Veniana Maraia Paulina / Fiji b.1951 / Saqamoli water vessel 1 2021 / Earthenware pottery and pandanus support ring / 44 x 30cm / Commissioned for APT10. Purchased 2021 with funds from the Oceania Women’s Fund through the QAGOMA Foundation / Collection: QAGOMA / Photograph: Leca Vunibobo / © Veniana Meraia Paulina

Veniana Maraia Paulina
Saqamoli water vessel 1 2021

Not Currently on Display

This collection of water vessels by Veniana Maraia Paulina, Apenisa Bainivalu and Laweni Tekina Laiseane are based on forms and techniques unique to Nasilai. These include Muairua water vessels, which have a curved bottom and small opening so that they can rock with the movements of a canoe to avoid spillage; Tagautolu and Tagarua water vessels, distinguished by their peanut-like shape, which makes them easier to hold; the Saqamoli and Saqatabua, which resemble bunches of fruit with separate compartments for the chiefs and their company; the round Saqa vessel; and Saqa gusuirua and Saqa gusuitolu, which have multiple openings to allow children to drink separately from their parents or men to drink separately from women.1

The vessels are made from clay sourced from the riverbanks that border Nasilai village. Paulina, Laiseane and Bainivalu achieve remarkable symmetry using only their hands, wooden beaters and smooth river stones to shape the clay. Each vessel is decorated with intricate motifs that reference ideas and shapes from their environment — such as rainbows, the sun, waves, animal patterns and tracks and forests — or depict neighbouring villages and their inhabitants.2 The motifs are applied through incisions on the surface as well as protruding shapes and figures arranged around the vessels in linear patterns.

Although the vessels are now rarely used to store water, they symbolise connections to land and ancestral knowledge and signify hope for future generations.


1 Veniana Maraia Paulina, interview with Ruha Fufita, August 2019.
2 Apenisa Bainivalu, interview with Ruha Fufita, June 2021.

The practice of Fijian pottery dates to the original settlement of the South Pacific islands by the Lapita people around 1290 BCE.1 However, unlike the practices of masi and weaving, pottery is a skill shared by very few villages in Fiji today. In the Rewa province of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu, Nasilai is the only village where this practice has been sustained.

Pottery makers from Nasilai share that it has long been their role to make the water vessels for the Roko Tui Dreketi, high chief of their region, for both practical and ceremonial use.2 This custom, alongside various day-to-day uses, has nurtured the emergence of an exceptionally varied range of water vessels emerging from the village. As such, Nasilai, now home to just over 30 families, continues to be sought out by researchers, tourists and collectors, eager to learn about Fiji’s rich history through its living legacy of pottery-making.

At the heart of this legacy are the efforts of master potter, Veniana Maraia Paulina, and her family, who are among the last few active potters living in Nasilai. Paulina is the younger sister of the late Taraivini Wati (1935–2004) — a recognised master potter, who designed the iconic saqamoli water vessel featured on the Fijian one-dollar coin. Wati’s son, Apenisa Bainivalu, is also a recognised potter, working in close collaboration with his wife, Laweni Tekina Laiseane.


1 David Barnes, ‘Traditional Fijian Art’, Fiji Guide, <>, viewed January 2021.
2 Veniana Meraia Paulina, interview with Ruha Fufita, August 2019.