A Life of Grace
If we were writing a book on the life of Sefo Valiana, you could say that the final paragraph was written on Sunday morning at the Ekalesia Kerisiano Alofi church, where family and friends came together for Tuku Tapu – the lifting of the mourning for the departed, a final acknowledgement of his passing, in this the church where he and beloved wife Aggie have attended together for past 30 years.
By coincident, my wife Pat and I arrived at the church at the same time as Aggie and her son Moto. Resplendent in her finest Sunday attire, Aggie alighted from the vehicle to begin the walk to the entrance of the church, a walk that she and Sefo had done together countless times. She managed only a few steps…and then stopped. Moto realised what was happening and stepped closer acting as a pillar for his mother to lean on. With tears in her eyes and with as much dignity as she was able to muster, she walked slowly into the church with Moto on one side and Pat the other. Aggie was coming to terms with the realisation that in the days ahead, where once she and Sefo would walk together, she will now walk alone.
In a packed congregation befitting the status of a Senior Deacon of the church, the Rev Navy Salatielu found words of comfort from Mathew 5 1 – 11; Live a life of grace which comes from God. Sefo Valiana was the embodiment of that Christian teaching.
In 1987 at the time when Hon Frank Lui was the Premier, the government was in short supply of skilled labour to work in the Housing Scheme. As a moderately senior public servant at the time, I was approached by Frank to look for carpenters from Fiji. Having worked in Fiji for some 8 years I still had some contact in my old organisation the SPC. Tiu Livino my former administration officer recommended Sefo Valiana amongst others. Sefo was to be, more or less, the leader of a group of five. The irony in all this was that our people were leaving in significant numbers in search of a better life in New Zealand. And here was Sefo, looking for a new life for his family here on Niue.
And so Sefo and Aggie came to Niue with their three young children in search of a new and perhaps better life. Sefo must have decided very early that unlike some new arrivals who were looking for entry into New Zealand, he was going to make Niue his home and he proceeded to do just that. He worked as a carpenter in the government’s Housing Scheme, built many houses and renovated even more.
Following the disbandment of the Housing Scheme, Sefo formed his own construction company. His reputation for his honesty and hard work paid off in the number of building assignments that he was able to attract. With any major building projects, Sefo was there playing a leading role. He did not just build houses for others, he build their own home at the little settlement of Huihui.
As a measure of his commitment to his new home and his new life, one of the first thing Sefo and Aggie did was to join the Rev Tukutama and his flock at the Alofi Ekalesia Church. In 1991 Sefo became a deacon, a position which he held until this year. Just before his passing, he was made a Senior Deacon of the church.
In the early years, I kept a watch on Sefo and his colleagues; I felt some obligation, I had after all, helped recruit them from Fiji. I needn’t have worried; they were all doing well in their new home. Only one of the recruits decided to return to Fiji.
At his funeral service, sons Moto and George spoke very fondly of a father who lived for his family. He was able to transplant very easily his way of life on the island of Rotuma to the island of Niue – fishing and working in his bush garden. In between time, he picked up the language and became quite fluent.
As the years passed, the young children that Sefo and Aggie had brought with them, George, Moto and Myrtle have morphed into adulthood with their own families. George and his wife Frances, Myrtle and her husband Charlie have made their home on the island. Moto and his wife have made New Zealand their home. It must have brought some comfort to Sefo in his last days knowing that his children have been very successful in their lives.
I recall one occasion when he and Aggie had just returned from a visit to Fiji with the children. He told me how bewildered he was at what was happening to his friends and contemporaries. When he went looking for friends, whether school friends or former work colleagues, he was saddened to discover that most of them were no longer alive. He said to me, “Brother, I will always be grateful to this my adopted home – I’ve lasted as long as I have because I enjoy living here, surrounded by my family and many friends. I will always be grateful to Niue.”
If I may bro, Niue will always be grateful to you. Monuina e fenoga ke he Kautu he Atua ma kapitiga.