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Friday, June 22, 2007

Another potential export from Fiji

Another newly identified potential export from Fiji is the "balabala", the dried black trunk of a tree fern that grows in the wild in Fiji. Balabala is a newly discovered niche export product which is making it big in the United States of America.

Read more in the article below from the Fiji Times, Tuesday, 19 June 2007.


"Cama cashes in on balabala, Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Think orchids and immediately you’d picture the balabala the dried black trunk of the tree fern that is made up of thin black stick-like things that are easily broken off.

Now why the link with the orchids?

Well, as most people probably know, the balabala is the plant on which orchids flourish best.

At Wainadoi, past Veisari, on the Queens Highway outside Suva, there’s a little shed from where Cama Vakaloloma sells balabala.

Well and good you may think but what Cama has done with these plants is cut them into shapes like the Fijian bure in a bid to make them bit more presentable.

He is in his 50s and hails from Moce, in Lau.

He worked 13 years for Leylands, in Naboro, before he succumbing to ill-health, which ended his employment there. Cama said he almost lost his life and during his recovery, he was confined to home.

He said the forest area behind his home had wild balabala galore so he decided to cut and sell them by the roadside.

It is a decision he never regretted as he can make up to $80 on a day.

But the best part about it all is that he didn’t even have to worry about growing and constantly nurturing the tree ferns, which thrive in damp areas.

Easy money that’s what he calls it.

And, it was a like a blessing in disguise because he couldn’t really do heavy or active work.

He said at first he started by selling the balabala in its natural shape before deciding to get creative and carve shapes out of it.

At first he would cut them into smaller cylindrical shapes but after a while, he started by cutting out designs on them using his cane knife.

Then he decided to carve bure and other shapes.

That creative decision brought its own rewards from one plant, he can cut and carve two or three items.

Cama says he started selling the balabala plants for $3 but that has since risen to $8-$9, depending on the size of the plant.

He laughed and said he decided to make it cheap because the plant grew naturally in abundance.

Most balabala buyers are florists or hoteliers.

As such, Cama says he is never short of buyers and makes quite a killing at the end of the day.

He said the balabala was rather funny because once you cut it down, it won’t grow there again.

And he was equally puzzled on how the balabala regenerated because it didn’t appear to have seeds.

Cama said at one time, a person bought all the uncut (and uncarved) plants that he had been selling –– so that in a space of a few minutes, he was $84 richer.

Yesterday, Cama was helped by his nephew, Vitale Varo, who hails from Navunikabi, in Namosi.

Vitale says the balabala plants are easy to get because they are light and were there for the taking.

He said he was only visiting his aunt and uncle and learnt about carving balabala from watching his uncle.

One balabala he had carved was in the shape of a burekalou and you can’t help but think of the burekalou at the Arts Village in Pacific Harbour when you see this particular balabala.

He says the road leads right to the forest and all that was needed to fetch the balabala was a cane knife and a sturdy wheelbarrow to transport it back home. He said they were never short of buyers and at night, they left the balabala in their stall. But no one has ever stolen the plants even though the stall is unattended at night.

And, just like his uncle Cama, he says carving shapes out of balabala doesn’t take that long to complete as his prized burekalou carving took him just a little more than an hour to complete.

Now don’t hesitate to stop by their stall, which is on the slope just before you reach Wainadoi Village (if you’re heading towards Navua and beyond), if you’re one for a touch of uniqueness in plants. "

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