150th anniversary: Preserving the Times

National Archives of Fiji senior conservator Taito Raione (middle) with fellow conservators Makelesi Rokoleka (left) and Salanieta Rakarau. Picture: MATILDA SIMMONS

FOR 30 years Taito Raione laboured with care as he handled many historic papers and documents that contained Fiji’s rich history.

From the first i-Taukei language Bible to original diaries of missionaries who stepped foot on our shores in the early 18th and 19th century, it’s a work that has become a labour of love.

A senior conservator at the National Archives of Fiji, Mr Raione worked for six months last year to treat and conserve copies of The Fiji Times from 1869 to present.

The 52-year-old, who came from a printing and bookbinding background, said preserving these copies were important because it connected the present to the past and the future.

“These records are what keeps our history alive,” he said.

“People will come and go but these historical documents will remain and so it’s important to conserve it for the sake of the present and the future generations,” he said.

With the magic of science, Mr Raione and his staff shared the process carried out in cleansing The Fiji Times publications that had been damaged, dating back to September 4, 1869 to the 1870s.

Although the process took nearly one year to finish, Mr Raione is proud of the work they’ve done.

“Fiji Times is a reliable paper because it captures the events happening from time to time, when it happens as it happens. Its layout and everything is professional and is easy to read. Ever since I was small I have been reading the Times.

“Most people come in here wanting to view the original documents. They tend to turn the pages with indifference, causing a lot of pages to come out.

“Because we were trying to preserve these original copies, we decided to bring in all the original copies of The Fiji Times and we started to separate each page. After assessing the damage, we then mixed the ink and made sure that it was thick enough and insoluble to avoid the print from melting away.

“After the surface cleansing was carried out, a chemical mixture to get rid of the impurities present in the paper was mixed. The brown colour of the water verified this.

“All the pages are then sprayed with methylated spirit and alcohol-balanced mixture. After this is done, all the pages are then dipped individually in the water and hanged for an hour.”

After the pages are dried, the team backs up all the individual papers with a Japanese paper to hold the soft brittle paper together.

“The pages are sprayed again and left on a wood so as to level the paper. The edges are then trimmed before it is compiled in polyester sleeves. The long lasting bags prevent the paper from eroding, thus best for preserving the records.”

The challenges of preserving such records lay within the climatic conditions that Fiji faces, as well as the way people handle the records.

Mr Raione said this was one of the biggest challenges they faced.

He said the fading out of prints from the records were influenced by the climatic condition, including the way people handled the records.

“Preserving these records is like holding the hand of an old woman or man. Our pace depends on how they work, our main priority is to get it preserved and retrieve quality not quantity. Patience and dedication is also a priority when trying to assess these records.”

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