I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Ratu Apenisa Vuki, the Tui Kubulau, in December 2017. I had worked closely with the Tui Kubulau since his father passed away in 2008, shortly after I arrived in Fiji.
After being installed as high chief, Ratu Apenisa quickly followed in his father’s footsteps in becoming a champion for conservation in Kubulau District. He oversaw the development of a district-level, ridge-to-reef management plan, a first for Fiji, and led its endorsement in 2009. The management plan linked together the various conservation activities happening in the district, from forest conservation in the highlands to a growing network of marine protected areas over the reef, including Kubulau’s crown jewel, the Namena Marine Reserve.
Many of the divers visiting the Namena Marine Reserve on liveaboards like the Nai’a had the opportunity to stop by Kiobo village for a visit, where Ratu Apensia was always there to greet them with a warm welcome and musical hits from the 1960s and ‘70s played on his guitar. In fact, every time I visited Kiobo I was instructed to sing-along to “your song”, and we always did a raucous rendition of Hotel California by the Eagles.
Ratu Apenisa was very concerned about the loss of traditional knowledge and stories among the people of Kubulau. He was hugely supportive of WCS’s efforts to capture some of the traditional knowledge around marine and coastal species that we published in our EcoTales from Kubulau book.
I am very privileged to have been able to know Ratu Apensia and observe how he led his people with quiet grace. I was also fortunate enough to be able to attend the funeral with some of our Fiji program staff, which was a fitting tribute to a leader who will be much missed.