146 Tabua Returned

Front Row: Men from Nawaka village carrying the repatriated Tabua’s. Back Row: Minister for Local Government, Parveen Bala, Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama, New Zealand High Commissioner to Fiji, Mark Ramsden and New Zealand Department of Conservation Representative, Joe Herawera. Photo: MARGARET NAQIRI.

By ANA SOVA

146 Tabua (polished sperm whale teeth), that were taken into New Zealand from Fiji have been returned by the New Zealand Government.

The Tabua were seized over the years from people travelling into New Zealand without a permit to carry the iTaukei traditional item.

New Zealand High Commissioner to Fiji, Mark Ramsden handed the Tabua to the Prime Minister, Voreqe Bainimarama during a repatriation ceremony at the Double Tree Resort in Sonaisali on Monday.

Mr. Ramsden said New Zealand is strongly committed to the protection of endangered species.

“New Zealand joined the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in 1989 and passed implementing legislation that same year,”

“The legislation requires anyone bringing an item made from a protected species including a Tabua into New Zealand, to have a permit,” Mr. Ramsden said.

He said given the close links between Fiji and New Zealand, with many people travelling back and forth, it is important that awareness is raised on this fact.

“It is perfectly fine to bring a Tabua with you, so long as the travelers have the appropriate permits from both Fijian and New Zealand authorities,” Mr. Ramsden said.

He said repatriation of seized items is an unusual transaction, so it was indeed a special event.

“It gives me great delight on behalf of the New Zealand Government, to return these taonga (Tabua) to their rightful home here in Fiji and their rightful kaitiaki (guardians),” Mr. Ramsden said.

Mr. Bainimarama said in a very real sense we welcome these Tabua back home, in an exchange that bears deep cultural and historical meaning for Fiji and the Fijian people.

“ And full credit goes to both the Fijian and Kiwi border enforcement agencies who under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna worked collaboratively to make this happen,” Mr. Bainimarama said.

He said the true value of the Tabua to the Fijian people is difficult to express in words.

“To this day, the deep cultural value of Tabua for Fijians has remained undiminished, as we still exchange Tabua during weddings, funerals, birthdays and during important negotiations,” Mr. Bainimarama said.