Your Excellency President Taneti Maamau and Madam Teiraeng Maamau,
Hon. Ministers, Members of Parliament, Secretaries,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Bula Vina’a and good evening,
Your Excellency, let me begin by saying it is indeed an honour and a great privilege for Sulueti and I to be here in Tarawa for the very first time representing the people of Fiji. This State visit is my first international engagement since assuming office on Christmas Eve and is significant on many levels.
As you know your Excellency Fiji for the first time elected its Prime Minister on the floor of Parliament and I was elected by the power of the majority of one. It was on Christmas eve and it was by secret ballot, the following day the world stood still to remember the birth of one child in Bethlehem. I believe it was the power of that one child in our prayers for so many years that gave us that majority of one on the floor of parliament.
On a personal level I’m deeply moved to be here, the ancestral home of our Banaban people on Rabi Island displaced and moved probably against their will to be on Rabi Island in Cakaudrove which is my home province. They have played a major part in the affairs of Cakaudrove Province. Our paramount chief is now the Speaker of our House of Representatives in Fiji – our parliament.
I went to school with some distinguished sons of Rabi at Queen Victoria School. One of them was a nominated member of your Parliament here from Rabi and was also a member of the Parliament in Fiji; David Christopher. He and I were together at Queen Victoria School in Fiji.
The Banaban community on Rabi has now become a very important part of the rich fabric of multi-cultural Fiji and our government encourages them to cultivate their unique identity and historical ties with the people, the government and the land of Fiji.
Many of the original inhabitants of Banaba never saw their homeland again but I believe they are with us in spirit tonight, I believe all smiling because we continue with the rich tradition of the Pacific and our family connections. They have become my kinsfolk; they have become my family. You therefore are my kinsman and also my family.
As is our custom in Fiji, after we have been away from our villages for an extended period of time, when we come back, we perform the ceremony of the boka. We commemorate historical ties and connections with the land, the sea and each other and consolidate a sense of family, a sense of oneness, a sense of unity.
Today, earlier in the day when we presented our sevusevu and the kamunaga – tabua or whale’s tooth as our boka, it was our way of saying to you thank your or looking after those that have left us. Thank you for observing the rights and rituals and ceremony associated with deaths in our families and our tribes. Because we were not there, we presented our boka this afternoon.
Retrospectively we were part of your grief, we were part of those ceremonies, those noble ceremonies of thanksgiving to the departed souls and certainly to God for having given us a father, a mother, a brother or a sister whom we have enjoyed their lives on earth with us. We did that so that we can emphasise our oneness, our unique culture and unity. You all know, it is in unity that God commands his blessings.
Your Excellency I’m reminded of the poem that you shared in the United Nations in 2016 and we heard about it again tonight – The Frigate Bird. It paints a magnificent picture of Kiribati’s journey as a nation, your resilience, your strength, your unity. A particular verse with the few lines
“Arise my frigate bird with valor and strength,
Rise over the perilous tides from the east
And fly brave and proud on the currents of wind,
For you are and always will be my transformation”
My traditional bird is a stork – the belo. I’m wearing that tonight; it is the design of the shirt and frocks the men and women wore on the 3rd of this month when we congregated at home to open our new hall. It was built using our own labour and our own funds. I wanted to finish that before the end of elections. I wanted to show the people, the provinces, the villages that we can do it with very little or no government assistance at all.
I laid the foundation with my chief in March of last year and I told him that we’ll open it on the 2nd of January. As we came closer to the 2nd, he said can we delay? I said to when? He said to the 3rd of January. I said yes, okay. They wanted one day to prepare for the ceremonies after the Sunday, which was the 1st.
In October, my deputy in our committee went home and said when my chief asked him; “Who is going to open the hall? He said; “The Prime Minister.” That was few months before the elections. When we went back two weeks later and he said this is where Siti’s car will be and this is where Siti’s bodyguard will be. I’m Siti. That was before the election. The power of one came into play. We were all praying for victory and we were all praying that Siti would come and open the hall.
Last week, I launched a book written by a friend and right through his speech to those that were gathered there, he said, “Right at the beginning I was determined and right through the process I prayed. So at the end of his address he reminded everyone of those two words; determination and prayer.
Work with those whatever the endeavor you might be involved in, you shall succeed. Under your leadership Your Excellency Kiribati is on the cusp of major transformation like a frigate bird. The frigate bird is a magnificent creature in flight and its unique ability to adapt itself to the winds to soar effortlessly is a great illustration of your leadership and the resilience of your people.
Today I have been privileged to hear more about Excellency’s vision and sentiments on leadership in the Pacific. Thank you for our discussion. I have the opportunity to talk with you on issues of common interest. Our shared values and our future as fellow Pacific Islanders. I deeply appreciate the spirit of friendship and goodwill that has been manifested during this visit and the outcomes of our discussion today. I look forward to meeting your Excellency in Fiji very soon and reciprocating his kindness and your hospitality.
I also share the same sentiments we shared today with those at the Forum two days ago. My hope that we would be seeing your government endorse the return of this great nation to your family in the Pacific.
Try as we might, we cannot ignore the common histories that enabled our founding fathers to build the cornerstone of a regional family house. They were – those leaders were visionaries in their own right and if anything their voices carry over the waves the message that we need each other more than ever before and I remind us all that a “house divided shall not stand.”
This is our unique opportunity to make peace and progress as a Forum family. But we must be diligent about it, we cannot work in isolation, we must work together in unity.
As we presented the tabua this afternoon, there were words of apologies in the presentation, we apologized for how Fiji had acted in the time of the crisis in our association – in our family.
When you accepted it, you accepted our apology. We thank you and we look forward to seeing you in Fiji in the near future.
I would like to acknowledge the sacrifices the Kiribati people in the fight against the existential threat of climate change.
I said today as we were driving around that no one who has not been to your great nation can go and talk wisely about climate change. They need to come here to see the ravages of climate change on your land, on your island and your people. Our shared struggle have been compounded by the pandemic that has tested our health systems almost to the point of failure. The consequences have been tragic and severe and we must continually do all we can to ensure our peoples have a secure future.
Your Excellency, I’d like to conclude my remarks with your own blessing, Te Mauri, Te Raoi.
We pray for you; we pray for you and your people. We pray for the people of the Pacific and I thank you for being a humble leader and I thank you that in all the functions we have had you started with a prayer. Sadly this cannot happen in Fiji as we have constitutionalised secularism. That will change, all it takes is determination and prayer.
I end with the words of wisdom from Michael the Prophet, and remind all leaders who are here tonight, what does God require of you oh man but to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.
God Bless you.
Finally, I ask you to join me in a toast to our wonderful hosts, His Excellency President Maamau and Mrs. Maamau and to the wonderful people of the Kiribati.
To the prosperity of Kiribati and Fiji.
To the health of everyone present tonight!