FOR almost half his of life Alipate Ratumaitavuki has been serving Fiji’s Heads of State and their visiting dignitaries. The Commonwealth Day Celebration at the State House in April was the final function for the Lasakau villager from Bau in Tailevu. The 54 year old was calling it a day. The state butler who has officially served four Presidents and four Vice-Presidents for the past 24 years, was unable to give an interview on the night because he was too busy making sure everything was set to perfection. A day later while he was relaxing at his government quarters residence at Berkeley Crescent in Domain he was ready to chat about his life as a butler. The interview was constantly interrupted by people walking past his house and calling his name, Pate, a sign of how popular he was with his neighbours. A village boy at heart, Pate was born and bred in Lasakau and says that being true to his traditional duties was what led him to the State House. The villagers of Lasakau are traditional fishermen to the Vunivalu na Tui Kaba, the paramount chief of the Kubuna Confederacy and the Roko Tui Bau of the Vusaratu clan. Other clans of Bau village are the Vusaradave (traditional warriors), Tunitoga (Vunivalu’s heralds) and Masau (Roko Tui Bau’s heralds). Many Bauan villagers since the late Ratu Seru Apenisa Cakobau – the Fijian chief who ceded Fiji to Great Britain – have played significant roles in Fiji’s history. They include former head of state Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, former vice
president the late Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi and the late Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, to name just a few. The chiefly Vunivalu’s residence, named Mataiweilagi is situated on the south-east shore of the village with other chiefly residences that remain in the village – Naicobocobo, Naisogolaca, Muaidule, Naua, Nadamele, Qaranikula and Vunilagakali. As one of the traditional fishermen to the holders of the highest chiefly titles in Fiji, Pate spent most of his childhood at the chiefly residence of Naisogolaca. “I wasn’t that well educated in school but I was well educated in my traditional role, and that was to serve and be of service to my chiefs,” Pate said. “It was during my days at Naisogolaca that I saw all the skills I have with me today. It wasn’t text book learning or something I learnt at a tertiary institution,” he added. Pate said because those in the chiefly household travelled abroad for education or special trips, they brought back with them modern ideas. “These ideas include table settings, recipes and they also brought with them cutlery and whatever else they saw fit,” he said. “I was observing them like a hawk and I gained all my knowledge from there.”. Diverting from his traditional duties as a fisherman, Pate began to serve the chiefly family of Naisogolaca as a butler with the self-taught knowledge he had gained. It wasn’t until the mid-1980’s that the late Ro Lady Lala
Mara caught sight of Pate and selected him in to serve her late husband, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara who was then Prime Minister of Fiji. According to Pate, he was in his early twenties when he began following Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara and Ro Lady Lala Mara around where ever they travelled to locally. At the time Ratu Kamisese Mara was also Tui Nayau – the paramount chief of Lau. “When I started serving the late Tui Nayau, I used to take our cutlery and whatever else I could with me whenever he travelled around locally and because he was a paramount chief, no one else could use his utensils or cutlery,” he said. This tradition of taking the kitchen cutlery around started by Pate during Ratu Mara’s tenure as Prime Minister and continued when he became the President of Fiji on 18 January, 1994 until 29 May 2000. During Ratu Epeli Nailatikau’s tenure as President the tradition was abandoned, but traditionalist Pate hopes it will be revived in future because it differentiates the Head of State from members of the public. “Ratu Epeli is a very humble and down-to-earth gentleman but we can tell just from his mannerisms that he is of noble upbringing. I served their chiefly Naisogolaca family during my days in the village so Ratu Epeli knew me well,” Pate said. Pate recalled a Lent season during his service with Ratu Epeli: “Lent had just started and the First Lady Adi Koila, who is a staunch Catholic, instructed me that I was to cook fish for 40 days. It didn’t matter if I fried it or boiled it or cooked it any other way but fish was to be eaten during lent, “After a week, Ratu Epeli sat down to dinner one night and was disappointed when he saw that again he was having fish. He came into the kitchen and asked me why I was serving fish for the past few days and I replied I was following Adi Koila’s instruction since it was Lent. “Next thing I heard was his request to open one corned beef from the cupboard because he was tired of eating fish.” Pate said that moment with Ratu Epeli reminded him that despite our status in society and what positions we hold in government, we are still human beings with cravings for something simple as eating corned beef. In his capacity as butler in the State House Pate has served four vice presidents – Ratu Sir Josaia Tavaiqia (1990-1992) and (1994-1997), Ratu Inoke Takiveikata (1997-1999), Ratu Jope Seniloli (2001-2004) and Ratu Joni Madraiwiwi (20042006). He has also served four presidents -- Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara (1994-2000), Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu Uluivuda (20002009), Ratu Epeli Nailatikau (2009-2015) and the current President, His Excellency Major-General (Retired) Jioji Konusi Konrote. He said the highlight of his career would be hosting the state dinner during the visit of the United Nations SecretaryGeneral Boutros Boutros-Ghali in 1995. “Oh, that was a huge state dinner, one of its kind. I am proud to say that I was a part of it and it is one that is still etched in my mind today.” It was during this state dinner there was a funny incident which involved a male kitchen staff who was a Hindu and was not allowed to handle any red meat. “Sa gauna me taqei kina na kakana me kau na teveli, sa kaya cake mai o noqu tokani Hindu qo, Pate, kemudou na bulumakau, o au na ika (When it was time to serve the food, my Hindu colleague said to me, Pate you the cow and I serve the fish).” “Au qai kaya yani vua, segai keitou na tamata, sega ni mai bulumakau (I replied to him, no we are not cows, we are human beings),” Pate recalled with laughter. At this point in his recollections Pate went quiet and became somewhat emotional in the realisation that his role as a butler to the great of the State had finally come to an end. “I never realised how important my job was until this interview. I think I was so busy, I didn’t think much of my work and what I do,” Pate said. “I know I had to sweat and work hard at my job, but today I look back and I realise I have served great statesmen who helped shape this nation to what it is today.”
Alipate with the late President Ratu Josefa Iloilo Uluivuda.
Alipate in earlier days at the State House.
Alipate with the current Head of State, President Jioji Konusi Konrote. Alipate with guests at the State House in earlier days.