Remembering Big Bill

Marita shares some of her memories of Viliame Katalolo, son of the late Tui Navatusila and an elder from Nubutautau, who passed away in July 2017.

‘My name is Viliame Katololo…..but you can call me Big Bill’.

Participating in your first sevusevu ceremony, not understanding much of what is being said and worrying about not doing anything disrespectful, can be daunting and fascinating in equal measure. But Bill’s words…..and the big grin that would follow put so many of Nubutautau’s guests at ease in an instant.

I was once flicking through an old National Geographic publication from the 1980s at Bulou’s Lodge. I stumbled on a photo of Nubutautau with three men in the photo. The caption identified the late Tui Navatusila as the person in the foreground but I was drawn to one of the men standing behind him. The smile…there was no mistaking that smile. A slightly trimmer Bill, admittedly. The warrior ancestry looked a bit more imaginable.

Bill could often be found in his valevakaviti, chatting with his family, listening to the radio. He understood his role in keeping the traditional knowledge of his people, of the vanua, alive. He was instrumental in coordinating the build of Navatusila’s beautiful Vale ni Vanua. A structure that we watched emerging from the ground without any drawings. A building that embodies the Fijian culture of working together. I remember his excitement when he first viewed the digital story he made, that his great-grandchildren would be able to listen to him talking about traditional buildings in the future.

My Fijian is still conversational at best so I didn’t get to know Bill as well as I’d have liked. But with Bill there was something about him, him presence, his smiling eyes, that makes me hopeful that even without words he understood how much we valued his friendship, his support and his laughter! Rest well Big Bill.