Monthly Archives: July 2014


Jacinta Tonga, the author of a memoir called ‘A Remarkable Rotuman Woman’, was born and raised on the island of Rotuma and now lives in Suva, Fiji. She works as a Registered Nurse with the U.S. Peace Corps. In this interview she talks about her late grandmother, her book, and her country.


Pasifika Tales: Your book is quite an intimate memoir. Why did you decide to write and publish it?

Jacinta Tonga: Well, I promised my grandmother that one day I would write her stories. She was my role model and I want my nieces, nephews and their children to get to know her through my book.

PT: Was it difficult for you to relive your past?

JT: Yes, it was quite emotional, so I tried to be positive and reflect only on her funny stories. I had a wonderful upbringing. I understand each family have their own closet issues.

PT: And what was your family’s reaction to your book? Did they like it?

JT: (The book received) a mixed reaction. Some (people) were surprised, others curious, and a few were disappointed. I did not inform them in advance. I remember one of my close cousins, Sharon Morris, who is more a sister said, I quote: ‘Jaz, I am proud of you. This book is really positive and I enjoyed it so much’. My mother is not really enthusiastic about the book, but she said that the old lady would be happy.

PT: Tell me something about your grandmother, Petera Veu. From what I can tell, she was a truly amazing woman.

JT: Yes, she was amazing and a role model to me. She was known to a lot of people to be an entertainer, and to an extend some people have commented that she was a very arrogant and mean old lady. As we are all aware, people who speak their mind and are upfront with their opinions are known to be very rude at times. She was all that, and I had never known her to say or does anything that she did not agree with.

PT: You two seemed very close. How would you describe your relationship?

JT: My grandmother was more a mother to me then my own mother. My mother is there, but the old lady brought me up. She fed me, put clothes on my back and paid for all my expenses, even my school fees. I would not have been where I am today if not for her. I wish she could have lived longer so I could have given her back a little of what she has given me.

PT: Do you think you are a lot like your grandmother?

JT: Not really, my sister Mareta and my cousin Sharon are a splitting image of her in every way. Personality wise, I am very sensitive and definitely a follower, not a leader. My grandmother was a born leader. She was friendly, kind, domineering but definitely not sensitive. She seemed to thrill in a heated argument and she was pretty good at convincing people to follow her ideas. I do not know how she did it. Maybe people just got tired of trying to prove their point.

PT: Let’s focus on Rotuman culture for a moment. Would you say it shaped you as a person? I’m asking because, as a child, you didn’t always follow the traditions of your country…

JT: Yes, in a way. I did not always follow the Rotuman culture or pay particular attention to it because my grandmother had a culture of her own. It made her happy when you did what she wanted and to me, she was everything. Before I broke any rules, even without her physical present there, I could actually see her face. At that time, if you asked me who I feared the most – God, teachers, parents or my grandmother – my answer would definitely be my grandmother. Anyway, sorry I am drifting away, but our culture did shape me in some way, especially when I left home to move to Fiji and then finally to Tonga. My identity is Rotuman, so I learn to associate myself with my heritage.

PT: Rotuma – your true home?

JT: Yes, my true home even though my grandmother’s ancestors are from Wallis and Futuna.

PT: If you were to say what places are worth visiting in Fiji, what would you choose?

JT: I would say visit Rotuma for its amazing beaches and friendly people, Savusavu to see the hot springs and Taveuni to see their famous waterfalls. If you happen to be travelling to Fiji make sure you coordinate your trip to fall during the Hibiscus week, which is around August 3rd, so that if you are bored with nature you have a carnival to attend.


‘A Remarkable Rotuman Woman’ is a very personal memoir of the late Petera Veu written by her granddaughter, Jacinta Tonga.



Petera Veu was born out of wedlock on the Fijian island of Rotuma in 1919. She was a very rebellious child, difficult to keep up with, who didn’t quite fit in with her surroundings. As she grew up, she became even more independent. She married a man that had been chosen for her by her family. They settled in Juju and had seven children: five boys and two girls. One of them was Jacinta’s mother, Faga.

When Faga got pregnant with her second child, she wasn’t able to take care of her eldest daughter, so Jacinta went to live with her grandparents. Petera was determined to raise her granddaughter as a strong, confident lady who wouldn’t be afraid to express her opinions and assert her rights. And so she did. The two women maintained a close relationship until Petera’s death in 2000.


Let me tell you something, this is not your ordinary book. Reading it doesn’t feel like reading at all. It feels like listening to an amazing story narrated by your dear friend. It is personal; very personal even. And that is why it might not suit everyone’s taste.

At this point you may be wondering, what’s so fascinating about this tale? It’s just a story of one woman’s life. That’s it. Nothing special. Actually, it is special. First of all, it is a story of a truly incredible person who was a fighter, who was brave enough to go against the tide, and whose actions spoke louder than words. Second of all, it’s a beautifully written, heartfelt memoir in which Jacinta Tonga pays tribute to her dear grandmother – her guardian angel, her teacher, her mentor. The author’s love, respect, and admiration for Petera can be felt in each and every word. There aren’t many books with such a high level of unaffected honesty. It is a rare thing to find.

Now, you may say that personal memoirs aren’t for you. And that’s quite all right. But believe me, you don’t have to enjoy reading them to like this particular one. The book, apart from being a detailed account of Petera Veu’s life, is the most compelling cultural study with vivid depictions of Fijian society and its traditions. With the focus on Rotuman customs, Jacinta paints a broad picture of the South Pacific country she proudly calls home. Her book provides readers with fascinating, profound, and extremely valuable insights into the peculiarities of Fijian culture, both past (!) and present. If you are interested in gaining such knowledge, this is the perfect (and I mean perfect) title for you.

Now, the memoir is aimed (I’m not quite sure if intentionally) at readers who find more value in a book’s substance than style. The story itself delights, the manner in which it is told – not so much. I could write, of course, that the narration lacks creativity or the author’s distinctive mode of expression, however, I don’t really feel this is needed. Sometimes you just want to go beyond aesthetic qualities and focus on what’s most important. In this case that’s the message the tale conveys.

All in all, I would say the book is worth reading. Not everyone will like it – as we all know, tastes and preferences vary from individual to individual. Nevertheless, give it a try. I did and I definitely do not regret doing so.