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Pumice island

Paula Tagivetaua
Sunday, April 10, 2011

WHEN they told me of Nasoata Island, it was like reading Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island.

I had not heard of the island until work mate Jo Lomaivuna brought it to my attention and it was why I went to Nakorovou Village in the tikina of Dreketi in Rewa with our photographer Atu.

Nasoata Island belongs to the people of Nakorovou but it was not theirs for a long time.

The Tui Waina, Timoci Uluvakaloa, his nephew Seru Serevi, Bruce Tavaga, school mate Leveni Bolaqace, a namesake who was acting ambassador for Fiji in the US and other men took us to the island with the Provincial Administrator Rewa Ravindra Narayan and Saimoni Gataurua from National Planning.

To get to Nasoata, we went by boat down Nasoata river from Nakorovou for about 15 minutes until we reached the sea.

At the river mouth, you look left and you can see Gau and Ovalau on the horizon on a fine day and Noco, Kiuva and the Kaba peninsula.

To your right you can see Suva and the hills behind Tamavua.

Nasoata is five minutes by boat from the edge of the mangroves.

Soata is Fijian for pumice and Nasoata Island is pumice everywhere.

They say the island was formed by pumice from a volcano eruption millions of years ago and was named Nasoata because of the volcanic residue on most parts of the island.

I stepped on pumice almost every step I took.

Nasoata is a predominantly mangrove island still in relatively pristine condition and has a relatively rich flora and fauna and marine bioviversity, especially its migratory birds, seabirds and waterfowl known as the ga ni Viti.

It is inside the barrier reef marked by the Nasilai lighthouse to the left and the entrance beside Nukulau Island where boats enter to get to Suva harbour instead of going the long way to the Suva harbour passage.

On one side of Nasoata is sea water and the other side is fresh water flowing from the three outlets of the Rewa river.

People of Nakorovou bought back their island in the late 1970s for about two thousand pounds.

The story goes that Nasoata was first bought by an English man named Davies for one shilling. They called him Misi Tevesi. This was in the 1800s.

"Our forefathers feared him," Serevi said.

"They said he had one hand. His other hand had a hook like a pirate and he used his hook to hook the coconuts when he went to gather coconuts.

"He had guns and our grandfathers would tell of how they were scared of Misi Tevesi.

"They said if Misi Tevesi saw a boat or people coming near Nasoata, he would fire his gun to scare them away.

"They said Misi Tevesi was a grumpy man and he looked scary with his hook.

"He had some hired hands on the island and there was a rumour that he buried his treasure on the island."

Serevi said the old men called the treasure i lavo damudamu.

I took it to be emeralds and rubies we see in pirtae movies among the gold pieces, golden chalices and necklaces adorned with rubies and diamonds.

It was like a pirate story.

The story goes that when Davis buried his treasure, he shot the two men who dug the hole so they could not tell where the treasure was buried.

The place Davis was buried and where it was rumoured he had buried his treasure is today marked by several plants - vasili - whose leaves are used as skirts for meke.

They said in the 1970s, some men from the village wet to look for the lavo damudamu - treasure which Misi Tevesi buried on the island.

They dug up the place they thought Davis buried his treasure a long time ago but did not find anything.

"They did not find the lavo damudmu," said Serevi.

After Davis, the ownership of Nasoata changed hands several times.

It became freehold property and was run as a copra plantation first as the Hedstrom estate by the man who started Morris Hedstrom stores which is now MHCC.

After that it was owned by a Mr B Garnett and then by Ram Singh from the 1950s until the late 1970s when the island was transferred from freehold to native land under the high chief, Ro Lady Lala Mara, the Roko Tui Dreketi.

At that time, people of Nakorovou were designated as the owners, custodians and main users of Nasoata Island and all it had to offer.

The island was used during World War Two by New Zealand and American troops as a training ground for jungle combat.

In the late 70s, Nasoata was a tourist destination.

Serevi said villagers of Nakorovou would bring tourists to the island where they watched cultural displays, mekes and had meals before they were taken back to their liner at Suva harbour. It was part of the Oolooloo Cruises day tours from the Suva waterfront.

But then came a bitter split which divided the village of Nakorovou and the Nasoata island tour stopped, the island became overgrown and was laid to waste literally.

Now, after more than 20 years, people of Nakorovou are united once more and there are plans for Nasoata to become a tourist destination again.

People of Nakorovou headed by their chief the Tui Waina and villagers like Serevi, Leveni and Tavaga who have left the city and the work they did to return to the village and develop their natural resources, village and people.

The plan is for bure units and an administration centre to be built on Nasoata.

"We want to have a forest walkway where visitors can take a walk through the forest and never disturb or damage the environment.

"We want it to be an eco-tourist venture to generate income for the village people."

Development plans are being mapped with the Government through the Provincial Administrator for Rewa province.

The day we went to Nasoata, I saw some tall and straight vesi trees, a lot of coconut trees and many plants and trees normally found on the maindland.

I saw many birds and jungle vines and fine gray sand on the beach looking out to the reef and sea toward Kadavu and Moala way.

They say at night, they have seen the haze of lights on the horizon from the fabled island of Burotukula which is said to be located between Matuku and Totoya.

If Nasoata does become what the people of Nakorovou want it to be, no doubt it would be more than a gem for them - a lifeline.

They would have a source of income and a story to tell the tourists and visitors - of Davis the one-armed man with a hook for his other hand who buried his treasure on the island.

It seems the treasure that was buried on Nasoata Island has been found but this time it will not be in a treasure chest but in the form money-making bure units for tourists.

Nasoata is a story worth telling and makes good reading.

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