Saturday, September 21, 2013

Cane Cutting in Momi

I am not sure why Chris volunteered to cut sugarcane at 0730, probably a mix of curiosity and gratitude to our kind hosts, but he hardly slept last night and woke me up at 0600 this morning! Last night I baked a peach upside down cake to take to our host family together with some yogurt and yanqona. Thankfully it was high tide when we rowed to our landing beach and no wind, as it is quite far and there is a reef guarding the beach.

What the well dressed cane cutter is wearing today
The farm dog heard us long before we tramped up the hill and Fulwati popped her head from the garden hedge and pointed at the hill where the cane field was being harvested. We unloaded the cake and other items and asked her to keep the backpack until our return. She gave Chris a long sleeved shirt belonging to her husband so he would not get scratched and sunburned out there and we were off! We heard the men shouting and laughing as we approached the field. To our surprise there were three men and a boy slashing at the cane and they had a pile cut already. Chris confirmed that Subas Chand was amongst them and parting the rustling cane stalks at the road's edge, tramped over to begin his labour. One of the men shouted to a young girl at a house nearby to tell grandma that "aunty" was here but she answered that dadi (grandma)  was sleeping. I had no intention to disturb anyone that early and told them I was going for a walk to get some exercise.

This machete is quite heavy. Subas later gave Chris a lighter one, more suitable for beginners.

Some of the cane is quite tall and straight, but many canes were bent and harder to clean and stack.
The young boy gave over his machete and a glove to Chris and walked over to ride the raft-like sled pulled by two oxen to the bottom of the hill. Small loads of cane are taken to a railcar parked on a piece of track in the field in this manner.

On Saturdays the three older men who cut these fields have the help of a young man. Here he is skidding a load of cane to the bottom of the hill for loading on the rail car.

Cutters at work. These bullocks are just  grazing.
Subas demonstrated the cutting and cleaning of the cane to Chris and I took a few photos for our album from my roadside stance. I watched Chris swipe at a few canes and then hiked up to explore the valley. It was very hot already and it was not even 8 a.m. yet!

View out over Momi Bay. Ladybug to the left and a pilot boat that guides large ships through the Navula Pass. In the distance is an unfinished resort - apparently a sinkhole for government money.

In one valley I saw a little Mosque. There is a small Muslim community here.

By the time I returned after my two hour walk, Chris was cleaned up and schmoozing with Subas and Fulwati at their house. I took a walk up to the cane field with him to see the amount of cane that they had cut. The rail car was full and we found out that it probably weighed about two and half tonnes. Four men can harvest this much in less than four hours. Subas pays a local farmer F$4.50/tonne to pull the rail car by tractor to the small gauge railway a kilometer away. The car is left on a siding where it gets picked by a daily sugar cane train and taken to the Lautoka sugar mill. The rail car has a farm number on it and this is how the mill knows whom to pay. The farmer gets paid F$75-$80 per tonne of cane on today's market. A few years ago, the price was only F$45/tonne and the cost to produce amounted to almost F$20/tonne plus labour.
Rail car loaded with about 2.5 tonnes of cane - a morning's work for 4 men to cut and stack.

Close-up of cut and stacked cane
The day's load of cane awaits the train
Back at the farm, Subas had another bag of goodies ready for us - cassava roots and more oranges. Lunch was also ready - a table laden with curried fish, beans, dal, boiled eggs, rotis, rice and a delicious tomato chutney. Almost everything was fresh from their garden and very flavourful.

Fulwati explains how to de-seed tamarind
After lunch we set off to see the World War II gun batteries on the hill. You have to pay $5.00 per person to walk around the compound which affords a great view of the valley below,  the passes into the lagoon, and the islands in the vicinity. It was hot and we felt very dehydrated when we finally returned to Ladybug at 3pm. We both jumped over for a refreshing swim. It was a very full day!

Two of these guns guarded the nearby passes from Japanese advances. US, New Zealand, British, and Fiji troops were stationed here.

Momi gun battery

1 comment:

Ann Adams said...

And now Chris has a new skill to add to his resume! Wonderful story! Loved it and the pictures!