My chiefly village of Vitiritiri would be a more ideal place to live in, if only it didn’t have the painful existence of the outspoken and powerful – Momo Kisitoni. He was a pot-bellied dark man with a shiny bald head, who was feared by most villagers for his deep thundering voice and slicing tongue, that ruthlessly humiliated those who caused him dismay.
His astute business acumen and big money, that he gave generously, made him ascend to leadership positions naturally. He is our village headman, our local Primary school manager, Rugby club manager and also an outspoken man in Church – with rights to speak freely, as he pleases, because he makes the largest donation.
People struggled to make donations in church but Momo Kisitoni had a different struggle – the struggle to cut down his consumption of red fatty meat – as advised by their expensive Private Doctor in town – and reducing that bulging stomach of his.
The sensible people of Vitiritiri loath him, but there is this other gullible portion of villagers who support him, saying that he is a true leader. Momo Kisitoni is the nephew of our village chief, Ratu Tirauni, but sadly, I feel that the chief also harbors a secret fear of his nephew.
“For once we have a real man, an intelligent man who is leading the village to a better place. Our village is being pervaded with outside influence and outsiders too. Kisitoni is the only strong leader that has the vision and resources to restore the former glory of our village,” says my mother Varani, his keenest supporter.
The outsiders being my best friend Rusila’s family and two other families that had moved from villages in the hills to our village. During village meetings, Momo Kisitoni raises the motion that the outsiders residing in our village move back to their original villages, for they are taking away land and resources from the true villagers. Determined, Momo Kisitoni urges the chiefs of their original villages to take them back.
Momo Kisitoni is that man who every feminist would hate – often publicly spewing vile ideologies that are against women. The irony is that he is married to someone who I consider a feminist – my educated Aunty; Nei Mela. She has her diploma from our local University on Secretarial studies and works for a government Ministry. She is also the President of our Women’s club, which under her leadership, has become a successful support group for the economic and social empowerment of women in our village.
Nei Mela is my father’s half-sister – a very beautiful woman with a fair smooth skin and soft curly hair. Rumor has it that her father is not Tai Sakiusa, my grandmother, Tai Merewai’s 3rd husband. Instead her father is a Chinese farmer that my grandmother secretly had an affair with, while still married to her second husband.
Nei Mela wears bold red lip stick, eye liner and blush and dresses up in clothes and jewelry that raises eye brows amongst the prudent fashion police club of my village. The life of the party they called her too, always leading the festivities and dancing. On these occasions, one could see anger in Momo Kisitoni’s face. And every one of these dances would always lead to shouting, rattling of furniture and thumping noises, afterwards from their house.
My mum never liked her sister in law Nei Mela, she says that she deserves those beatings for making a fool out of her respectful husband and also that Nei Mela dresses suggestively, and her make-up makes her look like a clown. My mum suggests that instead of working Nei Mela should stay back home and focus on bearing a child, a heir for Momo Kisitoni. According to her, it is shameful for a woman not to bear children, which is the prime purpose of marrying into any family – they are considered ‘a waste of food’.
Nei Mela couldn’t remain silent anymore contrary to advice from the good housekeeping ladies, that she avoids involving authorities. She reported him after last New Years celebration after beating her up badly. However, he only received a warning, that being his first offence. Despite the beatings and clearly not sharing his stupid ideologies, Nei Mela stayed with him and I have my suspicion that she loved him too, for some unthinkable reason.
However she was his strongest opponent who never feared speaking against him publicly like others. During the farewell dinner for my cousin Tevita, who was moving to New Zealand for work, Tai Kisitoni – always arrogantly sitting above all the elders of the family on the eating mat – seized the opportunity to give a lecture on the erosion of traditional i-taukei culture from our daily lives.
Everyone nodded obediently to his words, with their mouths full and moving jaws. We all quietly ate, trying to enjoy the feast; shredding pieces of chicken and dipping it into tomato sauce, serving ourselves large servings from the chopsuey bowl, removing bones from fish, spooning green rourou with pieces of mutton into our mouths, along with soft boiled cassava and dalo.
Nei Mela serving food down below with my mum and other ladies from my family unit – started getting agitated with Momo Kisitoni. She stared angrily at him and tutt-tutted her tongue, irritated at him for killing the joyous mood with his irrelevant topic.
“Please Kisitoni shut up! We are all trying to enjoy our meals here. If you are so concerned about the ancestors, why don’t you go and join them!” Nei Mela said, stopping him in midsentence.
“Can you hear her? You see this is what I am talking about. Know your place woman! What sort of example are showing to these young girls?” my uncle roared back at my aunty.
“I am teaching them how to stand up against all the foolishness that comes from your mouth.”
A heated exchange erupted between them leaving the atmosphere awkward and uncomfortable and a solemn silence followed when the argument ended.
We, the young ladies were then told to eat faster, and to get on started with the washing of dishes immediately. I happily stood up first, collecting all the empty plates and bowls, delighted that my Aunty with her smart sassy mouth defeated Momo Kisitoni in that battle of words, making him look foolish for once.
Tai Kisitoni was the enforcer of not only culture but also of religious and moral conduct. He talked about himself all the time on Sunday’s during Church service, making himself appear faultless – perfect and supreme above all.
He knew everyone’s weakness and he would bring them up during the service, shaming the sinners in attendance – that ranged from the excessive kava drinker, the smoker, the alcoholic, the bad parents, the ganja eaters and the ganga dealers, the adulterers, sorcerers, lazy people, fornicators and the village gossipers.
It was on a Friday night when I got found out by the man himself, with his own eyes. That afternoon, I had told my mum that I would be doing tutorial questions at Rusila’s house. Me and Rusila had always been on the same class all throughout Primary School up until now where we were both first year students in University, taking the same course – Tourism and Hospitality – doing the same units and intending to work in the same posh Hotel.
