every community grows creatively.

It’s not insignificant that in the final, the Sevens ruby team defeated the England 43-7. The margin is six times.

Great Britain shouldn’t feel too bad about it—after all, it taught us rugby and also gave us the gift of parliamentary democracy.

I’m not a rugby player: my favourite game in Fiji  was soccer, Votualevu style.

Soccer was played in the villages, on the banks of a river, on the harvested cane-fields and the rugged and rocky playgrounds of one’s school.

But as a school kid, whenever I went to buy an ice-cream in Mr  N.Nataly’s shop near Nadi airport, I saw on the mud-laden grass our  youths ,bare-chested with bootless feet, kicking an oblong ball whether it was rain or shine.

And you heard the thuck, thuck of the ball and the shouts of joy and the heavy running on the wet, muddy ground.

In the corner of the field there were  two  fenced tennis courts where elegantly dressed men and women played their games of tennis.

That was more than fifty years ago. The world has changed in Fiji; so have some of us.

So a few years ago when I was n Fiji, the rugby ground was still full of youngsters.

The Fiji Sevens team had captured the imagination of the nation and whenever , wherever they played the people watched them on their television sets in my village where I spent my evenings.

Rugby had had knit a nation as nothing else had, so far.

There was a spirit of play in my childhood playing fields, and as I walked from the new shop on to the airport road ,the evening sun was setting in its spangled colours over a peaceful ocean : there was a splendor in the grass and a glory reflected in the rolling waves.

As you walked down that road, you saw the vast ocean ; a plane or two coming to land  on a shining tarmac and you  stopped to watch the marvel of aviation on the grounds where once you grazed your one holy cow, two bullocks and a horse named Charlie.

Down the road now there’s a temple. Next to it a statue of the fabled character Hanuman, the first flying  General of an army. People come to pray and sing there and stare at the vanishing sun.

Then you walk on: you see the airport lights glimmering amongst the trees with red flowers—Christmas trees we used to call them but they must have a long Latin name I never learned.

You strolled further down the road, and met smartly dressed young men and women coming across the fence—they were being trained in the Flying School as future pilots.

On the right there’s a mosque with its dome shining in the last rays of the evening as birds flew over it.

And as you trudge further, and take a bend, there’s a church with a large, lit Cross.

I was always moved by  these sights for I remembered my childhood and youth, recalled old friends who had migrated to other countries, even to other worlds. And I’ve never seen such symbols of our human heritage near another airport in any part of the world I’ve travelled in.

To the new shopkeepers near the airport, you were just another stranger, not someone who ate the last slices of fresh pineapple that grew in the plantations in my adolescence, where now the shops sell tinned pineapple.

And as Fiji got the gold, I remembered all this for it’s the history of your childhood and your childhood’s history is the most authentic.

All these thoughts came to my mind as Fiji won its FIRST Olympic gold.

The cheers are well deserved and reverberated across a world.  Until then, these Olympic games had not interested me: the scandals, the crass commercialism, the treatment of protesters, the sewerage floating in the sea, the waters turning from blue to sludgy green, the incomplete facilities for the athletes, doping, Zika virus, the president of the country removed because of corruption, had put me off the Games.

Why should these games be given to countries with terrible human rights records is beyond my understanding.

The modern Olympic Games, founded in 1896 and first held in Athens, were to reflect the glory of human prowess, not the national jingoism that often mars the individual feats of many an unknown young man or woman.

It’s only when Fiji won that I began taking some interest in these current games.

In my book of poems The Loneliness of Islands, published in 2007, I’d attempted six pages of haikus.


One , on page 226, reads:

The Captain of Sevens

Lifting the Champions trophy

Uplifting children’s hearts to heavens.


Many commentators think Fiji is known for Race, Religion and Rugby, not necessarily in that order.

But there’s more to this nation of islands, where no man or woman is an island:


The golden sun first rises

On many lost paradises :

Only Fijians hold the gold

Champions -brave ‘n’ bold.


From a tiny world they came

To put big countries to shame;

It’s good it happened in Brazil

How happily proud we all feel!


There was  a riot of colours in Rio

They showed their  special brio:

For Britain – a deed of cession?

For us a magnificent obsession!


The tree of man was never quiet

Even as Rio was in a sporting riot,

The gale of a ball blew ever so high

The Fijians had learnt to score and fly!


Salute the boys, fine champions all :

The tough, the short , the wiry tall!

A  famous victory, a people’s pride

Uplifting the spirit from every side.


A light shimmers on the ocean

And the sun rises – ever  golden

Nothing now needs to be spoken

Hearts filled with deep emotion.


A friend wrote from The Hague

(He didn’t want me to be vague)

‘Fiji should have a week’s holiday

For their wonderful spirit of play.’


It is not bronze, or silver but gold

As our  small poet had foretold!

The Boys have done it again, again

And brought glory without a stain.


This is Fiji’s gift of gold: a story

Full of a nation’s playful glory ;

A winning lesson for one and all

Told by players with a rugby ball!

Feedback: leonec@fijisun.com.fj


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