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The angry fisherman who turned into a shark

Anare Ravula
Monday, August 01, 2011

VERY few people in Fiji know that sharks are moving towards extinction.

The main reason is that this ancient predator has been overfished for its meat, fins and shark products. It has been feared for its size and predatory abilities, even called a man-eater.

But it really is not, it doesn't eat humans, only often mistaking them for food, or attacks in defence. It is a fascinating species whose existence ensures we survive.

The shark maintains the balance in the cycle of the food chain and keeps the reefs alive for our future generations.

It is for this reason we joined the campaign for shark protection, linking up with the Pew Environment Group and the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) which are working with the Fiji Government to safeguard sharks in Fiji's waters.

Today the shark population in the world has decreased drastically from what it was a few years ago.

Why do shark stories attract an audience?

Have you ever realised that the more gruesome a shark story is, the better it sells? Sharks are misunderstood and feared creatures and they need exposure about their plight rather than the attacks they carry out, because shark attacks are minimal compared to other dangers we live with in this world.

Beqa Islands have an ancestral covenant with the shark god Dakuwaqa that all people of Beqa be protected from shark attacks.

Rukua villager elder, 78-year-old Rukua villager, Ponipate Jioji claims that Dakuwaqa's home is a cave by the seaside at Derebu that was buried during the construction of the village seawall in the 1970s.

"We also call him Na Gone mai Wai," he said.

Village historian Mika Tubanavau, 61, and Orisi Cagilaba, 50, both said that through oral history relayed to them by their ancestors through the generations, it began when the gonedau (traditional fishermen) leader of the Tui Rukua, named Cakaubalavu, was out fishing at sea.

Traditionally, a special dish of qalu (delicacy of root croops or fruits and coconut milk) is made and properly wrapped in banana leaves for them. But upon their return, Cakaubalavu and his fellow fishermen met empty banana leaves floating at sea. The qalu had been eaten by a group of young men who went ashore first.

In anger, he swam and overturned three times before turning himself into a shark.

Feeling disappointed with the reception after his fishing trip, Cakaubalavu decided to leave Beqa together with his fellow traditional fishermen in search of another land.

As they sailed away, a child aboard the canoe cried out aloud for his mother left behind at Rukua saying, "Isa Beqa, isa Nau."

It is said from their departure from Rukua, Cakaubalavu turned himself into shark.

They left Rukua and headed towards Vatulele then to the Yasawas.

During the journey the child continued crying out loud saying, "Isa Beqa, isa Nau!"

According to a book regarding the yavusa Naduruvesi or direct agnate descendants of a single kalou-vu of the village of Rukua, prepared by Ratu Wame Tuivuya in 2002, Cakaubalavu died because of a boil on his back but because of his mana he managed to stay alive as a shark with a white tip on its fin. The white tip was where the boil, or soso as they called it in Rukua, was.

Tuivuya said they then landed ashore at Buca in Vanua Levu.

When the Tui Cakau saw smoke rising from the beach where they had landed and made fire, he asked one of his men to enquire who the intruders were.

When he learned they were the Tui Rukua's traditional fishermen, he then sought assistance from them to fight warriors from Natewa.

The Tui Rukua's traditional fishermen agreed and told the Tui Cakau they would fight on top of the reef.

Because they knew the reef like the back of their hands, they made it their battleground.

And they killed the Natewa warriors with the assistance of Cakaubalavu, the gonedau-turned-shark

With the victory, the fishermen of Rukua brought respect to the Tui Cakau and the vanua of Lalagavesi.

Tuivuya said it was then from that battle that Cakaubalavu was known as Dakuwaqa.

Today, these gonedau make up the mataqali Benau (Isa Beqa, Isa Nau) at Dreketi in Somosomo.

The island of Benau, off the coast of Vanua Levu, is where legend has it Dakuwaqa made home.

The tourist attraction of shark feeding at the Shark Dive Beqa Lagoon based in Deuba is handled by Rukua natives Eliki Seruvatu and Rusiate Balenagasau.

Tubanavau sums it well, saying: "We can kill sharks, but there is no point as traditionally he is our protector. Not once ever a Beqa native had been bitten by a shark."





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