Picture: Naina Magitiwai in her dairy shed.
Being whisked away by the love of her life to the dairy fields of Serea, Naitasiri now seems like a distant memory for 69-year-old Naina Magitiwai.
At the ripe young age of 19 years, Naina was betrothed to Talaiasi Mualuvu, a dairy farmer from the settlement of Vatuwaqa in Serea, and as a young lass, she was in for a surprise as she had never once before experienced the rigors of dairy farming, she was more accustomed to crop farming back then.
She described her first encounters with cows and milking as arduous and physically straining on her but it was the love she had for her husband that helped her to perservere, this would become her new normal and be woven into the fabric of her marriage to Talaiasi.
“To me personally, I knew how to plant crops, that was my farming but milking was a totally new experience and I was introduced to it by my husband and his family,” she said.
“Milking involves waking up early in the morning, and each morning the farm would be bustling with people scurrying to the milking shed at the break of dawn,” she said with fond memories.
“On my first account I would wince and cry from the pain, objecting to the pain milking does to my fingers and also because of the huge change to my sleeping patterns,” she said.
During their time alone as a couple, her husband would reassure her, “Keep practicing and you will surely get the hang of it and over the years I did,” she smiled.
“I remember my father-in-law’s rule on the farm - every morning, no one must sleep-in, all family members are to be in the milking shed before we could have breakfast, and in the afternoon, tea and biscuit was always in abundance, and that was our routine.
Those were Naina’s first experiences as an amateur of sorts at milking cows but over time, she would become an expert, as evidenced by her calloused hands, the visible marks of years of experience in dairy farming, something she has no regrets over because it was love that motivated her.
“Because I was in love with my husband and vowed to be with him for better or for worse, I didn’t run away from milking,” she jokingly said.
Talaiasi and Naina brought up their four children on the farm, imparting the knowledge they had garnered together as husband and wife on their dairy farm, teaching their children the values of love of work and fostering within them the passion for dairy farming. Their children were also taught to be grateful for the life they lived no matter their possessions.
“The year my husband died, I thought of my children and their future, and the farm was there for us as a source of survival,” she said.
“He was also the only child, out of his seven siblings, that opted to remain here and bring up his family on the farm and when he passed, my children knew what to do,” said Naina.
2002 dawned with the winds of change on the Vatuwaqa dairy farm as her dear husband Mr. Talaiasi Mualuvu was called to eternal life, leaving behind the care of the farm to his wife and their children. “Because the farm holds a lot of good memories for my children and my in-laws, we kept the legacy my father-in-law and husband had set,” she said.
The struggling widow took over the milking reins and soldiered on for the future of their children.
“It saw them through school, tertiary and when they went for greener pastures I thought I would rest but I found myself not being able to do what I have always wanted to do when I first got married; to quit milking,” she said.
And so Naina asked one of her children Ruci Veisaunigauna to stay with her on the farm and help with the milking of the cows and the overall management of the family farm.
“We have a total of 48 cows on the farm, 8 of which are for milking and we have decided to only milk at 6am in the morning for the 7.30 am pick up by the Fiji Cooperative Dairy Company Limited (FCDCL),” said Naina.
“Not only did it provide for my family, but from the milk income my husband would also lavishly treat me to material things that sometimes made me smile as I wore them on the farm, it was something I fondly remember about him and though people couldn’t see it, it kept me happy,” she said.
Being a widow never hindered her performance as a mother and role model to her children.
“My husband never got to witness the marriage of any of our children but I am thankful that he paved a way for us when he was still alive,” she said.
“We are often challenged by the factors that could stop us from continuing, if you are new to something, keep practicing and you will one day excel,” she said.
“Cherish the love of your spouses and when you are newly married, and introduced to something you are unaccustomed to, make an effort to learn just like what my milkman taught me,” she smiles faintly.
With her proven track record in dairy farming and its bountiful returns her family has earned from it, Mrs Mualuvu is testament that love can conquer anything, even the challenges of dairy farming.
She can be found at the Suva market on weekends, selling her rootcrops, going back to her roots as a crop turned dairy farmer.