Seaqaqa’s stick man

Amir Ali on stilts during a Labasa carnival. Picture: SUPPLIED

Amir Ali is hardly a giant but if there’s a celebration and the mood is jovial, he towers above everyone. Stilt walking is a hobby the 61-year-old took up as a teenager and continues to flaunt to this day.

While many of us possess poor balancing skills and have an intense fear of heights, Amir Ali makes his stilted act look so easy. When required to walk on stilts, two wooden poles with footrests help elevate him to stand several metres above the ground.

Though such stints are exhibited mostly during social events, it is not always the case for the sexagenarian. Ali grew up in Vunileka, a few kilometres outside Labasa town.

He dropped out of Vunileka Primary School when he was only eight. In search of greener pastures, his struggling family had to relocate to the district of Seaqaqa. “My father sold our land and we moved to Seaqaqa,” he reminisced..

“The land was on a hilly mountain so growing crops was difficult and our family was big, there were 12 of us. “We had a small plantation but that was not enough to sustain our big family. When we came to Seaqaqa there was no school so I couldn’t continue my education.”

Ali said Seaqaqa was a different place in 1969. The area was just one very big jungle.

“So in 1976 we got a sugar cane contract and started planting. My brothers and I continue to plant sugar cane, vegetables and root crops.

“During that time only one bus would go from Seaqaqa to Labasa. It would leave in the morning and return in the evening. It was in 1972, when Ali and his mates decided to watch a film in Labasa town, that his journey of stick walking began.

“They had white cloth (at the movies) and light projecting on the sheet and the movie was playing. I remember seeing in the movie men walking on tall sticks. “I can’t recall the name of the film but there were mostly Chinese men in it.

“After I saw the movie, an idea formed in my mind as I went home and in two days I made two tall walking poles for myself.

“On the third day, I started practicing how to walk (on stilts) and by the grace of Allah I have never fallen while walking till this day.”

Ali was a 14-year-old teenager when he started his new found hobby. Since then he has enjoyed the thrill it offered.

“I have also taught my son and I always train on it at least once or twice a week. Walking on stilts is not only a hobby to show off during social gatherings and celebrations. Sometimes Ali does it to ‘get around’.

“From my house the Masjid is almost half a kilometre away so when it rains a lot I use the sticks to walk to the Masjid.

“So there is no need to wash my legs, I go to the Masjid, read my Namaz, get back on the sticks and walk back home.”

Ali said he has crossed Labasa Town numerous times, stilt walking in front of more than 20,000 people. He donated the money he earned from his performances to charity.

“The money that I have earned from entertaining crowds, I have distributed to the needy and to some schools whose children have no shoes, bagd or good clothes. “One thing I’ve learnt in life is that doing good deeds will take a man a long way in life.”

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