Joseph Veramu, The Old Man, the Boy and the Shark, self-published, 2011.
If you Google Joseph Veramu you find traces all over the interwebs of an apparently extraordinary man. He published his first story at 17, has studied science in London and education at the University of the South Pacific, and worked as a teacher and lecturer and for the United National Development Program. He’s been a consultant to Amnesty International and a researcher for Transparency Fiji.
He also writes lovely little books, if The Old Man, the Boy and Shark is anything to go by. (Actually, he also seems to have a bit of a sideline in outing gay Hollywood celebrities, but that’s perhaps for another day). The Old Man is a very short and simple children’s story with messages about the importance of patience, of passing on knowledge from the old to the young, and of the need for people to look after each other. It is also about learning from our mistakes, and allowing others to learn from theirs.
These are lessons we might want to teach anywhere, in any culture. Here they are taught using what I assume are traditional Fijian stories and legends and in the rivers and on the ocean around a Fijian village.
Seru’s father won’t take him out crab fishing anymore, because the first and last time they went out together Seru made a mistake, tearing the net and losing the day’s catch: “A crab was worth its weight in gold as was a net. He had lost both.” Crab catching is not an easy life:
At times, when crabs are hard to find, the patience of the crab-catcher is tested.
His features will slowly change. The wrinkled hands and face speak of the hard work of catching crabs.
Disappointed and bored, Seru wanders around the village until he finds himself talking with Malakai, “a lonely old man with a few friends”. Malakai takes Seru out crab fishing when his father will not, and in their time together tells him the stories of the sky-spirit who controls the rain, the chief who wanted to kill the sun, and chief Ligasavuyawa from Batini who saved his sons from the Ruler of the Sea. Another mistake of Seru’s puts him in serious danger, and Malakai risks his life, and uses the wisdom and skill of a long life, to save Seru.
Seru reflects after his adventures that one day he may be wise like Malakai, and hard working like his own father. Fine things to aspire to, whatever our culture or circumstances, and fine things to teach our children to value.