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Media Center > Speeches > HON PM BAINIMARAMA SPEECH AT THE HANDING OVER OF REPATRIATED TABUA FROM THE NEW ZEALAND GOVERNMENT T

HON PM BAINIMARAMA SPEECH AT THE HANDING OVER OF REPATRIATED TABUA FROM THE NEW ZEALAND GOVERNMENT TO THE FIJIAN GOVERNMENT

5/29/2017
The NZ High Commissioner, H.E. Mr. Mark Ramsden,
The Secretary-General for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES), Mr. John Scanlon,
Honourable Ministers,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon to you all.

I’m delighted to be here today on this historic occasion as my Government receives 148 repatriated sperm whales’ teeth – known in Fiji as “Tabua” – back from the New Zealand Government.

In a very real sense, we are welcoming 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, or CITES – worked collaboratively to make this happen. Vinaka vakalevu.

The true value of the Tabua to the Fijian people is difficult to express in words, but I think it was put well by historian Ronald Albert Derrick, when he described it as “the price of life and death”. For us as Fijians, there are few items that carry greater significance and, historically, Tabua were exchanged among chiefs on only the most sacred and important occasions. For example, they were given as gifts in times of reconciliation, as a dowry for marriages or to strengthen an alliance.

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.

Since 2010, we’ve instituted a quota on the trade and export of Tabua in Fiji, in line with our commitment under the CITES. In fact, due to our efforts to protect the whale populations in our waters, only Tabua recovered from stranded sperm whales can add to the number of Tabua in circulation in Fiji.

I am extremely proud of my Government’s commitment to limit our trade of Tabua in order to protect the sperm whales – a species currently classified as vulnerable. The reality is, while we clearly place enormous value on the cultural importance of the Tabua, our love and respect for our oceans, seas and marine life will always take precedence. Our deep affinity for the sea defines who we are as a nation and as a people, so we are happy to do our part to protect a species that shares our ocean and that for so long has been an intimate part of our way of life.

That love for our oceans is why the world is looking to Fiji to lead the community of nations to reduce the pollution and overfishing that is threatening the health of our oceans and seas, as we co-host the UN Conference on Oceans with Sweden next month in New York. In that regard, this exchange is very timely, as we receive back items that symbolise a deep tie between our ocean ecosystems and our nation’s cultural wealth.

We look forward to working alongside New Zealand at the conference to rally the international community to commit to the conservation and sustainable use of our oceans, seas and marine resources. An issue of vital importance to the Fijian people, and to every person who calls the Pacific home.

Thank you again to the Government of New Zealand for working with us to safely return these Tabua to their rightful home in Fiji. They are true national treasures and, now that they are back, they will bring warmth, pride and a deep sense of cultural belonging into the homes of those who receive them.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.
 
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