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Mystery of the Narara caves

Fred Wesley
Sunday, December 13, 2009

Thirteen stones sit hidden in the dense jungles of the range of mountains that make up Nakauvadra in Ra. Caves with drawings sit below them. They remain a mystery for the people of Narara Village.

Deep in the jungles above the village of Narara in Ra stand 12 stones of similar size and shape. The thirteenth is a little longer then the rest.

They stand as monolithic reminders of an era the people of Narara are struggling to understand.

It takes about six hours on foot to get to these ancient monuments at the top of the range of mountains that make up Nakauvadra.

The climb through dense foliage is demanding, tough and tiring. If the long distance and height of the mountains don't get to you, the high altitude kicks in after a few minutes.

The stones sit in a rough circular formation on the very top of a steep mountain.

The dense jungle has overwhelmed the stones, blocking out the rays of the sun, and allowing a thick blanket of green lichen to coat them.

They may not be anything as big as Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument in the English county of Wiltshire, but they are important to the people of Narara which sits about half an hour away by vehicle, to the south if you are travelling from the town of Vaileka in Rakiraki.

While Stonehenge is one of the most famous sites in the world - earthworks surrounding a circles of large standing stones at the centre of the densest complex of Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments in England, including several hundred burial mounds - the stones of Narara are a mystery.

Archaeologists believe Stonehenge was erected around 2500 BC, and new archaeological evidence found by the Stonehenge Riverside Project indicates that Stonehenge served as a burial ground from its earliest beginnings.

The dating of cremated remains found on the site shows that burials took place there as early as 3000 BC, when the initial ditch and bank were first dug.

Burials continued at Stonehenge for at least another 500 years.

The interesting part about the Narara story is that the stones stand on a steep mountain overlooking a number of caves. One of them shelters unusual drawings on the wall.

Kemueli Penisoni, 60, was one of four men hunting for pigs who discovered the caves about 30 years ago.

"One of the caves had unusual writing on the wall," he remembers.

He recalls being awe-struck when he made the discovery.

Interestingly, over the years, he never got to see the caves again.

"They were just too far away and way off the range of mountains we'd roam when hunting for wild boars. We only came across the caves accidentally in the first place."

I'd made the journey to the heart of the mountain range last year and again a fortnight ago with fellow scribes Jone Luvenitoga and Anare Ravula, and a few villagers of Narara led by Miniroti Sarewa, keen to discover what Kemueli had seen as a young man.

There was no cave with writing on the wall. But we saw a cave with drawings that captured my imagination, especially considering the fact they were not scratched on the wall but appeared to be chiselled into it.

The mouth of the cave faces a little stream and the remains of a cooking spot sits in front of the cave opening.

The cave faces the 13 stones hidden high up in the mountains.

While villagers like Kemueli can only guess what the monuments and drawings mean, Jone Wailevu, a researcher in ancient Fijian culture, believes they are important for the people of this country.

He believes the Narara site is an ancient worship plateau dedicated to the oldest religion in the world, the worship of nature.

"The indigenous inhabitants probably chose the site for its height, with its panoramic view of their world, especially the eastern seaboard.

The significance of the east for the ancient people is that it is the front of the Earth where the day and night begin, the rising of the sun and moon."

"The Narara cult would have been prominent in its day as the mount of the gods. Its seclusion, non-accessibility and panoramic view denote its role as the place from which the gods bless the whole of Fiji.

"At the foot of the mountain would probably reside the various social groups that define their culture in terms of the cultus.

"Visiting worshippers from the whole of Fiji would probably present their gifts at that point and receive in return a blessing from the priestesses. Solutions to problems and methods of traditional etiquette would also probably be expounded there.

"So, Narara would have been a very busy commercial centre with travelers coming from faraway places.

"In fact, ancient roads like the tualeita (legendary ancient Fijian route) receive new meaning under the Narara cult as sacred pathways to the gods.

"Also the fundamental ideal is the close relationship of those ancients to nature. The Narara cult was probably a part of nature and not a conqueror of nature.

"That would have been the drawcard of the cult until nature changed.

"The discovery of the cult is a cultural heritage of immense importance as it ridicules history enforced from colonial times. What about Fiji's hidden history waiting to be discovered?

"We have been overtly reminded by our cannibal and war past, but Narara speaks to us of another rich and undiscovered culture that time can no longer hold in bondage. It wants to be heard and speak to this generation. We can learn from Narara as time is not yet up."

He believes the stones held a lot of meanings for the ancient people of Narara.

"The 12 stones arranged in a circular formation probably depicted the 12 complete cycles of the full moon from one harvest to the next.

"Usually, upon the completion of the 12 full moons, the harvest had not been reached probably by a week, days or hours and the normal practice was to add on another moon - the 13th.

"The 12 stones being a complete number but to enable rebirth or the continuation of the circular motion, the 13 or the number of rebirth had to be added on."

Kemueli believes the monuments stand for something important. What message they hold though, he does not know.

"It would be good to know what they all mean," Miniroti says.

For now, the stones and caves sit silently as reminders of an ancient past.

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