My boyfriend Netani, was Rusila’s second cousin. He had always been inquiring about me to her, saying things like how pretty like the moon I was and other smothering feather-soft words. Being his cousin and being my best friend, Rusila fixed us two together. She warned me to be cautious though, not too overinvest, as he had a considerable experience in dating. I took no heed and quickly I developed the fever.
We got caught sitting in the dark, on the wooden bench underneath the mandarin tree behind Rusila’s house – our usual meeting place. We had been talking for more than an hour when all of a sudden a flash light shone upon us like we were some criminals.
“What is happening here? What are you two doing sitting in the dark?”
Tentacles of fear quickly spread across my chest when I realized that the voice was that of Momo Kisitoni. He started moving towards us, all the while continuously shining the flashlight upon us. We shamefully covered our eyes from the bright flashlight directed at our face – like Adam and Eve did in the bible from the light of God – awaiting judgement.
“Miliana, is it you? What are you doing here in the dark with Netani?” he asked.
I couldn’t answer a word. My heart was beating so loudly, my mind went numb.
“Sorry, we were just talking sir, nothing more,” answered Netani calmly which I found to be very brave of him. Another part of my brain, which was not affected by fear at that moment, loved him more for that.
“Did I ask you a question? You blarry low life, I am not talking to you. I am talking to my niece,” Momo Kisitoni answered almost spitting at Netani. He stood right in front of us, inspecting us closely.
“Stand up!” he said sharply.
We both stood up slowly. While getting on our feet, he hit Netani on the face with the thick flashlight, sending Netani down to the ground. He kicked him three times like a dog making him moan badly which had me crying.
“I didn’t tell you to stand up, you pig. What do you think of yourself? The audacity of you to court this girl. I pay for her school tuition do you know that? Just so that she don’t marry low life boys like you. What do you have? Nothing! You are nothing! There’s great plans for her and you just come in intending to ruin her life?”
“Please forgive me sir. I didn’t mean to do anything like that,” Netani murmered incoherently, crouching on the ground in shame and pain. Seeing his bleeding face sent shivers down my spine.
“Be gone now before I kill you with my own bare hands. Go!” he screamed at Netani, who quickly stood up and ran through the Hibiscus hedges, disappearing underneath the breadfruit trees.
He never said a word to me while walking me home. Poor dad was watching the six o’clock news in the living room when Momo Kisitoni stormed in with me.
“Etuate! Where is Varani?” called out Momo Kisitoni.
“Tavale (brother in law) what happened?” my father asked.
Dad stood up and muted the television with the remote, eyeing us with surprise, curious as to what sort of crime I have committed. And my mother in the kitchen, hearing his deep distinct voice and sensing alarm in it, rushed to the living room where we stood.
“Now what is wrong with you two, letting her roam around at night like this?” Momo Kisitoni asked, pointing at me.
“She was going to Rusila’s house to do some school work. What happened, where was she?” my father replied.
“I found her at the back of Rusila’s house sitting in the dark, talking intimately with Netani. Now what was that all about? You call that doing school work, huh?”
“What?” my mother shouted, just arriving in time for that part of the story – stunned and in disbelief, when she heard it.
She turned to my father and screamed at him; “This is all your fault, you are not doing enough to discipline them, you tolerate them too much – letting them do as they please. Whenever I impose something tough, you oppose it.”
“And you just let me deal with you after this!” my mother shouted at me.
“Who knows what immoral conduct they have been engaging in, in the dark. I have invested so much money onto her education, all gone to waste now,” Momo Kisitoni said.
“Etuate,” he continued, “prepare the grog bowl and the kava, Ill send word for Netani’s parents to come over here for the meeting,” Momo Kisitoni said leaving us to our own selves, which I feared, seeing the murderous look in my mothers face and the look of disappointment in my fathers.
The door was closed, my brother Jovesa was sent to fetch the thickest piece of stick he could find and was threatened that he would be beaten up with it, if it was not of good size. I was given the beating of my life by my mother with that stick – which broke into two – and the sasa broom too. My father had to stop her from hurting me further.
Around 9pm, Netani arrived with his parents, and seeing me limping into the verandah with my mother made tears stream down his face. My mother swore at him and threw all sort of abusive language at them. Poor old parents of Netani begged for my parents forgiveness – his poor old mother even cried.
Momo Kisitoni dismissed Netani from being the captain of the rugby team and from playing in the team entirely. He also fired him from working at his Car Repair shop as a mechanic, but this was later reconsidered.
We were asked if we had engaged in premarital sex and we both lied. We had done it once – my first time – in his room during new years eve when their house was empty with everyone in the village ground celebrating the new year.
“Do you love Miliana?” Momo Kisitoni asked Netani.
“I do, very much,” he answered which stunned my mother, making her curse at him.
“Will you marry her,” Tai Kisitoni asked further.
“I may not have anything but I am honest and hardworking and I can make her happy. Anything that her parents needs I will provide. The big functions and the small one’s I will undertake,” replied Netani while looking deep into my eyes. Those words changed my life forever.
Mariage was final, as decided by Momo Kisitoni. My mother cried and my dad looked down hiding his tears. Nei Mela strongly opposed it but that was futile.
We got hastily married a month later. Netani remained working for Momo Kisitoni and was to pay him back the tuition that he paid for my two semesters at University.
My uncle continues ruling with an iron fist, his judgements, not always the best nevertheless people silently obeyed. My life changed that night, and that year many changes happened within the village too. Rusila’s family gave up and moved to their original village in the hills. On the day that they moved, we stood crying on the road side while I clutched onto my stomach, heavily pregnant with my first born.