Ahiga mo Ano - 2004
For Uinto -- tama a Feso mo Alisa, an exceptional Gentle Man of Nanumea


UINTO - a Gentle Man of Nanumea

Uinto, a child of Feso of Nanumea and Alisa of Vaitupu, was born in Nui in 1921, where his father was working. A story we were told was that at this time the first church windows were being installed in the Nui church, and Feso and Alisa named their son Window, or Uinto. The family returned to Nanumea and Uinto spent his entire life in Nanumea. He was "special" in many ways. The main way people knew this is that he was simple minded, a bit child-like, even as a grown adult.

We were told by elders in Nanumea in 1973-74 that as a child the dresser (Medical Assistant) assigned to Nanumea, perhaps Uinto's own father, had received a new drug he believed would be beneficial. He injected it into Uinto. The effect was devastating and Uinto, up to that point a normal boy, had serious brain damage and was never quite normal again. Whether this is a true story or not, it is what some people believed at the time.

And though Uinto was simple, he was a gentle soul. He was supported by his family (in later years, by the children of Levi in Haumaefa village, and by his niece Tekana and her family, whose mother Alisa was Uinto's sister), and in ways he was also supported by the community. He was allowed to come to cookhouses or to houses where feast food was being prepared and he'd be given a plate. People shared sului with him. He asked for small change (from Kiti and Ane quite often), and some gave him money to go to the Fusi and buy his "baka."

Uinto helped out as he could during communal work days. He attended Ahiga events and occasionally stood to make a speech. This always elicited much laughter and some mockery [though we doubt that Uinto thot it was funny -- he seemed to us to be seriously trying to take the part of an elder and make a speech]. Uinto's niece, Toetu, reminded us that her uncle never missed going to church on Sundays in Nanumea - even though he'd never learned to read and could not read the Bible passages during the service. Kalofa.

We have gathered here some of the photos we took of Uinto over the years. The one we did not take shows a young man in chains, during the time of the Second World War (1943-44 in Nanumea). We were told that Uinto, like other young men, tried to Moettolo to young women, and the village did not like this and so he was in chains for some time. We don't know if this is a true story, nor how long he was in chains, but the photo taken by US soldiers at that time and given to us shows him in chains and we think it backs up the story.

Uinto, in our experience of him in 1973-74 and 1984, was gentle and peaceful, never aggressive. He wanted to belong, and he found ways to belong in Nanumea. But he was also mistreated, made the butt of practical jokes, and was physically pushed around. His life was not easy.

But he seemed to bear his tribulations bravely, with dignity and without trying to fight back. We salute you Uinto, a true Gentle Man of Nanumea. Alofa lahi atu, and tofaa -- mai ia Kiti mo Ane

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